Studio Visit: Woomin Kim by Louis Bury

The difference between studio materials and life materials.

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A tube wrapped in multicolor thread resting on a drop cloth on a wood floor titled, Woomin Kim studio

Woomin Kim studio. All photos by Louis Bury.

Segmented lengths of embroidered tubing jut out from one wall of Woomin Kim’s artist-residency studio at the Queens Museum in New York City. The pipework structure, whose looping shape and wooden supports recall a roller coaster, extends five or six feet into the room before terminating at the floor, as though the whimsical artwork connected one part of the museum’s infrastructure to another. Nearby, another serpentine sculpture-in-progress from the same series, Pipe Dream (2019), has wide tubing and a crazy quilt color scheme that’s the exuberant opposite of actual pipes’ austere rigidity.

A curved metal tube on a wooden support is wrapped in multicolored thread with embroiders on the wall behind titled, Woomin Kim studio
A close up of geometric abstract patterns of multicolored thread titled, Woomin Kim studio
A grid of photographs of pipes in front of a black piece of cloth with embroidery on it titled, Woomin Kim studio

Kim’s droll sculptures and wall hangings exist in unexpected mimetic relation to their referents. Her delightful Minerals in Use series (2018), for example, combines household goods (toilet paper, sponges, candles) with craft supplies (crayons, beads, glue) to fabricate objects that look like real geodes yet don’t try to pass themselves off as such. Works in her Urban Nest series (2017), on the other hand—enormous, loom-woven rectangles of found fibers such as scarves, stuffed animals, and rope—won’t be mistaken for actual nests but instead suggest a metaphoric relationship. 

A close up of embroidered flower and abstract patterns on black cloth titled, Woomin Kim studio
A photograph of a corner of a studio with two sets of embroidery on rectangular white and black cloth titled, Woomin Kim studio
A close-up of flower and abstract embroidery on a white background A wooden shelf with various pieces of cloth dangling from it illuminated by a single light titled, Woomin Kim studio

The work’s beguiling interplay between artifice and reality registers a sense of material alienation. Kim’s Depth of Surface series (2016), for instance—in which she lends quotidian readymade objects a matte finish by either sanding them, coating them in translucent paraffin wax, or encasing them in a tight-fitting silk net—transforms overfamiliar objects such as sunglasses and soap dispensers into ghosts of their typical selves.

A wooden shelf with various pieces of cloth dangling from it illuminated by a single light titled, Woomin Kim studio
A wooden shelf with various pieces of cloth dangling from it illuminated by a single light titled, Woomin Kim studio
A table with a variety of bottles of art supplies on it A wooden shelf with various pieces of cloth dangling from it illuminated by a single light titled, Woomin Kim studio

Kim distinguishes between what she calls “studio choices” and “life choices” in how she handles materials. The former approach, whereby she might heat, flatten, or soak an object to see what happens to it, has an alchemical bent, while the latter—squeezing a soap bottle while doing the dishes, say—is routinized and purposive. Her distinction hinges on intent as much as it does method: routine choices are choices that have become so subconscious as not to seem choices at all. With subtlety and verve, Kim’s art models ways humans can assume more responsibility for their capacity to remake the built world.

Woomin Kim’s work can be seen in the group exhibition Interpreting the Natural: Contemporary Visions of Scholars’ Rocks at the Korean Cultural Center New York in New York City until November 30.

Louis Bury is the author of Exercises in Criticism (Dalkey Archive) and Assistant Professor of English at Hostos Community College, CUNY. He writes regularly about visual art for Hyperallergic, and his creative and critical work has been published in Bookforum, Brooklyn Rail, Los Angeles Review of Books, Boston Review, and The Believer.

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