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Small pictures & strange spaces with Cien (Ji Sum) Kim, MA

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From the Nicéphore Niépce’s first photograph to the iPhone, there has been a constant dialog between photography and painting, the sibling giants of the image-making world. In general both traditions seek to encapsulate space, to express in two dimensions what is experienced in three. Right alongside photography and painting has come the human impulse to edit reality so as to communicate an extra flavour of illusion.

In photography everything from the formally attired Chinese men and women in urn portraits to the abstracted Givenchy ads contain edited liberites, be it before or after the chemical capture of light. With painting the physical application of material looks to change the subject, while photography has historically sought to change the image prior to its printed finality. But what about artists who want to communicate with the base medium of one, and the persuasive tools of the other? Artist Cien (Ji Sum) Kim takes on the complex question, answering it with cunning in the spring 'Synthesis of Impressions' gallery show.

‘I am interested in private experiences occurring in public spaces,’ says the 21-year-old South Korean photographer, and indeed her works give a definite sense of the internal and external coexisting in fluent harmony. Kim shows us photos of deep space that appear otherworldly upon first sight, and then slowly become familiar with observation. This is largely achieved through her altering of the photographs, namely through Conte crayon and charcoal. In so doing, Kim navigates the viewer in and out of her photographs, causing them to see the space anew.

The photographs are printed on matte photo paper which preserves the textual qualities associated with drawing, while the images themselves consist of confrontational perspective. Her work Exit (2014) shows us an image of an emphatically public corridor, with its fire doors, pallid lights and grim signs. Kim does not permit her audience to comfortable situate themselves, however. Rather, she weaves pale forms of private moments in and out of the space – populating the literal environment with personal perspective.

On why she chooses such a challenging compositional style, Kim says ‘by merging existing and experienced realities, I am telling an anecdote, inviting the viewers to a person’s tale before they interact directly with the photograph.’ She gestures towards her work Home 222 that presents a merging of architecture and personal object through uncompromising shifts in line.

At first glance, the base photo is hardly visible – so magnetic are the folds of cloth, the chair, the lamp and countless other forms that populate the piece. When the eye is eventually lead to consider what the mysterious force is that enlivens these objects, a quiet and striking gestalt switch causes the space to expand outward and inward. With an abrupt shift in perception, a ceiling soars back from the vertical stillness of her darker forms – leaving us only when the sanctuary of still lives may scoop us up at the bottom of the composition.

The innovation that started with View from the Window at Les Gras continues in works like Exit, Drawing Studio, Street Market and Conversations. Even for the cynics amongst us, who despair at length over the didactic nature of the modern image cannot mourn any loss of subtlety here. Cien Kim’s sophisticated pieces prohibit the most maudlin of our number from turning up our noses – causing us to raise our eyes instead.

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