P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center is pleased to present A Needle Woman, an exhibition of video works by South Korean artist Kim Sooja (b. 1957). Curated by P.S.1 Senior Curator Klaus Biesenbach in collaboration with Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, this exhibition features the first showing of A Needle Woman (1999–2001) as a complete work. Sooja has lived in New York since 1998 and her work combines performance, video, and installation, addressing issues of the displaced self. Sooja brings together a conceptual, logical, and structural investigation of performance through immobility that inverts the notion of the artist as the predominant actor.
In each work in this exhibition, Kim appears motionless, intensely observant of her surroundings, yet undisturbed by verbal or physical intrusion. The title piece, A Needle Woman (1999–2001) is made up of eight simultaneously projected videos, each documenting Sooja as she stands perfectly still in the crowded streets of Tokyo, New York, London, Mexico City, Cairo, Delhi, Shanghai, and Lagos. Rigid, clad in gray with her back to the camera, Sooja situates herself and the viewer against a global metropolis, her silent presence eliciting responses from passersby who together weave a social fabric around the artist's needle-like figure. At first, the motionless figure centers the viewer's gaze, yet as time passes, our eyes move elsewhere, scanning the faces in the crowd in order to gauge their reactions and emotions as we try to understand what the artist is doing in the street.
Although silent, with her face directed away from the camera, Sooja's willful suppression of desires communicates a questioning of human intention on deeply personal and spiritual levels. An allusion to themes of suffering is apparent in A Beggar Woman (Lagos, Nigeria), (2001), for instance, where the artist sits on a square of pavement with her right arm outstretched in supplication. At the beginning of the piece, a few people stop and press coins or bills into her hand. After a few minutes later, a man strides over to the artist with a bill in his hand, which he then hides while taking money from Sooja's cupped hand. Although the viewer might expect something like this to happen, it is shocking when the thievery actually occurs. Sooja's manifested lack of desires renders the thievery completely irrelevant, and we are left to wonder what this "beggar woman" is asking for.
In A Needle Woman (1999) set on a rocky ledge in Japan, the artist lies motionless, her body its own landscape connecting earth and sky. As clouds roll by, this minimal image evokes the cosmic proportions of time and space, contrasting with the ephemeral and superficial excesses of the city streets. Through her uniform gesture of stillness, the artist transcends cultures, geographies, and even time in an act of profound self-affirmation that questions basic human conduct, while knitting together these seemingly irreconcilable elements of life.
Sooja was born in Taegu, Korea in 1957. She was an Artist in Residence at P.S.1's International Studio program in 1992–1993. Solo exhibitions include A Needle Woman, Kunsthalle Bern (2001); Rodin Gallery, Seoul (2000); ICC, Tokyo (2000); CCA Kitakyushu (1999); and Sewing into Walking, Magasin, Grenoble (1997). Selected group exhibitions include Art through the Eye of the Needle, Henie Ondtad Kunstsenter, Oslo (2001); ARS 01, KIASMA, Helsinki (2001); Sharing Exaustism, 5th Biennial de Lyon (2000); Human Being and Gender, 3rd Kwiangju Biennial (2000); The Sky is the Limit, 2nd Taipei Biennale (2000); Hypermental, Kunsthaus Zürich (2000); ArtWorld in Dialogue, Museum Ludwig, Cologne (1999); d'APERTutto, 48th Venice Biennial (1999); Echolot, Museum Fridericianum, Kassel (1998); 5th Istanbul Biennale (1997); Manifesta 1 (1996); Traditions/Tensions, Queens Museum; Cities on the Move, Secession, Vienna; P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, 1997-2000.