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Comfortably Numb
Is there anybody in there? 
Just nod if you can hear me.
Is there anyone home? 
Released in 1979 by the British rock band Pink Floyd, the songComfortably Numb provides a point of reference for Shin il Kim's most recent body of work produced within a series entitled  Active Anesthesia. In the fall of 2007, this work was brought together for an exhibition in Milan, at Riccardo Crespi Gallery. There, Kim was able to present a wide variety of his artwork that covers a range of technologies, from the most primitive to new media, including frieze like imprints of the human form and Decoded Love, a video installation that materialized as a rainbow-colored halo underfoot.
Minimalism plays an important role in the formal aspects of Kim's artistic practice, where the information contained within a mediated image is filtered through a reduction or screening process. The blotting out of specificities has a numbing quality where details give way to an overall glow or flicker, a flash of color referencing the mediated image, or 'message,' as the late communications theorist Marshall McLuhan named what we now refer to as content.
By the time I met Shin il Kim in 2006, I had seen his work in a number of places - the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Bronx Museum of Art (all in New York) - and was aware of only one area of Kim's artistic practice which involves producing videos and prints through a series of 'pressed lines' on paper, an art form he's devised and has extended into his more recent text-based wall works and sculptural forms. These lines form figures whose  gestures suggest both culturally specific and universal conditions. Around the time he was in residence at Smack Mellon (a nonprofit gallery and residency program in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York), Kim produced Invisible Masterpiece (2003) which can be read as play on German artist Thomas Struth's early 1990s series of "Museum Photographs," which document groups of people viewing masterpieces in major museums around the world. In Kim's Invisible Masterpiece, his minimalist approach is articulated through the removal of the object of art, in other words, what would be the object of the viewers' gaze within the photograph. Where Struth's "Museum Photographs" provide a critique of art institutions and the ways in which they prescribe the process of viewing a work of art, Kim's Invisible Masterpiece highlights the viewer's agency in viewing the artwork, shifting the critique from the institution to the individual. Kim's omission of a masterpiece, highlights the role of viewer in experiencing an artwork. Is it this experience - the viewership - that completes an artwork? Is the viewer then part of the work? And finally, can the viewer stand in as the artwork?
Kim's use of figuration involves paring down the details to a minimum: white pressed lines on paper, etched into glass, or cast within a sculptural form. The sparseness of detail is deceiving. A series of shadow drawings play on Kim's pressed line process. Here, in The Purity for the Leader, Kim uses an ornately frame glass pane with scratched lines that become visible when the frame hangs on a wall. Direct light casts a shadow of the line drawing inscribed on the glass. The figures in this 'print' are cherubs, whose lack of color and detail makes it possible to project a myriad of identities onto these transparent, yet historically specific, forms.
Kim's artwork expresses his interest in the idea of hot and cool media, a theory mapped by Marshall McLuhan, who described the differences between hot and cool media in this way: "Any hot medium allows of less participation than a cool one, as a lecture makes for less participation than a seminar, and a book for less than dialogue." On the hot/cool distinctions between art forms, McLuhan explains, "a photograph is, visually, 'high definition' [referring to hot media]. A cartoon is 'low definition' simply because very little visual information is provided." (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964, 36-37) If this distinction is too ambiguous, another way of addressing McLuhan's hot/cool spectrum within Kim's work is to think of the amount of participation required by the viewer to complete informational gaps, in, for example, Kim's cherubic shadow drawings, which, in McLuhan's terms, might operate like a cartoon with little information provided, making them cool. But the ambiguity between hot and cool is appropriate for artwork like Kim's because a number of his more recent artworks, for instance TV Enlightenment (2006), Decoded Love (2006), and the Anesthesia Square (2007) take a hot (or high definition) media like TV and cool it down by diffusing its content into into a colorful glow.
There is no pain, you are receding.
A distant ship smokes on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're sayin'.
More lyrics from Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" reiterate the questions that emerge from media overload, which are manifest in Kim's Anesthesia Square. The piece is a freestanding grid (like a modular shelving system) that is the projection surface for a television clip comprised of advertisements. Viewed from behind - on the same side as the projector - we can see the articulated, high definition contents of the advertisements. Walk to the other side of the grid, and the picture reverts to low-definition, where all that is visible is a grid of colorfully lit squares. The moving images that Kim has appropriated from advertising are filtered through the grid-like sculpture, transformed into large-scale pixels. As the lyrics from Comfortably Numb go, "your lips move but I can't hear what you're sayin'," Anesthesia Square still enables the viewer to perceive movement, subtracting the clues that would identify what the movement signifies. At best the viewer can understand that this is a distortion of television, stripped of its message (in this case, selling a product) other than the message that television, like all newer media, muffles knowledge through volume.
But still, the message is open to interpretation. In Kim's Floating Dance (2007), a white on white pressed-line print outlines a group of figures huddled in a circle. This group of figures could be moving to any number of ritualistic dances that are significant to a range of cultures. Perhaps this points to the essential message of Kim's artistic practice, urging the viewer to get past the media itself, and to consider the effect of all media overlapping and converging. Like the dancers in Floating Dance, the tools of technology have widened the circle of participation, where differences - cultural, historical, ritual - blend together into a single exchange. Kim's artwork suggests that the viewer is potentially as active as participant as the artist in completing the work, and therefore must be criticality engaged to prevent the white noise of any and all media from taking over.
When I was a child I had a fever.
My hands felt just like two balloons.
Now I got that feeling once again.
I can't explain, you would not understand.
This is not how I am.
I have become comfortably numb.
By Sara Reisman

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