LOS ANGELES — An aria is a solo piece in an opera or other large-scale vocal work. It is generally a more personal and reflective moment for the soloist that acts as an inward pause in the larger story. In a similar way, although less by choice than by circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Soo Kim’s new show at Anat Ebgi Gallery, Aria, finds the artist moving away from her usual location- and researched-based practice, and instead presenting a stripped-down and deeply personal body of work.
Aria consists of five photographs of the artist arranging and rearranging primary-colored flowers, a process based off of Bas Jan Ader’s experimental film Primary Time. Kim then cuts out portions of the photograph following the organic lines of the petals until only one of the primary colors remains. There is a sweet, elegiac quality to this work, informed by the artist’s personal experience, specifically the memory of watching Primary Time with a friend who is now in the final stages of a terminal illness. The flowers are not only a reference to Ader’s film, but also to the giving of flowers as an act of care. A text by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum is included in vinyl on the gallery wall, part of which reads:
When flowers are offered—in love, or celebration, or condolence—the power of the gift derives from its splendid impracticality: an outsized beauty that succumbs instantly to the passing of time.
The stark black backgrounds, dramatic lighting, and larger-than-life scale of the photographs enhance the work’s sense of intimacy and isolation. Kim uses both real and artificial flowers in these photographs, drawing attention to the fact that the real flowers will wilt, while the artificial ones will remain in their static state. Tiny fragments of the artificial flowers can be seen in the photos, a record of the process of arranging and rearranging them. These photographs cannot be reprinted — they are one of a kind and bear slight scars from where their surfaces were pressed upon or turned as Kim cut into the image. The artist’s hands are literally present in each photograph and figuratively present through the arabesque-like cut elements that accentuate the images.
All of these details work together to make this series about the act of arranging, about the impulse to create something with our hands for ourselves and for others. Making art, although a solitary exercise, is a way of acknowledging, celebrating, and caring for the personal, professional, and historical relationships that we’ve created for ourselves as artists. Aria is Soo Kim’s splendidly impractical gift (to borrow from Bynum’s beautiful text) to herself, to her friend, and to the viewer. It celebrates and mourns the impermanence of these relationships, a bittersweet song that lingers in the memories of others long after it has been sung.
Soo Kim: Aria continues at Anat Ebgi Gallery (6150 Wilshire Blvd, Miracle Mile, Los Angeles) through April 22. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.