Article/Review

Flags for a new world order

22 February 2018

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Perth Festival review: Kimsooja’s “Zone of Nowhere” ·
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) ·
Review: Belinda Hermawan ·

When experiencing multi-disciplinary artist Kimsooja’s “Zone of Nowhere” at PICA and on the streets of Perth, one cannot help but think of the uncanny timing of the exhibition in relation to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang. Two weeks before the exhibition’s opening, millions of viewers around the globe tuned in to the Olympic opening ceremony, where athletes marched into the stadium by nation, led by their respective flagbearers, with South Korea and North Korea even marching under one flag in a conciliatory, if relatively brief, gesture of unity.

Zone to Nowhere by Kimsooja
“Kimsooja has cleverly superimposed the elements of national flags onto each other – stars, stripes, colours, crests, coats of arms, crosses.” Photo: Alessandro Bianchetti

Kimsooja herself is South Korea-born and New York-based, her work having transcended borders to international acclaim. Amongst the thirty translucent flags in her exhibition is one composed of the South Korean and North Korean flags superimposed on top of one another. The effect is striking; whether one considers it beautiful or jarring. To me it seemed, initially, an idealistic sign of unity and harmony. Indeed, the artist herself states that the work “expresses a wish for coexistence, for a utopian society in which individuals unite in celebration of their distinctions and common humanity”.

Flags are inherently symbolic, containing in their design the colours and motifs with which a group, nation or cause identifies. These days, flags are a form of visual branding in themselves – recognisable, distinct, message-laden and, in many cases, evoking a strong sense of pride. In “Zone of Nowhere”, Kimsooja has cleverly superimposed the elements of national flags onto each other – stars, stripes, colours, crests, coats of arms, crosses – creating new banners that are not necessarily identifiable as the simple combination of two countries’ emblems. I wondered whether these pieces contained fictional elements or if I simply couldn’t automatically place the flags of many other countries. The exhibition seems to probe at a modern question: in a world of increasing globalisation, technological advancement and internet connectivity, are we genuinely connected as a global community or are we simply more accessible to each other?

Kimsooja Zone of Nowhere
“Walking past these new artworks, displayed on walls or in shop windows on the otherwise familiar streets of Northbridge and the CBD, I felt eerily displaced.” Photo: Alessandro Bianchetti

Standing in the central gallery at PICA, under rows of these vertically displayed flags, the viewer is, arguably, positioned to feel overwhelmed by the beauty and vastness of these artworks, mimicking the sense of awe or smallness an individual may feel when contemplating the world as a whole.

Walking past these new artworks, displayed on walls or in shop windows on the otherwise familiar streets of Northbridge and the CBD, I felt eerily displaced. This unease stemmed, perhaps, from the flags functioning, not as a fixed marker of geographic location or cultural experience, but as a fluid symbol that I did not yet understand. Suddenly I felt like I was “nowhere”.

Returning to the two Korean flags as one, the cynic in me emerged, and I now wondered if the flag could be representative of conflict, two identities battling for significance over a finite area within set borders. Reality, it seemed, had slowly but surely superimposed itself on the idyllic vision Kimsooja had put forward. By the time I viewed the video installation Earth-Water-Fire-Air on the second floor, I was already jaded about the idea of movement of peoples and the crossing of oceans. Yet move forward we must, and, like the literal elements in the video and the symbolic elements in the flags, it is the exchange and interaction of our differences and commonalties that makes life truly rich and exciting.

“Zone of Nowhere” is showing at PICA from 17 February – 25 April 2018, with the public art showing from 15 February – 4 March 2018.

All photos: Alessandro Bianchetti

Kimsooja Zone of Nowhere
“Suddenly I felt like I was ‘nowhere’.” Photo: Alessandro Bianchetti
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