The Silence of Lina Kim by Doreet Levitte Harten

The Sibyl of Cumae who was the priestess and the local oracle at the Apollonian temple  there used to write her prophesies on oak leaves which she then placed at the mouth of her cave. The wind scattered the leaves and the people who wanted to know a thing or two about the future had to re-assemble them in order to find the meaning of the words.

Lina Kim’s way with words reminds me of the sibylian act. Though her words are confined to the strict law of the lines  and the impersonal character of the stenciled letters she employs, they are variable in dimension and they do not obey the spaces between one word and another.

In this way suffixes become prefixes and the relations between phonemes (which are unites of sound) and lexemes (which are unites of meaning)are disrupted.

We take words seriously.They are the building stones of the world we know, so when a sentence is being demolished like in Howt obeinv isble and the disruption is henenced through the fact that we are handed down three separate frames, that is, three different objects,  The original sentence loses its meaning. It is no longer a question of How to be invisble but a directory to a place of no categories and therefore a dangerous place.

Having words instead of images has a long tradition in visual art. In essence words replacing images constitute an iconoclastic tendency, an internal combat art leads against itself. One may argue that words are also images but in the case of Kim the fact that she uses words which may or may not function as images is only secondary  to the fact that she destroys their structure. This double iconolcasm against both the image and the word raises a different issue which concerns the nature of the imagination itself and the relation between words and their imagined properties.

In what way then do the 200 works constituting sentences and using words differ from the legions of artists who coined aphorisms, truisms, axiums and postulates in their art? I think the difference lies in her choice of performative rather than constative sentences and this means a promise is entailed and a time frame is given. These sentences are not the subjective truism of Jenny Holzer neither are they heavy with philosophical echos bordering on a battle cry the way Joseph Kosuth and  Ian Hamilton Finley exercised them and defintly they lack the cryptic innuendo resonating in Lawrence Weiner. Her sentences are not connected with the world the way theirs are and they have no philosophical, historical or practical anchors which will lend them an auratic point of gravity. Her choise of sentences like „a place called home“ or „be gentle“ or „careful odity“ seem to spring from nowhere and to intentionally lack history and gravitation. Whatever happened before they were stamped down to the paper and to what consequences they might lead is unknown .They have no point of origin and they are free and arbitrary and therefore they might be described as graphic poerty very much in the tradition of Mallarme’s In Coup de Des’ and Marcel Broodthaers’ reduction of the poem to its stucture by removing the words and replacing them with black stipes corresponding exactly to the poet’s typographic layout.

Reading Lina Kim’s art as a graphic poetry puts into question that which we take for granted. Like the duck -rabbit problem posed by Wittgenstein the eye passively and without an intepretative impulse alternate between several modes of seeing. It sees the work as a picture but also as a poem and because the lines on which the words are stenciled resemble the format of a partiture we see it as music as well. There is a great beauty to such a reachness of possibilities and more so because they conceal her true objective which is a quest into what forms has the absence of art. This is emphasised through the use of a stenciled technique which defines each word by a profile that surrounds physical emptiness radiating beyond its borders and leaving a fuzzy aura accentuating that which is not there.

The works with the sentences relate to one another as fractal, permutated unites, and in a way these premutations which are being spread over 200 works are being contained in one image  in her next series of trees and sea waves drawings. Permutations, like the appearance of words in art, have been exercised by many artists. John Cage used them as well as Sol LeWitt, Allan Kaprow, Emeth Williams, Robert Moris and Mel Bochner. In Kim’s drawing they have the visuality of a brain synapses where the terminals are the dots connencting the receptors and axons.When dealt in art  as well as in religion permutation tends towards the mystical experience. In both series the mediative mode, Koan-like in the sentences and repetitious-wise, akin to a mantra in the waves and trees effects the observer. Kim comes  here close to the cabbalistic prinzip of combining a given numbers of possibilities till all permutations are exhausted and a revelation occurs. Her treatment of wording out the world or spreading its maps till they become the territory remind us of the opening sentence of Sefer Yezira, One of the most important cabbalistic text, dated around the second century AD. The world, says the book, was created by God the Ein-Sof (the Infinit) out of permutating letters and numbers.“He engraved them, He carved them, He permuted them, He weighed them, He transformed them and with them He depicted all that was formed and all that would be formed“. All these permutations repeat in a cycle and exist in 231 gates which corresponds to the numbers of lines that can connect the 22 letters of the alphabet. The lines of the trees and the waves of the sea as depicted by Lina Kim echo this mode of unique creation and in times when works of art tend toward the spectacular, judgmental and opinionated manifestation of the self and in doing so create a lot of white noise, the silence emanating from Lina Kim’s art is a gift to be cherished.