Delicate, impish figures appear against bright, blazing backgrounds, their bodies embellished with or seemingly sprouting flowers and leaves while at other times, characters are hidden deep within thick pockets of foliage. This latest series of portraits by the Seoul-based artist Tae Kim continue her explorations into the heightened emotional experiences of the gaming world with a particular focus on the increasingly blurred boundaries between our cyber personas and physical bodies. Bloom, her solo exhibition at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery in London, takes the motif of flowers as a way of thinking about ritual-making, forms of communication and entangled identities.
Kim has long used digital avatars to create and experiment with different versions of herself and to interact with others within a virtual space. These online personas continue to exist even when she is not actively using them, each forming another layer of identity – a shimmering, translucent skin that she can pick up and put down as she pleases. And yet, unlike her physical body which naturally ages, these personas do not – and will never – perish unless they are deleted. Although this may appear to evoke a tension or even conflict between the flesh and digital bodies, Kim doesn’t see it that way: for her, the virtual realm offers new possibilities for expanding our existence. This becomes clear in works such as (YO! nice) and (LOL), both of which are titled after the translucent Korean characters emblazoned across the image and depict otherworldly characters washed over by fluid, floral waves. There is a strong sense of movement in the works – they seem to shift, swirl and mutate before our gaze – while the vividly coloured backgrounds provide a strong contrast to the soft, pink translucency of the character’s skin. This is a hybrid, dynamic, evolving space, where words and imagery, organic and inorganic materials coexist.
Other works in the exhibition (Trust issues, Birds of a feather, Guts by chance) also incorporate fragments of text drawn from the colloquial language used in cyberspace to quickly communicate and form connections with other players. As Kim notes, ‘there is a multicultural aspect to the gaming world’ where people from different nationalities create new, universal ways of expressing themselves. This is also explored in two works where a piece of red thread appears wrapped around the character’s finger. In East Asian cultures, red string traditionally symbolises desire and the formation of relationships, but in these works it also refers to the hyperconnectivity of the web and the dissolution of geographical and social boundaries. ‘Relationships in cyberspace are often very heightened and strong, but they are also quite easily lost,’ explains Kim. In a series of smaller scale works, this intensity of emotion but also the isolated nature of these kinds of experiences is conveyed through luscious pockets of greenery in which we glimpse the hidden faces of avatars.
Kim has also created a collection of sculptures that consider different types of touch and possession. These works were born out of her interest in the culture of merchandise that surrounds the gaming world but also our wider human desire to own and accumulate objects and people. Vase for goodbye loosely resembles the shape of a heart but it is also a vessel with a hollow centre for storing flowers or other items. On the left hand side there are condolences written in Chinese characters and on the right there are congratulations, referring, perhaps, to the cyclical nature of life or how our interpretation of a situation is dependent on our perspective. As Kim notes, we can choose to think about the rise of the digital world as the end of something or as a beginning. In a sense, what these works capture is a process of evolution that is as uncertain as it is filled with hope and potential.