Le Journal Interviews

Atta Kim Interview

Atta Kim Interview

Atta Kim is a photographer who explores notions of identity, time, and existence through the lens of Zen Buddhism. Frequently contrasting notions of subjectivity and objectivity, Kim draws influences from a variety of different schools of thought from concepts of Being by German Philosopher Martin Heidegger to the mysticism of G. I. Gurdjieff. His work is highly inquisitive and constantly seeks to push the boundaries of photography as a medium. A prolific self-taught artist, Kim stands at the forefront of the Korean contemporary art scene.

Here, in an exclusive interview, ArtAndOnly talks to the artist about his work and life.

Your work deals a lot with memory and the passing of time. How important are these themes to you?

For an artist, the work of art exists as memory. Of course, art is memory. Time is narration that explains existence. Time is the most primeval, although it is the most realistic and it is the future. Humans never live a day faster or a day behind. Time makes everything alive or dead, however, time cannot reveal itself definitely. It can be revealed by an object. It is the same as the fact that light can be seen when the light encounters spider web.

ON-AIR Analects of Confucius15,817 words
ON-AIR Analects of Confucius (論語) 15,817 words, 2010

A stone, a tree, and you are the face of time. A round stone is the face of round time. A broken stone is the face of broken time. Is it too convoluted? The past, the present, and the future are only tense. There is only now.

All things eventually, however, disappear. This is the main idea of my ON-AIR Project. To emphasise the value of existence, I use three photographic methodologies of long exposure, superimposing and ice as an object. This photographic work compresses and narrates time.

For my ON-AIR street in New York, the Tiananmen Square, Old Delhi, Prague, Berlin, and Paris, I exposed a cut of film for 8 hours at one location. The moving things are disappeared as much as their speed. Moving fast goes away faster, and slower things disappear slowly.

Ice is a very fascinating material. It is an ideal material that reflects between existence and inexistence, infinite and finiteness, and between ideology of religious icon and the rule of nature. It is the same H2O, yet ice and water, their identity is different. The water becomes clouds by evaporation, and becomes the life of the ground by rain. At this point, there is human history, politics, religion and everything of ideology.

We don’t pray in front of water, ice, a tree or a stone. However, when the ice is sculpted like a Buddha, and a branch becomes a Cross, people start praying to it even if they don’t pray to normal ice. The ice Mao has not been able to take part in an exhibition. Because the Chinese government recognises it in a negative way. This is the manifestation of ideology in human notions. Ice Mao doesn’t contradict Mao. It tells the basic rule of world that nothing is eternal. Ice becomes water, and water becomes life, this is the real shape of world.

Ice Buddha, water, and ice have the same material property, but their identity is different. Thus, all existing object such as stone or tree are the venerable object. And you are also a venerable object.





As a visual medium, photographs tell stories that words cannot. To what extent do you agree with this?

I cannot agree with this. Is it possible to express in word what we cannot express in photography? There is no limit in art. It is why the arts exist. Is it too naive?

Words are words itself, visual is visual itself. They have different identities, but the relation between them is complementary. Word is an output of visual objects. Visual objects are not able to be expressed in words perfectly, and words are not able to expressed in visual objects. Nevertheless, a poem is concluded in an image, and a photo is described in words, the relation between word and visual objects is not able to be separated. When art is described, philosophy gets lost, thoughts become a missing child. It is perplexing, it could be the limit of art. Words and visual objects, expression and description, they have to be tensed.

“Expressing something in art is harder than silence,” says Ludwig Wittgenstein.

“Silence exists without words, but words cannot exist without silence. Without words of silence, words have no depth.” Susan Sontag. The depth of reason can be seen. I also agree. Here is the function of the picture. Photography is synonymous with what is visible, but it is also the back side of the invisible world. The reason is that if there is nothing invisible, it cannot exist.

ON-AIR Project, Paris-10000, 2008
ON-AIR Project, Paris-10000, 2008

Have you seen the last series of my ON-AIR Project, the Indala series? I filmed 10,000 layers of a city and layered it, but nothing is visible. There are many contemporary objects and objects in the city, such as buildings, people and cars.

This work, which is a climax of my photography work, it is like the city’s time capsule. The result of layering 10,000 cuts, one cut, one cut, faithfully photographed, is a grey monotone.

I laughed as the image of the last cut of the cut-off layer appeared on the monitor. It was empty. And we cried. It was magnificent. My staff members who worked on the artwork had the same feelings. We laughed together and wept. It was a decade ago. Where had so many people, buildings and city objects gone and became invisible?

This series is located in 12 metropolitan cities including in New York, Washington, Moscow. Berlin, Prague, Paris, London, Tokyo, Athens, Tokyo, Rome, and Delhi. Many New Yorkers who had seen New York-10,000 cried. They said “Oh my New York!”

