Connected \\ June 21, 2019

Immersive installation connects mind and maker

The PEM commissioned site-specific work Kimsooja: Archive of Mind by the world-renowned Korean artist perfectly demonstrates what the museum is trying to do in a new space dedicated to contemporary creative expression. “It’s about people doing something in a communal way, sitting on these stools and rolling clay with their children or their grandparents and putting their own piece as part of her piece in the middle of the space,” says Jeffrey Beale, a PEM Trustee who has endowed the new gallery, dedicated to contemporary and immersive experiences.


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© 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola


Here, awaiting visitors is mounds of clay. One large oval table with stools. And a cosmic soundscape that might evoke distant thunder or a burbling brook.

Kimsooja invites people to participate in the creation of her contemplative installation by picking up a lump of clay, taking a seat at the table, kneading the clay into a ball and rolling it toward the table’s center.

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© 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola
It’s physically simple yet overflowing with associations for me from the microscopic perspective of atoms and molecules to the planetary and intergalactic; from the use of a material that has such deep associations with the earth to invoking immaterial practices of meditation,


says Curator of the Present Tense Trevor Smith, who first saw the piece in Venice.

“It has a calming and meditative effect,” he says, adding that it takes a bit of work to roll the clay into something resembling a small circular sphere.

Located on the first floor of the museum, Kimsooja: Archive of Mind opens to the public on Saturday, June 22 and is the North American debut of Kimsooja’s first interactive artwork.


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© 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola


“So often, art museums only market the precious and the unique,” Smith adds. “I’m drawn to the universal potential of creativity that can be expressed through using humble materials.” He compared these materials to Yoan Capote’s use of rusted door hinges to create his portrait of Fidel Castro in Immanence (2015), which returns to PEM this fall.

Clay is elemental — it’s natural or from the earth. Kimsooja sees clay as a container, one that holds water and is pliable. But once it dries, the clay ends up storing, or containing, the energy its participants created.

© 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola


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© 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola


Accompanied by a sound installation, Unfolding Sphere (2016), Kimsooja’s works have been exhibited and collected around the world, including the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea, the Vancouver Art Gallery and in Venice during the Biennale. Smith has known the artist for a long time, and he acquired her first video installation, Sewing into Walking, for the Art Gallery of Western Australia more than 20 years ago.

His reasoning for bringing Kimsooja: Archive of Mind to PEM extends right to the museum’s core. “I think it’s important to choose artists that invite the visitor to go on a journey and have an experience,” Smith adds.


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© 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola


This participatory installation encourages people to make something. Individually, these gestures seem small but accumulate into something large and powerful. “There’s something in this work that reminds us of human empowerment and shows us the significance of slowing down and paying attention,” Smith says. “I believe it will impact how people experience the rest of the museum.”

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