Joeun Kim Aatchim’s delicate silk designs are provocatively sincere



Claire Von

Joeun Kim Atchim, A Study for Fish Dinner, 2019-2022. Photo by Dario Lasagni. Courtesy of the artist and the François Ghebaly gallery.

Joeun Kim Aatchim is about insincerity. She had enough as an MFA student at Columbia University between 2015 and 2017. During that time, she made many imitation mosaics and faux concrete sculptures that were tongue-in-cheek and palpable stand-ins for her. -even – a “light person who can be easily damaged”. “, as she said. “I think that was the thing at the time: people laughed at sincerity and everything was cynical, sarcastic,” Aatchim said in a recent interview. “But I don’t I don’t have time for that anymore. I will do everything sincerely.

Over the past three years, Aatchim has created delicate designs on silk that are genuinely everyday in their subject matter and storytelling. She draws on memory and observation to record vignettes of her life – gifts from friends, the company of her black and white cat Pepe Viskovitz, chapters of her turbulent childhood in Seoul. Still, the results are a few degrees off the mark, prompting viewers to pause and sort them out. Aatchim renders his subjects from multiple perspectives, so limbs may overlap or objects may appear to collide. In several drawings of a fish dinner—referring to a tense time in her youth—bodies intersect with dishes and the table, so it’s hard to tell whether the girl depicted is seated at the gathering or banished to the ground.

Far from being dense, Aatchim’s convergent forms have a tenuous lightness due to the translucency of the silk she uses. She often further complicates her drawings by layering them, evoking the fantasy of overlays or the dizzying pairing of red-cyan anaglyphs seen without 3D glasses. The diptych Bail Mother Melancholy (Sunday Garden Given Forgiven) (2021) initially looks like two drawings of bouquets, but closer examination reveals tenderer moments behind the leaves and petals, of a praying woman and a mother combing her daughter’s hair.

“I use the space to put as much information as possible because I have this urge to jot everything down before I forget,” Aatchim said. “Which I don’t, because I have a very good memory.” That skill can be attributed, she thinks, to her intermittent strabismus, an eye condition she was born with that causes her to see in 2D. To avoid bumping into objects, Aatchim often studies the layout and contents of spaces — “every corner, how much in and out,” she said. “I remember everything.”

Installation view, Joeun Kim Aatchim, “Homed”, 2022, François Ghebaly, New York. Photo by Dario Lasagni. Courtesy of the artist and the François Ghebaly gallery.

Aatchim’s Memory Bank led to extensive work that quickly gained critical acclaim. She debuted her silk drawings in 2019 in a solo exhibition at Vacation in New York, and has since had solo presentations at Harper’s in East Hampton and Make Room in Los Angeles.

His latest is “Homed”, which opened its doors in June at François Ghebaly in New York, where the installation evokes the artist’s studio. Drawings line the walls, hung above dozens of notes, poems and other ephemera on paper; a faux concrete sculpture rests on its side, supporting bottles of the mineral pigments Aatchim draws with, such as malachite and jasper. On the silk, the powders leave soft and ghostly marks that evoke the gradual fading of a memory, but they also link Aatchim to prehistoric cave paintings, whose first designers, too, rushed to their observations to preserve them. . “I love the drawings because there is urgency,” Aatchim said. “It’s harsh, but it’s really precise in transferring emotions.”

Growing up in Seoul, Aatchim was an introvert who drew constantly, documenting everything. She recalled how, at school, “what you are good at almost becomes your identity. The kid who does very good math, who runs very fast. And I was the girl who drew. When she was eight years old, the Asian financial crisis upended the South Korean economy, as well as her family life. A vivid memory is of debt collectors following his father. “He was coming in and out of the house like a thief, and my mother was suffering from very severe depression and hallucinations,” Aatchim said.

Scenes from this late 90s period appear in several drawings, including Doubt Hands (Debt Collector Seeks Father Through Milk Delivery Hole) (2022), in which Aatchim and his sister – his face depicted both averted and to the side – crouch behind a cupboard, its contents visible, as a headless figure clings to them. Pairs of shoes sit in the foreground as familiar markers of the house.

Receive it, but no response. Father’s Winterproof Camellia Tree, A Late Videotape, An Unlocked Room, The Light of Blessing, and The Spoiler (2022) vividly resurrects his family’s apartment at the time, merging relics into one room that seem to communicate in the absence of people: an off-hook telephone chatters on the tiled floor; the television shows a close-up of a keyboard, one of many in the piano store downstairs; a flowering tree and curtained window float through the walls to join the group. Aatchim made these drawings to compensate for the lack of photographs of this house, filling in the gaps in his memory by teasing details of his family. They are intimate collages of memories, mixing perspectives and time to tiptoe to the edge of reality.

When these drawings were exhibited earlier this year at Make Room, Aatchim was surprised by how many people told her they were in touch with them. “These images are personal, but they have become almost like reflections of the society of the time,” she said. “If you do things sincerely, it’s contagious. You will open other people [up] about their [experiences].”

Aatchim did not work on his own life for many years. She had also taken a long hiatus from drawing after moving to New York in 2010 because it was “so closely associated with my identity, and I wanted to be a new person,” she said. She explored mediums such as ceramics, bookbinding, printmaking and ventriloquism before returning to drawing in 2019, in part because the misalignment in her eyes, which she had surgically corrected at age 20, relapsed. “I decided never to refer to anything that I don’t know because I had this feeling that time is very precious,” Aatchim said. “That’s why I chose subjects that were uncomfortable before…the trauma I’m experiencing.”

Drawing helped her uncover family secrets and stories, like how her grandmother was a silk merchant who went from house to house with fabric samples. Such coincidences encourage him to continue to grasp the past and its memories. “It’s like we’re one woman, going on,” she said. “I felt that I never came out of my mother and my mother never came out of her mother. Maybe we are part of this woman, we carry so much similar pain.

Aatchim’s drawings thrive on synchronicity: one image spontaneously superimposed on another can complement it, and totally different scenes can have echoes. There are rhymes in the embrace of praying hands and the grasp of a claw of hair; in the tenderness of a woman who cleans the ears of another and of a girl who cuts her cat’s nails. Seeing the world through Aatchim’s eyes, it’s easy to grasp his sincerity and his desire to retain meaning and record it forever. “What’s hard for me, though, is the embarrassment of doing a very, very sincere job,” she said. “But the embarrassment is only up to my life. The art will last after me.


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