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Levi’s refers to the blue jean brand Levi Strauss who came from Bavaria, Germany and began producing in 1872 after acquiring patent rights. Although I don’t know exactly, I am aware that this blue jean brand became popular among consumers and noted worldwide for its rivets in the pocket corners. Blue jeans can be reminiscent of Europe or especially the Wild West. Some vintage denim jeans are high-priced, but blue jeans have long been a popular type of clothing many people wear, irrespective of region, generation, and gender since they are relatively cheaper and more convenient for daily activities than other types of apparel. During his study in Britain, it is known that KIM, Ji-min conducted a performance in which he strutted along a street, wearing a pants made of the Levi’s labels he had acquired en masse. The pants, a muffler, and gloves he made with the Levi’s trademarks were all fakes that have nothing to do with legitimate goods sold in Levi’s shops. In a strict sense, however, they can be regarded as the genuine or authentic and a work of art as well. The Levi’s label symbolizes the desire of youth to possess a commodity itself and to be fashion leaders. At this point, his work raises a critical issue. KIM addresses not only the structures of capitalism and commercialism, but also the politics of consumption in that his work exploits the brands stimulating and encouraging desire for consumption as his main material. His work thus can be controversial and productive in discourse.

The representative brands of multinational corporations such as Levi’s, Adidas, and Nike extend their markets in the name of youth, health, challenge, the pioneer spirit, and physical beauty and generate revenue by leading consumers’tastes in a specific direction. These labels remain influential as the representative icons of market capitalism. While a commodity has only a few labels on it, KIM puts countless labels together. He resists the commodity aesthetics of market capitalism through a strategy of deconstructing the charisma of such labels. This resistance peaks in his Mickey Mouse-shaped bombs. His work represents a combination of Mickey Mouse, a character and a symbol or an icon representative of America’s cultural industry and the Levi’s label that has contributed to the globalization of the American pioneer spirit and American inclination, which results in an explosion. That is to say, Mickey Mouse armed with the Levi’s brand falls down to the venue floor. The result of this explosion does not surely mean a collapse of capitalism and the cultural industry. Depending on the interpretation, the result can be seen as a globalized proliferation of a commodity that is produced through an integration of enormous capital, technology, and advertisement, just as Sun Wukong, the Monkey King in the classical Chinese epic novel Journey to the West,is capable of transforming his hair into a myriad of clones of himself. As his work remains in ambiguity, it can be diversely interpreted. His work is not a criticism of or an admiration for capitalism, but lies somewhere in between them. In other worlds, it cannot be defined as only a satirical critique of market capitalism or the cult of the advertising industry promising abundance.

The Fan, suggestive of Kenneth Noland and Frank Stella’s Hard Edge or Minimalist mode, refers to an electric fan or a fan as its shape indicates. As the English word ‘fan’means the frenetic lover or supporter, the discs made of labels can be seen as black holes. These infinitely expanding black holes signify the pitfalls into which we fall in consumer society or the abysses where our desire for consumption and possession is incessantly stimulated. They may be also seen as the swamps where we are often caught. While The Fanis in the form of infinite expansion and proliferation, one of his pieces featuring waves looks like Medusa’s tangled hair, Hydra’s serpent-like hair, or wriggling tentacles. The cells composing this work are also labels. In the age of globalized capitalism we are not be able to be free from this fatal magic of temptation. We remain besieged by advertisements not commodities and cannot reject the reality in which we are confined in the showcase of capitalism. Here, a split occurs, which KIM represents through the title Vanitas-holic. "Vanitas" is a word meaning emptiness, a transient life, or death. KIM’s labeling work is based on an assumption that desire is vain, but we don’t know what our lives would be without it. We cannot fully satisfy our desire, even if seeking and possessing materials. KIM questions we cannot help admitting the fact that we live in the domain of capitalism and commercialism, going beyond the matter of following or rejecting them. He begins from small dots and forms a shape. He lends vitality to his work by reducing the shape to its original state. His work is painterly relief but is based on animation. A completed shape, reminiscent of an Indian’s sorcerous pattern, is deconstructed in the reverse order of an original method. He sees it as ‘vanitas’, a state that non-being exists and soon disappears and integrates it into ‘holic’ that focuses on the characteristics of consumer society such as infinite obsession with and immersion in the vain.

KIM, Ji-min still continues his work by using labels. He is a prolific artist who held five solo shows last year. KIM’s productivity stems partly from his particular sincerity and partly from the possibility of his work’s expansion. Of course, his work that can be completed through the process of gluing a myriad of labels or stitching them is characteristically labor-intensive. Its form and scale can be infinitely enlarged in a simply repetitive manner, as if setting a certain rule. As a struggle with time, his needlework depends on something analog, but its outgrowth is something digital. His work is faithful to the analog, but reminiscent of the digital, standing between the lines of sculpture and painting. It is self-complete, yet has the possibility to expand, and simple, yet complicated as it can be seen as organisms that are in between a confrontation with things, demonstrating a process of destruction and renewal.

By CHOI, Tae-man / Art Critic, Prof. Kookmin Univ.

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