Sharif, Lynch: Architecture

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Here's an essay on the cut photography of our friend the artist, Soo Kim, written for a book on the occasion of The Getty Museum's group exhibition, CUT! PAPER PLAY IN CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHY, featuring the work of Soo, and other artists including Christiane Feser and Thomas Demand:

Drawing, by other means…, or some brief reflections on Soo Kim’s intricate, photographic cut and paste assemblies of metropolitan landscapes; and particularly how they conjure the projective force of architectural representation (drawings and models of a future) as they hover around a modern rite of remembrance (the documentary photograph of a past,) prompting provocative effects that make us think about the fluid, sometimes inverted relationships between the cultures, media and techniques of two image-focused and image-based practices (photography and architecture) and how, sometimes, to draw is not just to add lines to paper but to subtract them from it.


Reykjavík, Taipei, Dubrovnik…. A Conradian darkness haunts Soo Kim’s choice of locations for architectural and urban documentary subject matter*. And, like Joseph Conrad, the altered images constructed on her return from faraway places uncannily evoke difficult questions that strike at the core of modern civilization. For these are places in which imminent, or recent, systemic tragedies have claimed, or might yet claim, their casualties and victims. Think of Iceland after Capitalism; Taiwan and the decades-long threat of Chinese invasion; and Croatia after the war horrors of Yugoslavian Balkanization. In a sense hers are not only wispily constructed mementos of the urban constructs of mortals, but reminders of the knotty moral constructs in which they writhe.


Even when captured on a seemingly cheerful, sunny day there is a wistfulness, a sense of loss that permeates each of the portraits. Looming beneath the surface of once bankrolled stage sets is the fearsome tug of more than just material bankruptcies. Projected slightly in front of the chromatically tinged sheen of photographic paper are feint shreds of the same medium casting shadows on what is somehow already a shadow, or foreshadow, of its former self.
In a sense the nascent dimensionality of Kim’s photo-collaged images — the tectonics which render them both image and construct — expands Roland Barthes’s notions of the deathly capacity of the photographer’s click, claiming for photography a territory in the world of objects — particularly those of funerary monuments, or death masks. On their trembling surfaces moods swing from the celebratory to the macabre. The more frenzied and dense the scissor-cut, hand-placed line-work the more palpably we sense a violently shredded landscape hovering against an indifferent, perhaps oblivious horizon. Vigorously cutting and pasting after the click, Kim relentlessly renders places to their bones, makes papery funeral pyres from the remains and fixes our gaze somewhere between remembrance and hope.

Simultaneously, among the cuts we sense the projective force of lineal arrays; and with them not the final gasp but the first breath of an after-life, of different horizons and alternative futures. Energy pulsates throughout the delicate assemblages, and the overlain drawing-like network reorients our thinking much in the way that architectural drawings do; and particularly those of a speculative nature. Unlike conventional architectural drawings (documents and instructions to be translated to buildings with finite material limits) Kim’s wire-frame build-ups suspend dimension, duration and state. In so doing they scramble the constitutions of both architectural drawings and models; and act as conceptual constructs.


Because these intensely delineated transfigurations of context possess the paper-thinnest of thicknesses they also operate as architectural models, or bas-reliefs. By slightly displacing the orthographically inclined lines that trace their contexts, paraline projection, particularly of the oblique disposition, creates the illusion of three-dimensionality. Drawing and model touch one another with the logic of the former dictating the terms. The effects of Kim’s meticulous labor is mesmerizing; and so these overdrawn accounts of metropolitan sites infinitely replenish our imagination. Gaps, offsets and upsets between clicks, cuts and scores construct imaginary realms that defy foreclosure. In drawing by other means Kim produces fluctuating frameworks that echo the thoughts of the late architectural theorist Ignasi de Solà-Morales. Hers are constructs that are neither “a ground, keeping faith with certain images”, nor an invocation of a mythically strong topography or an “archeological memory.” Instead Kim’s photo-collages record “a conjectural foundation, a ritual of and in time, capable of fixing a point of particular intensity in the universal chaos of our metropolitan civilization.”

* NOTE: Kim’s itineraries are those of an inquisitive and open-minded cosmopolitan in a time when hostility to such an outlook is on the rise. Gently defiant, her photo-collages transmit a sense of strong free-will and a testimony to the freedom to record and reimagine a distant place in an increasingly walled-in world plagued with nativist isolationism. This kind of practice brings to mind Edward Said’s reflections on intellectuals of a worldly bent, who are “(n)ot like Robinson Crusoe, but more like Marco Polo, whose sense of the marvelous never fails (her), and who is always a traveler, a provisional guest, not a freeloader, conqueror or raider.” Soo Kim’s compulsion to trek to, photographically arrest and then over-draw faraway places is something all the more stirring considering that the once cripplingly shy individual, only ever “not shy in front of buildings,” now bravely ventures to confront and conquer her apprehensions in distant space and time.