Atta Kim’s melting moments

by Philip Gowman on 7 November, 2009

in Exhibition reviews and comment, Kim Atta, Photography, Venice Biennale

Atta Kim

Atta Kim in front of his melting Parthenon ice sculpture

The Dorsoduro, Venice’s south-western quarter, has a completely different atmosphere from the hustle and bustle of the tourist areas around St Mark’s across the Grand Canal. It’s busy around the Peggy Guggenheim museum, but further west, beyond the Campo Santa Margherita, the crowds thin out. Here, alongside a narrow waterway on the Fondamenta del Soccorso is the peaceful Palazzo Zenobio, which boasts a quiet garden where sometimes plays are performed in the summer. This was the location chosen for Atta Kim’s Biennale Collateral Event ON-AIR – a venue shared with the Armenian contribution to the Biennale.

Atta Kim: ON-AIR Project, New York Series, 57th Street, 8 Hours (2005)

Atta Kim: ON-AIR Project, New York Series, 57th Street, 8 Hours (2005)

Kim’s exhibition is divided into three seemingly unrelated sections. In the first room are some interesting ultra-long exposure photographs of busy cities from Kim’s ON-AIR series. In an 8-hour exposure, any signs of human habitation, transient as they are in such a time span, are invisible: at most, there’s a grey blurring in the streets of Beijing where the pedestrians struggle to register on the film. The broad boulevards of Paris are deserted as even the slow-moving traffic fails to get captured in the exposure. Instead, streets and pavements appear deserted, leaving cities which are eerily empty of their human creators, as if mankind has been wiped out by some disaster.

Atta Kim: Monologue of Ice: Portrait of Mao (2006), installation view

Atta Kim: Monologue of Ice: Portrait of Mao (2006), installation view

In the second room, ice sculptures are captured on film, part of Kim’s Monologue of Ice series. A giant Parthenon, or a statue of Mao, in various stages of melting. These stills are in fact part of a larger project in which the monuments and historical figures are filmed as they decompose – signifying the transience of all human existence. Here’s the melting of the Parthenon, a period of a few days condensed into a couple of minutes:

In the third room, upstairs, are four large framed grey rectangles, resulting from superimposing a 10,000 different 5 x 7 images of a particular city – Kim’s Indala series.

Atta Kim: 10,000. Paris. Or maybe New York

Atta Kim: 10,000. Paris. Or maybe New York

It has to be admitted that the big grey rectangle representing 10,000 superimposed photographs of Rome looks remarkably similar to the big grey rectangle representing 10,000 superimposed photographs of Paris which faces it across the room. And New York and Moscow could equally be Rome. These works initially seem less meaningful than the works in the rooms downstairs, but were the ones highlighted in the opening ceremony, in which the artist climbed a scaffolding tower and scattered 10,000 photographs to the winds:

I wonder who had the job of picking them up again.

Atta Kim is described in the Biennale brochure as “a philoso­pher and a man of thought rather than an artist”.

He developed a unique view of the world through his own exceptional training for a long time. His photographs of cities capture the dichotomous natures of space, matter and time, hinting at a twilight reality into which everything will fade.

Presumably the Indala grey rectangles are that twilight reality. Regardless of each city’s unique characteristics, in time they will all melt to the same formlessness – just as the 10,000 photos were scattered into the ether. The three strands of the exhibition are therefore successfully intertwined, in a way that those in Korea’s national pavilion are not.

Atta Kim’s exhibition continues until 22 November.

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