Looking at the image which publicises Kim Minjung’s solo exhibition The Memory of Process at White Cube, you wonder how it is that she came to be branded as a Dansaekhwa artist. The busy, multicoloured concentric circles, like patterns made by raindrops in a psychedelic puddle, are miles away from the austere, minimalist calm that you expect from mainstream Korean Monochrome Painting – think back to Park Seo-bo’s solo show at the same venue two years ago.
Kim is known as something of a collector, but her own work is beginning to appear in major collections. Currently on show in the British Museum’s Korea gallery are two of her works which are more in keeping with the Dansaekha branding – Mountain and The Room. And in fact the first works you see at the White Cube are in the same vein and from the same series as The Room. And they are literally monochrome. The works are almost sculptural, created from pieces of hanji, shaped in rectangles or square frames by being burned, and then carefully layered like roof tiles, parallel lines or in concentric forms.
The Room plays with perspective and geometry, with the expected rectilinear shapes flattened and distorted, so that we are left with an abstract impression of domestic architecture. Balancing a slight sense of claustrophobia (the room has no windows) is a surprising sense of giddiness, as the distorted perspective and colour gradations in the paper give an illusion of movement caused by the parallax effect, the long strips of paper radiating out like a starburst. And in fact a variation on the Room series on display is called Raggi, rays.
Other works on the ground floor range from simpler compositions with the strips of paper arranged vertically (appropriately titled Bambu, as the work resembles the stems in a densely-planted bamboo forest) or horizontally (Onde – waves), to the much more complex Nautilus, where the strips are arranged to create a swirling spiral like a seashell.
In the technicolor works downstairs the same burning and layering techniques are used, but with coloured hanji, either in circular, flower-like forms (works entitled Pieno di Vuoto – or “full of emptiness”) or in tiny rectangles arranged in flowing abstract designs (Story).
Kim’s Mountain series involves no burning or collage techniques. Instead, she returns more to the traditions of ink painting. The shape of the row upon row of mountains receding into infinity – so typical of a Korean landscape – are determined in part by the way in which the paper absorbs the ink. Looking closely at the surface of the paper you see that the ridges of the mountains are not cleanly defined: instead, the edges are slightly blurred by the ink spreading in the fibrous texture of the paper. But the application of ink to paper requires mental preparation. According to the essay in the exhibition’s press release,
‘I have to wait for the right moment for drawing some lines in ink’ she has said, ‘sometimes it takes days and weeks to find the right state of mind. Breathing needs to be absolutely under control […]’
Kim Minjung’s exhibition continues at the White Cube Masons Yard until 10 March and is well worth a visit.