3 Questions with Atta Kim
Photographer Atta Kim on seeking wisdom, training, and developing an internal philosophy.
3 QUESTIONS is a series of brief, three-question interviews with PNCA’s visiting artists and lecturers. Each year, PNCA attracts innovative, thoughtful, and creative makers and thinkers who share our belief in the transformative power of creativity. In three short answers to three short questions, these artists offer perspectives on career, motivation, and transformation. When available, we include links to audio recordings, transcripts, slideshows, or video.
“Invest more time in evolving your own internal philosophy rather than searching for rapid ideas.”
What advice would you offer current students about to embark on a career in the arts?
Most students or artists consider that a career is [measured in] exhibition records, awards, or getting degrees. Of course, this is a very useful and important way to be alive and to leave honor on history. This kind of career makes you gain physical weight; However, it doesn’t mean you are able to gain a proportional weight of internal philosophy.
In my opinion, [an artist] should invest [his or her career in] gaining internal philosophy or thought. But this is very hard and takes a very long time. Eventually, the uniqueness will be the history. The uniqueness is unique philosophy or thought after the process of an idea with concept. Thus, how do you find your own philosophy and thought?
How do you maintain your creative practice? What keeps you motivated and engaged?
This question is connected from the first one.
I don’t think the artistic act is art work. For me, the artistic act is training and practice. I have been doing my process in harder situations than a priest or a monk in that they can be supplied and protected by an organization with an enormous ideology. In order to be alive as an artist, I have needed to do everything by myself. It has exposed me to much harder environments. Meanwhile, I did my own especial training for a long time. I named it “image training.” How did I survive? What makes me alive? The answer is “wisdom.” The wisdom coming from the training is very sweet and it gives me huge delight, which means the training is not agonizing. It is enjoyable and fantastic. If it weren’t, I couldn’t have done it for 10 years, 20 years. Also, if there were more enjoyable work for me, I would have done that. The wisdom is much more attractive than sex or drugs. The world of wisdom offers the energy [to endure the] training.
Image training is a combination between [the teachings of] Georgii Ivanovich Gurdzhiev and Seon (Zen) Buddhism. The great thinker Gurdzhiev’s thoughts has limits and Seon Buddhism is also limited. Thus, I graft both concepts.
This training activates every sense and function of our body. Human being is in the boundary from the idea of perception. By “idea,” I mean every notion that I know right now, such as education, customs, and morals. These notions play a very important role by making us able to communicate. However, at the same time, they disturb [our ability to] connect easily to the new. The new is not only the things that I don’t know in the world, but also it is the sense of my body, my philosophy, and the evolution of my spiritual world. The human body has amazing abilities that come out depending on practice and training. The evolution of spirit is also same. The spiritual world is not proportional to [a person’s] level of education or age. The spirit evolves through an act of body. Without an act of body, our mind does not evolve [greatly]. Of course we can develop our mind via education or texts. But a text is a notion. So there should be a process that refines notion with training. After the act of training, finally a text becomes a precious nutrient. My “image training” is the process of refining text and calling up the energy in my body to the world.
I can say that everything I have done is the result of this image training. For me, the work is the concatenation of this process.
Could you describe a moment or experience that profoundly changed the nature of your work?
My project, The Project Drawing of Nature, has not profoundly changed. There is no way to make my body become recent. I have a density of over 50 years. My face and body, they are The Project Drawing of Nature.
[In a larger sense,] the process of my work is from my previous works: the In der-Welt-sein series, Deconstruction Series, The Museum Project, and ON-AIR Project. They are fully isolated from the flow of the contemporary art or contemporary photography. Namely, they are the result of my training to gain an internal philosophy. The last work of the ON-AIR Project was the Indala series, which is closely connected with the idea of 空 (emptiness) in Eastern philosophy. I cannot say that the Indala series represents the idea of 空 (emptiness) exactly, though it is the essence of the idea of emptiness. Also we can say it is an essential idea of Buddhism and Eastern philosophy. It brought me to the recent project, The Project Drawing of Nature. This process was very natural. I did not hesitate when I started setting canvases in Nature. [A detail of the process:] in 1994, I already installed two white canvases around my studio when I moved in and I looked closer for a year. I don’t say it is the seed of recent project. However, is there anything not connected in the world?
Thus, this is what I would like to mention to young students and artists: Invest more time in evolving your own internal philosophy rather than searching for rapid ideas. Of course, read more books and experience the process of refining the texts into your nutrients. And you should enjoy it. The new of the world is waiting for your approach. And so there will be infinite things we can form them. It will be a painting, music, noble, or movie after its process. It means, the thing becomes the most unique thing.
The work of photographer Atta Kim is marked by its novel rendering of time and its conceptual sophistication and richness. Interested in the relation of appearance and disappearance, the artist often draws on Buddhist concepts and iconography. He was the first photographer to represent South Korea in the São Paulo Biennial and has exhibited at the International Center of Photography, the Seoul Metropolitan Museum, the Moscow Museum of Contemporary Art, FotoFest, and the Venice Biennale, among others. Recent work includes the ON-AIR Project, The Museum Project, and The Project Drawing of Nature series. Kim is the CT+CR Fall 2014 Visiting Artist and Scholar.