Private View: Saturday 26th of March, 2 - 6 pm
Talk with the artist led by Kailas Elmer, Trebuchet: Saturday 26th of March, 3 pm
Translucent, otherworldly figures appear floating in soft-hued, limbo-like spaces, each expressing a distinct mood or psychological state. These delicate portraits form part of an ongoing series by Seoul-based artist Tae Kim which explores the heightened emotional experiences of the gaming world and complex notions of identity and ownership within this realm. Although the characters are all based on players that Kim has encountered herself, she has no knowledge of their real-life physicality and uses data collected from their online interactions to imagine them as complex, emotional beings. <Faceless Gamers>, the title of her first solo exhibition with Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, plays on the idea of a ‘sitter-less’ portrait to investigate contemporary forms of image-making and communication.
As a self-described digital native, Kim has long used avatars to create different versions of herself in order to interact with others within the virtual realm, often forming lasting friendships. She cites her participation in the cyber funeral of a player who passed while playing an online game in 2007 as a turning point of her artistic practice when she began to question ‘the relationship between the body and the hyperlinked soul.’ Rather than positioning real and digital personas in opposition, she began to imagine an organic, harmonious fusion of these different states of being, a kind of spiritual meeting in a fluid space freed from geographical, social and cultural boundaries.
Her hybrid, deity-like figures visualise this juncture. Although they are otherworldly in appearance, they are not painterly representations of smooth-skinned, idealised virtual avatars. Instead, Kim employs fluid, layered brushstrokes to create a sense of movement, depth and chaos. ‘The smooth skin of the character I meet is too limited to contain the various absurdities, violence, and various human conflicts that occur from moment to moment,’ she says. ‘However, even in a virtual paradise, they make the mistake of repeating the behaviours taught in a competitive and political society.’ As such, her characters’ skin appears translucent, painted with lines and forms that hint at not just their bodily existence, but also their ability to experience pain and emotion. In one painting, for example, a disembodied hand reaches up from the bottom of the canvas to press a finger into the character’s chest, staining their skin red and evoking the appearance of blood. Meanwhile, several of the other works depict digital symbols or Korean text in the figures’ eyes, referencing modes of online communication while also drawing on the notion of the eye as a gateway to the soul.
Adding a further layer of physicality, each of the portraits is painted onto different types of silk using techniques employed in ancient Joseon dynasty portrait paintings, which were mainly commissioned by aristocrats and royalty to illustrate their status, wealth and intelligence. The process begins by applying pigment onto the underside of fabric which seeps through to the surface, harnessing the intrinsic translucency of the silk and softening the intensity of the colour. The image is then carefully rendered on the frontside of the fabric, through a slow, delicate build up of layers. While Kim typically dyes the silk to her desired base colour, some of the fabric comes from traditional Korean clothing with its woven patterning still visible in the finished work. This, once again, connotes a strong bodily presence while also referring back to the history of Joseon portraiture. By drawing on this tradition, Kim not only elevates hybrid digital experiences as part of a historically important cultural shift but also questions perceived social hierarchies, the value of an image and issues of ownership.
Kim describes her compulsion to paint these portraits as an act of ‘possession’ in the sense that she craves a deeper connection or sense of intimacy, but also referring to our wider human desire to own and accumulate objects and people. To accompany the paintings, she has, for the first time, created a series of sculptural works from porcelain, playfully entitled Possession Merch. These were inspired by the artist’s research into porcelain dolls, which were traditionally made as companions for children much like avatars act as surrogates in the modern digital world. The materiality of porcelain mirrors the translucency and luminosity of the paintings, but also offers a greater sense of tangibility. These are objects that can be picked up and held in your hands, but at the same time, they possess an almost talismanic quality in the sense that they represent real-life individuals, suspended in a metamorphic state between their corporeal, spiritual and digital existence.
In this sense, <Faceless Gamers> serves as a powerful record of a specific time in history in which we are grappling with our understanding of not only shifting identities, but also new forms of creativity and expression.