In her first solo exhibition at François Ghebaly Gallery, Homed, Joeun Kim Aatchim mythologizes her personal history with powerful lucidity and vulnerability. Mining the elusive nature of memory, Aatchim reveals the urgent, universal desire to cling to the past despite its transience and the instability that comes with growing up and searching for one’s place in the world.
Comprising past and more recent works superimposed on top of one another to create new forms, Aatchim’s dreamlike drawings evoke a sense of synchronicity. The scenes depict memories across multiple perspectives and timelines. As fragmented and disconnected as the act of remembering itself, the layered imagery demands double-takes from the viewer — faces and limbs overlap, disparate objects intersect, and different vignettes from the artist’s past collide with poetic happenstance.
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These reimagined memories take on a more ghostly and nebulous quality rendered atop layers of translucent silk, tiptoeing on the edge of reality. The gossamer airiness of the silk sheets, which flutter gently as viewers move through the gallery space, appears as intangible and malleable as memory. The silk is a nod to the artist’s family lineage as silk merchants in South Korea; in this way, her work is a symbol of intergenerational resilience. The faded effect of the silk-grounded drawings, paired with the layering of images, speaks to both the waning of memory and the continuum of identities, passing from mothers to daughters across cultures.
A silver ticket rack running along the perimeter of the exhibition space at average waist height is adorned with other ephemera from Aatchim’s past. Paralleling the artist’s own evolution, this autobiographical feature is in a state of constant flux, as she visits the gallery regularly to rearrange and add new objects. A cacophony of offbeat trinkets — a hospital bracelet, rose-shaped embroidery patch, ceramic dish, metal pin, desiccated butterfly, tiny blue pill still encased in its foil packaging — are dispersed among a vast collection of looseleaf sketches on sheer paper, unfinished drawings of people and places that echo the framed works hanging above. Most compelling are the scores of typed and handwritten notes and poems excerpted from iPhone memos and diaries Aatchim has kept diligently over the last decade, in both English and Korean.
Interspersing her written oeuvre throughout allows Aatchim to narrate with astounding sincerity and scope, as both her writing and visual art practice are inextricably rooted in her impulse to document her thoughts, neuroses, and memories. Drawn from her expansive linguistic cache, the crux of the exhibition is best contextualized in the artist’s own words.
am writing a novel about a place where remembrance is prohibited.
The titular work, “Homed (Unwilling and Never Not Awkward)” (2021-22), is suspended within a complex apparatus of wood, brass, waxed cotton, and leather knots that are traditional in ancient Korean silk painting. Securely encased in this structure, the diptych embodies a psychological state that Aatchim sorely desires — a sense of relief at being settled, reconciled, homed. Yet, the piece remains in a permanent state of tension within a surrounding frame that threatens to stretch it in different directions. Given Aatchim’s practice of reappropriating her own past works, the current version of this painting is fleeting at best, despite the pretense of a home. Like a memory, it is impossible to pin down; and like the pursuit of belonging, it is forever unfinished.
According to Aatchim, the work of finding home, whether through exploring memories or seeking belonging in life, is eternal. As such, Homed is a living diary, reveling in its own ephemerality.
Joeun Kim Aatchim: Homed continues at François Ghebaly Gallery (391 Grand Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through July 16. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.