I consider the city a perfect example of nature. As birds and bees build houses, and nature itself changes, humans have built their own cities. Everything in the 21st century man is there. Indala says the universe is entangled like a net. There is nothing in space that does not involve. None of them exist in one. But there is something that can be alone. That is the identity of the individual. The identity of all human beings and things is different. Identity is different, “different” is the greatest value. It is an act of art to reveal the identity of the difference to the world.

A thing exists even if It is invisible. It is a phenomenon that cannot be seen.

Now, if you close your eyes, you can see black. It is also a visible phenomenon. What you see is not everything. There are a lot of rituals and worlds in the grey image of Indala. Reality is. There are 10,000 cuts, and a lot of stagnation is in the image of each cut. What we see is only part of the world.

This is against the grammar of photography, but it is not. There is no reason to be sad that you cannot see. The invisible Indala series will make the visible picture clearer. Even if we do not see, I do not think the cut’s identity has disappeared. Physical property disappears, but identity does not disappear.

Let ‘s go back to Susan. “Words cannot exist without silence.”

I say. “The visible exists as invisible.” I am as complete as you are.

The titles of your work are fascinating. To what extent do you perceive the title of your work to be a part of the work itself?

Thank you for your positive comment. I feel a bit negative about the title, but ultimately the main reason for naming is to help classify the evolution of my work. I cannot erase the idea that I was naive when I saw the title made long ago.

Titles have double-sidedness.

It helps to communicate, but it also interferes. So the title in art is a necessary evil. A title uses a communicable word, but it also raises an error in recognition of the text. It seemed unfriendly, Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled” was exquisite. “Untitled” leaves space for the audience.

In art, titles are small doors that go into the works. When the door has a special collar, the visitor will be misunderstood.

For example, if two ordinary people wear capes and coveralls, we would think that the person who is wearing a cape is a priest or a disciple. As soon as we see him, we will bring forth Christianism. It is because of human notions.

So when we name a title, your identity may be distorted or lost. The audience and history are pilgrims who follow naming. The title is still perplexing.

Your Superimpostition series explores traditional ideas of sexual and gender identities by physically blurring the lines where man and woman meet. How important was this when creating the work?

A photograph is a pronoun of what is visible. Reproducing the fact is known as the definition of photography. This is the identity of the photography we knew. But photography is not the truth. It is only close to the truth. It is close to the truth. Rather, it is a powerful weapon that can distort facts. If someone says the photograph is the truth, he is only a third-degree fraud. It is impossible to reproduce reality. That’s real. There is nothing. Image and 3D print are human desire to reach reality. Two-dimensional photographs have many handicaps. That’s the charm of the photo.

Long exposure and superimposition are classic photographic processes. However, the layer is different from the montage of the analog era. I waited ten years for the digital technology to evolve to layer the images of the cuts. Layering 10,000 images with only cuts is almost impossible with analog processes. Of course it is not impossible, but it takes a lot of time. But the evolution of digital has made this possible. I have developed a software for layering 10,000 cuts, or for layering 15,817 characters of Analects of Confucius, which is the core of Chinese philosophy. It was to complete the Indala series.

Long exposure is an old photographic technique. ON-AIR Project 030, 031 exposed two couples’ sex for an hour. Sex is a creation of heaven and earth, a big bang of a space. Man is a microcosm. This is not different from city Indala, where the pictures of 10,000 cuts are melting, but nothing is seen. In fact, we cannot exist even a moment unless we are connected to the universe.

Silver film has the ability to accumulate light. All of my work, except the Urban Indala series, used only 8×10 inch film cameras. It is similar to the one used by Eugene Atget. The manipulation is primitive, but the resolution is beyond imagination. Everything disappears, but identity does not disappear. That’s why I use a large camera.

You have cited the philosopher Martin Heidegger as an influence, one of whose ideas is about what he calls “Da sein” (“to be here” in German); our mode of being present in the world. What is it about human existence that fascinates you?

Every human being undergoes a similar process of growth, becoming a human being. Carl Gustav Jung, who has been studying human spirit for the rest of his life, confesses in his autobiography, “Man is not a monkey, neither a goat nor a tree, I am a human, but what is man?” What are human beings? It is natural to explore human identity. Poor, but I’ve been living that way for the rest of my life. Thought more, speculative, and existent.

I had to make my own way of communicating with the world. “我用我法, I use my law.” It came from image training. Image training is my method of doing Zen. It is a fusion of the theory of Gurdzhiev and the philosophy of Buddhism.

