Gazing into Sphere (2018) is a site-specific installation by the artist Kimsooja. It recontextualizes the architecture of a former gin distillery and invites visitors to a new spatial experience. Spanning the entire ground surface of the Escher Gallery is a mirror that unfolds and expands the interior void, rendering the architectural envelop as the work itself, within which the audience is embraced. This horizontal plane echoes the memory of the site inscribed in bold circular voids once used to hold malting silos, while transcending traces of history into a new corporeal experience.
Situated on the ground floor, Encounter – A Mirror Woman (2017) is a vertical mirror screen, whose form finds root in traditional oriental screens often used as a canvas for painting. Its folded structure rids oneself of her reflection and redirects the gaze around a visual path that geometrically laces through the reflective surface. The piece stands as a form of painting without the trace of the artist’s hands.
Unfolding Sphere, (2016) the accompanying sound piece, resonates the sound of clay balls rolling across a surface in different directions, followed by that of the artist gargling water. The rolling sound untangles a spherical geometry into a linear vibration embodying a horizontal trajectory, while the gurgling sound of water alludes to a vertical trajectory of traversing one’s diaphragm. In aural form, the work articulates a psychological geometry orbiting around these two axes.
On the second floor is a video work titled Fuego de Aire / Fire of Air. (2009) It traces volcanic formations seen through a flashlight at night while moving about the center of Lanzarote Island. As the video captures the shifting distance of landscape in relation to the moving subject, the audience’s gaze oscillates across the depths of horizon. Light becomes a temporal brushstroke – a medium with which undulating visual thresholds illuminate a spherical image of earth born out of fire and air. This piece is part of the artist’s Earth–Water–Fire–Air (2009-2010) series conceived around the reciprocal relationship between the four elements of nature.
Kimsooja’s work is grounded in her early practice as a painter, whereby the surface of canvas and perpendicular brushstrokes constitute a principal site of inquiry. The use of mirror has become part of her artistic vocabulary since 1999 at the Venice Biennial as a question of surface and an instrument for wrapping and unwrapping space, body, and memory. It extends from the artist’s earlier concept of Bottari, or bundle in Korean, as a three-dimensional painting and a sculpture of life constructed through a single knot. The practice of tying together anonymous people’s clothing inside a used bedcover – a place where we are born, love, suffer, and die – has evolved and dematerialized in the form of a mirror.
For Kimsooja, this abstract canvas offers an invisible surface through which we gaze a virtual realm that lies close to reality. Its horizontal form relative to architecture provides a stage for the audience to become active performers in a three-dimensional canvas. Without the artist’s doing or making, Gazing into Sphere unfolds layers of reciprocity, duality, and temporality latent in our corporeal and metaphysical experience.