Journeys of the 25th Hour
Minouk Lim Reflects on Her Work

FireCliff 3 performer with Wearable ruine, 2012
Commissioned by the Walker, this series is constructed from thermofoam sculpted by heat and a combination of man-made and natural materials such as synthetic fur, paraffin, animal bones, polyurethane, velvet, and feathers.
Photo: Cameron Wittig, Walker Art Center

Minouk Lim engages with the arteries of city life—the streets—to create poignant artworks that speak to individual alienation amid Seoul’s rapid development. Her work has been shown in increasingly wider circles since she was awarded the Hermès Korea Art Prize in 2007 and the 1st Media Art Korea Award in 2010. Merging performance, video, and documentary, Lim says works in her Walker exhibition are “pilgrimages to places left out of our memory, journeys of the 25th hour.” As she prepared a series of sculptures commissioned by the Walker, Lim reflected on what motivates her as an artist.

When I was a child, there was a coal stove in the center of my school classroom during the winter months. The light streaming into the room created flickering shadows of heat on the wall, which always caught my eyes in class and led me to daydreaming. It was my first encounter with the invisible and the shadow was my first video projection. The shadow dance choreographed by heat came as a pleasing strangeness to me who had thought the invisible only to be a cold specter. That observation, which had the effect on me of alleviating fear and pain, became the motivation for my art.
In my installations, performances, and videos, I aim to give the disappearing present a proper send-off while also constructing a memory of it with the hope of seeing it again in the future. These works are different from the traditional format of a documentary in that they include the intervention of staged actions. So my sense of time does not follow the common sequence of past-present-future, but rather of past-future-present. The existence and the traces of what disappeared and became invisible are presented along the boundary between fiction and reality. This approach enables me to fully embrace the fear and pain of separation, which has already begun at the moment of meeting. I may have internalized this kind of compulsion because I was born in a country that went through colonialism, war, and division. My family had to move 12 times after the day of my birth. They accepted each parting in the name of love and hope. I learned that without some intervention, some people are put in the position of being forced to disappear. All too often, the places and people that disappeared too soon form images in front of my eyes, just like the haze of fiction.
Today, under the changes caused by globalization, places are counted only as space; individuals are merely a resource or networking. Nietzsche was said to have wept as he embraced a downtrodden horse, but I want to weep, embracing places. Nevertheless, I also want to fight against the sense of powerlessness caused by melancholy, whether it is the feeling that overwhelmed Nietzsche, or any other kind. So I am inventing rituals for, and keeping records of, moments of separation. This is for me as well as my generation—people who, without their own land to cultivate, frequently and inevitably send away places and people. In my work, I propose a parting ritual for us; I believe this will ensure that things disappear in a different way, one not contaminated by the misery of our century.
To me this is of importance. To me this is not only what ethics and aesthetics together ought to pursue; it is also an artistic practice to liberate oppression, unlike the prevalent, even coerced obsession with youth, newness, wellness, safety, etc., or the ideological manipulations regarding our attitudes toward death. Therefore, I gravitate toward the qualities of the womb as a kind of placeness that is different from geographical nostalgia or a homing instinct. I think up a liquid theater that will protect the not-yet-occupied future, irrespective of regional or national communities. Fluxus artist Robert Filliou said, “Art is what makes life more interesting than art.” If Fluxus art changed life into an art-as-life that is more “interesting” than art, then what change comes from art-as-life that is more “precarious” than art?”
My works New Town Ghost, S.O.S.— Adoptive Dissensus, and The Weight of Hands, among others, are pilgrimages to places left out of our memory, journeys of the 25th hour—a time, it is said, when people are beyond help, despite the second coming of the Messiah. These take-out performances trace the intangible elements of darkness, temperature, and liquidness; they conjure ghosts and appease them before they show up for revenge, even though they cannot have any intention to haunt us. They demonstrate, and make it known, that namelessness is in no way nonexistence.
As an artist living in a geographically and ideologically divided country, I am obsessed with the fight against binary thinking. In recalling the final sentences in Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence by American political philosopher Judith Butler, I would say I am compelled to find new ways to criticize, new ways to ask questions. How can I translate cultural dissensus into something other than language and forge it into a sensuous democracy? What could I invent to protect the common vulnerability of the body? And with what temperature should I represent the dissensus?
Translated by Jaeeun Gwak