South Korea is a country in rapid change. Its ancient Taoist and Buddhist traditions, the recent violent memories of the Korean and Vietnamese Wars and its current status as the world’s fastest growing consumer society maintain a powerful and complex dynamic. Atta Kim’s Museum Project, which he began in 1994, is a personal process of deconstructing these strands of trauma, tradition, consumerism and exponential growth. Part photography, part performance he employs the device of the museum display case to contain and distance his subjects – to present them as artefacts.
By encasing his subjects in glass he brings the representation of disparate individuals and diverse activities to the level playing field of museological enquiry and public spectacle. Thus, a bourgeois bridal couple and standard family unit, a monk and a pair of lovers, a war veteran and a whore are all presented as equally ‘valid’ aspects of the Korean socio-cultural ‘economy’. They become intellectual ciphers and they become consumer products. They also become abstracted, they become art…
Lush and wry, the images seduce the eye while dislocating the subject from the conventions of the everyday. But the settings too become ‘appropriated ‘ into Atta Kim’s museum, the glass case operating at both its surfaces – inside and out. It is as though the transparent but impermeable membrane of the glass acts as a trope not only for the essential isolation of the individual but also for the way in which each individual projects their own meaning onto place. And, though isolated, each encased subject is also elevated, placed in a position of veneration and wonder. Buddha said: “I am exactly the same as other people. Anyone can become a Buddha, even very miscellaneous beings.” Atta Kim says: “I sympathise with that remark.”
This text was first published in BLINK (Phaidon 2002) available here
Image: © Atta Kim Museum Project #001 1995 from the Field series