Rooms by Jürgen Harten

Stopping spontaneously whilst walking by because something has stirred one’s curiosity – this is a familiar experience for every visitor to art markets or a biennial. Nevertheless, it  seldom bears fruit. One of the exceptions for me was the completely unexpected encounter with Lin Kim’s installation at the 25th São Paulo Biennial. I still find myself hardly able to explain why this work in particular stood out from the many booths and installations. I had neither heard nor seen anything by this artist before.

The first thing to arrest my attention was a vague and yet peculiarly intense overall impression. One had the feeling that something had happened here. Upon closer inspection it soon became apparent that this effect was due to a carefully considered staging. An assortment of half-torn, crumpled pieces of cloth rather like washing had been tossed onto the ground; several of them looked as though they had been poured out next to the upturned buckets, others were draped from basins attached to the walls. All around them thousands of mirrors. At second glance the items of washing resembled the kind of straight jackets used to restrain self-destructive patients in hospitals. However, there was nothing to indicate a specific locality; the representation was devoid of anecdote. The pieces of cloth – lifeless and yet seemingly animated – formed a flowing contextuality endowed with an immediately sculptural and simultaneously performative eloquence. I didn’t pay any attention at that time to the title of the work. Only now while I write these words do I read that Lina Kima has made a connection between her poetic work and a ballad about love’s yearning and the pain of separation. The song is called »Cry me a river«.

The work prompted the artist to be invited to the Künstlerhaus Wiepersdorf, about an hours drive to south of Berlin. During her period of study there, perhaps inspired by the proximity to a literary world/literature, she folded innumerable paper planes and piled them up with light dexterity in her empty studio and then in the music room, giving the impression they had fallen like birds that had crashed into the window in their bid for freedom. Every one of these paper airplanes represented a metaphorical »flying thought« (perhaps in the case of the ones in the music room also for a »flying sound«), all together forming delicate pile upon pile, in which a gentle rustling could seemingly still be discerned.

Moving on to the »Rooms«; it is obvious to view the works presented here with this general title as the result of Lina Kim’s encounter with her new chosen home, Germany. As usual the title refers in the first instance to the object of the photographs: room upon room abandoned by their former inhabitants or users as a consequence of the end of the Cold War, the withdrawal of the Red Army and the reunification of both two German states, and then their subsequent surrender to the depredations of time. However, Lina Kim does not present herself as the chronicler of events in East Germany. She avoids giving extra detail by not using individual titles or subtitles that might allow the viewer to identify the place depicted, for her interest is genuinely artistic. When she photographs rooms that have lost their function, their purpose, that have become surplus to requirement or that have been forgotten or await demolition, they are ultimately all rooms – with everything that has contributed to their appearance – that she has chosen. In short, as an artist she engages with her environment as a matter of course by choosing motifs that correspond to her artistic intention.

In this sense the title »Rooms« has a medial significance formally speaking. Both authors contributing to this volume have described in detail how Lina Kim frames her observations with the aid of a few room schemes. She has a peep box concept in mind for the majority of the photographs: three walls, ceiling and floor. Alongside it there is the white corridor receding into the distance and then the occasional dominating wide screen. Then there are windows or doors, preferably in the middle of the back wall, sometime in the corner, but striking often in such a way that the viewer’s eye is directed through the room to the outside. The corridors also function like viewing tunnels. In Lina Kim’s case the eye glides through the rooms like a flying thought in the form of her paper planes.

However, the interiors do not merely provide the motifs to be appositely captured by photography, they step forward as a medium with a certain diffidence, that is to say they convey something that is inherent in them and that one might describe as their condition. To quote Lina Kim, they can be viewed in a sense as anonymous, extant installations – espaces trouvés. They don’t need supplementary staging; they just need to be captured in the image.  Their respective conditions already contain the motif. What does »condition« mean exactly? What medial quality does it possess that would be sufficient to motivate the artist contentwise as well? We talk in general terms about arising conditions. What escapes us in so doing is the fact that the word »arise« – with precise reference to the conditions – is the result of a spatial movement of a very expanded temporal nature. In the case of the photographed interiors, conditions have arisen that would not arise under normal circumstances and that have gradually developed their own existence. In this way the medium determines the motifs.  The visible decay of the interiors forms the matrix for the perception of history that has become physically manifest after life has withdrawn from the rooms. Lina Kim doesn’t indulge in some desire or other for a specific German (or Germano-Russian) eeriness. She touches upon the topos of temps perdu.