Long ago, when I was interested in Freud and Jung, I went directly into a mental hospital and met 360 patients to see the spirit. It was a very naive act, but it was a very precious time. I met Heidegger after Jung. It is said that energy is most active at 3-5 am in Buddhism. It is not wrong to understand that the activity of sperm that create human beings is the most vigorous at this time.

So the monks get up at 3 am and pray. It compunctions itself to control intense desire internally.

One of my works “In-der-Welt-sein” is a series of photos taken about 25 years ago, between 3 am and 5 am. I shot the object with only the moonlight and starlight. It was a time when we had already experienced everything in the world. At that time, Heidegger was already thinking.

After a long time, Heidegger’s Ontology of Art and Derrida’s The Deconstruction had moved away. It remains a nourishment in my works. The reason why the work is memories. Heidegger played a very important role in studying Eastern thought.

If Western philosophy is logical and close to rational and sophisticated discipline, Eastern philosophy is a study of nature and essence of things. Of course, it is not easy to go east and west, but orthodoxy is right. The nature and essence of man and things cannot be interpreted and deconstructed sensibly and emotionally.

Human spirit is hardware, mind is software. What is spirit? It is identity, philosophy, and thought. The mind speaks senses and emotions. No software is required, but hardware cannot be discarded. In other words, if you remove unnecessary software from your computer, you can operate it quickly. Emptying the mind to human makes the body lighter. However, when the hardware is removed, the computer is stopped, and when the human mind is emptied, it becomes psychotic. Psychological identity is the most important factor in forming a human being.

Western philosophy came out in the West, and Eastern thought emerged in the East. There is a reason why great philosophy and thought are formed in the land. This means that the environment plays a big role in forming the identity of individuals and continents. I was born in Asia. It was matured as a human being ate the nourishment of Asia, the wind, and the sun. To me, oriental thought is like the food I can digest. This is a reasonable assumption. DNA is a storage device that contains everything of human history. So my DNA was ideally compressed to oriental thinking and existential laws.

Work is an act of discarding. If you leave the bowl of water as if you can fill it with new water, you will get new in that space.

Tell us about your interest in Mysticism and Zen Buddhism. How do you think photography helps to express this?

Artist is a kind of human being who creates newness. Newness is out of common sense. Newness outside common sense should be put on the table of common sense. The artist does the work.

However, if you go out of common sense, you will inevitably get hurt. This is like breaking the cup on the table when it goes out.

Humans are instinctively afraid of being hurt. The act of healing the wound is thought and reflection. Ironically, this is also a task. It is also a reason for the noble work.

Zen practice is my thought and the act of healing. It is true that Buddhism greatly influenced my thought.

It’s like I ride a plane or ride a boat to go to London. The plane takes me to the destination quickly, and the ship slows. Going slow can see a lot. Good practice is one such method.

The artist should become lonelier. There is despair at the end of loneliness, and serenity is found at the position of despair. Newness awaits me there. It is difficult to explain in words the experience of this process. It is a splendid blessing.

I am not a mystic. It is not a Buddhist. I’m a person who respects and strives to realise all things and religions that exist. I am a person who touches and expresses what I have experienced or expresses. But what I experienced is bound to have limits, and I admit it.

Your work often blurs the lines between individual subject and object, The Museum Project being a good example of this, where the subject is both covered up and on display at the same time. Tell us about your interest in this.

I am sorry if my understanding of your question is not enough.

Long ago, the Museum project emphasised the vividness of existence by boxing.

The ON-AIR project emphasised the value of existence by losing its clarity.

This is like death making life sharper. Silence is like sharpening words.

It is the same as making clear that there is nothing.

The main body of the Eastern philosophy, 15,817 letters of Analects of Confucius, was laid and laid up in one, and the layer of 5,270 characters of Tao-te-ching of Laotzu and 260 characters of Prajna Paramita Sutra were laid. It made the scriptures containing the foundation of the world a floating cloud. I was excited. However, the identity of the scriptures has not disappeared that the form of the word of the scriptures has disappeared.

The disappearance of the image of thousands-cuts does not mean that the object’s identity has disappeared. It is still alive. It is an identity and an idea.

This work has led me to nature. I have come back to nature. It is ON NATURE. ON NATURE is a picture drawn by nature, although it is not yet open to the world. It is nature, human law, that no one knows where to go tomorrow. No one can predict the future.

There was a question that was not solved by living as an artist for a long time. The reason I came to this world, the reason of existence. I learned why while I was doing ON NATURE.

I believe that art is touching, healing, and reflection. I want to heal and reflect on the scars left in the footsteps of justice, such as human beings. It is the reason of my existence.

You will soon be impressed. If you are not impressed, my 60 years will be a sad Pierrot.