Engaging the Audience Through Performance: Bonam Kim

Bonam Kim, Mobile Kitchen, 2017, Wood, wheel, paint, table, kitchen ware, 33 x 55 x 75 in.

Bonam Kim, Mobile Kitchen, 2017, Wood, wheel, paint, table, kitchen ware, 33 x 55 x 75 in.


Interview with Bonam Kim and Ty Bishop. Originally published in Summer 2017.

T: In your artist statement, you state that “I cannot escape the need for psychological dependency, nostalgic desires and memories that seem to guarantee security and comfort. I’m curious, how does this play out in your performance piece Mobile Kitchen –
Institutional Chocolate?

B: It’s a hard question. Most of the works that I made in the last two years have been focusing on the feelings of nostalgia, displacement and struggle that come with cultural identity since moving from Seoul to New York. However, recently I’ve been interested in making work about issues that people usually take for granted or easily ignore. I believe that this is one of the good things that artists do in this society. I can say that the Mobile Kitchen is the piece that is in a transition period and that broadens the scope of my work.

T: Mobile Kitchen – Institutional Chocolate seems so pleasant–even your facial expression in the photo elicits a kind of child-like joy. However, it’s also clear that you’re making a statement about the art world since the Guggenheim and MOMA PS1 are two of the buildings you chose to make chocolate silhouettes out of. Can you talk about why you chose those buildings in particular?

Insitutional Chocolate.jpg

B: I always feel that there is an invisible wall between an artwork and the viewer whenever I go to the museum. In an effort to express my feeling, I chose the five museums that I most often visit in New York, where I live.

T: Why was white chocolate important for this piece?

B: Because the white chocolate shows how I see the museum in terms of color, the white cube, for example, or representing a kind of hallmark. Also, the white chocolates melt away like a mirage, as do my sweet desires. This reveals my skeptical attitude towards the systems and institutions that regulate art.

T: You’ve completed several art degrees in sculpture, and you recently graduated with an MFA from Pratt. In your earlier work, your pieces were mostly attached to the wall. Now it’s clear that you’re interested in performance. Why did you make the switch?
B: Moving from Seoul and leaving familiar scenes behind and moving to a place that is so different in so many ways, was an opportunity for me to let go of the concepts that I had accumulated in the past, and it has both excited and scared me. Being part of a particular culture and adjusting to a new culture are a kind of performance. In New York, where various cultures and ethnic groups coexist, I have gone through many changes in terms of thoughts and perspectives, and unexpectedly encountered other people and experienced things have been provocative and interesting. As I think about my recent work Through the Crack, Broom Project, and Institutional Chocolate, I want my sculpture to act as a tool or device and I like the experience of engaging with the public.

FOA_Friend_of_the_Artist_Kim_Bonam_Broom and Brush project (series #1)_2016.jpg

T: Another project that you submitted was Broom Project. I must say, it totally caught me off guard when I realized that the broom was constructed of human hair. Was this your intention? Whose hair did you use?

B: Yes, it’s my intention. I place ads on Craigslist asking for people to cut their hair and send me the clippings. Some friends who know about my project also saved their hair for me. It’s an ongoing project and I try to keep making more brooms and brushes. Let me know if you have plans to cut your hair (hahaha). You can also participate in my project.

T: What I love about this piece is that it’s relatively simple –a wooden stick, human hair, and resin, yet it communicates something complex. Can you talk about what you drove you to make this piece?

B: I think hair is one of the richest resources of the self. Hair is relevant to every human being; we grow it, cut it, style it, and depilate, and sometimes it fails to grow at all. Yet even as we manipulate and exert our preferences on it, hair maintains a complex and enigmatic function in our lives. Acting as a marker of identity, it has remained paramount throughout history in cultures across the world. Eventually I intend to use the brushes and brooms with human hair to clean neglected areas of New York, effectively performing a collaborative, civic gesture where the people are involved in cleaning their city.

Ty Bishop