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Anjum Nahar gives her thoughts on Kim Yong-Ik’s deeply thoughtful and deceptively simple Spike Island exhibition.

It’s a strange responsibility, the task of reviewing an exhibition in which a good deal of the artist’s best works are wrapped in plastic packaging or packed up in cardboard boxes. But packaging is one of the key visual stimulants of Korean artist Kim Yong-Ik’s Spike Island exhibition, I Believe My Works Are Still Valid. Packaging is one of the aspects which allows Kim’s works to speak to those of us who are tired of society dictating how we should think about art.

‘As students ourselves, we can engage with Kim’s dedication to imperfection by being forgiving of ourselves and allowing room for mistakes or errors in our own work’

You might think I’m not in my right mind, recommending a stack of cardboard boxes to an audience of busy university students, but I can promise that you have more in common with Kim Yong-Ik’s attitude towards the creative process than you might think.

Kim Yong-Ik, ‘I Believe My Works Are Still Valid’ exhibition now open! #KimYongIk #SpikeIsland

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So far, I’ve been quite disingenuous in suggesting that cardboard boxes are the centre of Kim’s exhibition. The boxes are certainly a notable part of Kim’s earlier works from the seventies and eighties, when the artist found himself caught between the new Korean Modernist movement and the so-called Minjung art (People’s art) of the time.  Sending his art to galleries but exhibiting it while still in its boxed form became Kim’s method of declaring that he would not align himself with either side.

‘how much control do art galleries have in influencing our perceptions, when they dictate how art is to be hung and presented? What else is presented by institutions in specific ways, in order to influence our perceptions of society?’

The prevalence of wrapping and packaging throughout the exhibition can be seen as a symbol of protest against not only alliances to these movements, but also to institutions in general- how much control do art galleries have in influencing our perceptions, when they dictate how art is to be hung and presented? What else is presented by institutions in specific ways, in order to influence our perceptions of society?

Seeing packaged art can feel somewhat intrusive, as if we are looking at something that has not been prepared to enter the gallery space- a product not quite ready for consumption. After all, how can we look at packaging and not be reminded that art can be commodified?

Kim Yong-Ik has some very unique ideas about the use of canvases in art. This is demonstrated in his Polka-dot series where he uses the canvas to signify the ‘human’ and the dots as our thoughts and agonies. The series is hung chronologically in Spike Island- as the paintings develop it is easy to see the dots moving further apart, as if they are in the process of leaving the canvas, suggesting that it is possible for us to free ourselves of our mental pains and stresses.

‘works … seem to convey the dark notion that this bliss can only truly be achieved in death’

And yet the fact that this is followed by Kim’s Coffin Series, works which explore finality and mortality, seems to convey the dark notion that this bliss can only truly be achieved in death. The highlight of the Coffin Series is Aerial Burial (2015), a hanging installation containing some of Kim’s writing and past exhibition materials. The artist left the installation outside with the hope that it would get struck by lightning, destroying its contents.

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I think that we, as university students, can easily relate to the desire that Kim feels to leave past works behind in order to make space for the new, especially when we reflect back upon our own academic work and consider how much we have improved over the years.

Another focus of the exhibited work is the disruption of the perfect surface of the canvas. For instance, some of the works have berry juice rubbed into them, or notes and scribbles written in Korean, giving an aged and dirty effect to the artwork. These Korean notes have been translated into English in pencil directly onto the walls of the exhibition, highlighting the way in which the artist has not strictly limited himself to the surface of the canvas.

‘a complete independence from the use of a canvas’

One of the works that Spike Island was not able to get a hold of, since it was sold to a buyer in Los Angeles, has been recreated by the artist directly onto the exhibition walls. Kim is open to adapting and changing his work for different exhibition spaces and this bold move displays a complete independence from the use of a canvas, which Kim believes is not always a necessary component of ‘good art.’ Kim provides a list of what makes good art in a piece called Closer… Come Closer….. (1996 – 2013) a mixed media canvas wrapped in vinyl. He outlines that good artwork should be transportable, and be made simply and cheaply.

Kim’s work could be considered to demand little energy, as nothing is presented as polished and perfect- there are no signs which betray the exertion of a great deal of effort in creating this art. In reality, of course, putting this exhibition together was no easy task for either the artist or the team at Spike Island.

‘self belief is central to Kim’s work’

As students ourselves, we can engage with Kim’s dedication to imperfection by being forgiving of ourselves and allowing room for mistakes or errors in our own work. Indeed, self belief is central to Kim’s work, as demonstrated by the confident and self-assured title of the exhibition, I Believe My Works Are Still Valid.


If you haven’t yet visited Spike Island, this exhibition is a great introduction to the gallery space. Take a break from studying and head down to the waterside to check out all that Spike Island has to offer. Kim Yong-Ik’s works will be open to the public, free of charge, until the 17th December 2017, giving you plenty of time to find out if you agree with the contents of the article and to collect your own thoughts on Kim’s artwork.


What do you think about Kim Yong-Ik’s unusual exhibition- bizarre or brilliant? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or catch us on social media.

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