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Born of an auditory-verbal impairment in Busan, South Korea, Young Sam Kim grew to become exceptionally perceptive to visual stimuli. Kim’s inclination for painstaking observation coupled with his poetic complexion naturally led him to practice the internalization of his highly conceptual motifs. Kim soon developed his own visual language with a depth only few could fully recognize. As Kim refined his intuition for visual literacy, he quickly developed a heightened sense of expression, gravitating toward photography to capture his enlightened, and often-evocative thoughts and emotions.
After receiving his BFA from the School of Visual Arts in 2002, Kim continued to reside and work between New York and South Korea. Traveling to the world’s most celebrated metropoleis, Kim drew heavy inspiration from diaphanous threads of commonalities thought to connect every urbanite on a simple, yet distinctively existential plane despite variations in language, culture, and color. Kim’s oeuvre became a laborious dive into both interconnectedness and mobility – two of photography’s most invincible accomplices. In his first series “A World in the City,” Kim re-contextualized pieces of photography through multidimensional layering and superimposition; he calls this narrative technique a hyper-collage. The digitally collaged images are layered into surreal cityscapes – reminiscent of René Magritte and de Goya’s Magical Realism – that are meant to speak of humans stifled by thick forests of urban landscape and architecture, yearning to fly from the tangible toward a life of transcendence. While his first collection focused on humankind’s longing for truth, Kim’s most recent series “Dark Cities” emphasizes a less optimistic angle.
Kim contends that modern cities are replicas of mass production, shrouded with over-consumption and a lack of reflection. Instead of Purple Mountain Majesties overlooking the Redwood Forest and Gulf Stream waters, tall buildings of steel and glass dominate the skyline, forming a concrete jungle asphyxiated by the masses. As night grows deeper, a cascade of vibrant streetlights and neon-colored signs illuminate the city sky with electricity, hope, and promises of new beginnings. We romanticize the thought of making love to the city that vows to fulfill our unfulfilled dreams – The American Dream. The grim reality however, is far from our unsighted perceptions.
Taking a closer look at “People of the City,” we find an orchestra of bodies emerge, each in their own habitat relentlessly preparing for the day’s processions in what seems to be a mundane and repetitive venture. The many moons signify the shared experiences of city-dwellers, while the absence of the Sun alludes to their hunger for its energy and warmth. The disillusionment from this fast leads to the inhabitants’ entrapment in a playground that was initially created in their own reflection. As Kim states, “People have created cities for survival, convenience, pleasure, or simply to fulfill their dreams. Nothing in a city exists without human touch and intention: neither the board blocks of sidewalks nor the trees planted along them. Cities are a continual self-portrait of mankind.” Ironically, people of the city lack the most human touch and self-actualization. Their survival of the fittest attitude from early dawn to hours after dusk result in missed connections and false communication, culminating into isolation and detachment from reality. This reclusion manifests itself in the overuse of technology in a desperate attempt to overcome apathy and lifelessness – still, the efforts are lacking in outcome. In Kim’s piece “The Network of City,” human figures are separated by distinct, geometric confines yet remain linked and sustained to one another by a sheath of fiber from underneath. Collaged in direct opposition, the inorganic flow hints to a tension felt most profoundly and collectively by each individual. These figures share identical fears and anxieties brought upon by the urban rat race. As their colorful dreams erode to pieces, the harsh metal shines through, unveiling its painted mask for the first time. The city reveals its true color, like the empty shell of a well-lit building devoid of life and warmth. Naturally, the figures in the photograph are prone to an overwhelmingly emotional response, albeit often muted in agreement with the ordered pattern of civilization. The only silver lining that remains is the façade of city lights and its unkept promises.
In his piece “Recall,” Kim carefully centers the Sun as the earth’s core and foundation, nourishing all life through its energy and heat. Used repetitively throughout his works as a symbol for supreme spirituality, faith as practice is Kim’s compass in creating every piece of artwork. Kim encircles the Sun with cityscapes, the sky, and the ground – his intentions are to emphasize the co-existence of spirituality and disconnection, night and day, city and wilderness, and the lives of their inhabitants respectively. It is ultimately through these ordered city terrains the artist finds a breakthrough for us to linger on: the celebration of surrounding life. Our task is to elucidate Kim’s cryptic landscapes as the artist’s persuading visions for our cities’ people; these visions rest on hopeful aspirations for harmony between our inner and outer potentials, welcoming each other as siblings rather than perceiving one another as a hindrance to our self-actualization and spiritual fulfillment. The artist confesses: “The trees spread their roots under the asphalt-covered roads and stretch their branches outward to bring forth new life. Just like that, there are some who share hope with warm hearts even in this rough world. I hope you all, like them, can avail from the city hidden in your heart by rising above it.”