Kim, In Tae
by Marco Izzolino
“The most beautiful butterfly I ever mounted suddenly escaped through the glass and flew playfully away, upwards into the blue sky… I, too, was born in Platonia and I should like, in your company, to watch the circling flight of ideas from a high mountain peak. I would so much like, in approaching our light-footed maiden, to flutter joyfully along with her”
Aby Warburg to André Jolles (1900)
On June 15th, 2017, Liquid Capri will open the first solo exhibition of the Korean sculptor Kim In Tae in Italy. In Capri, the artist will present the works from his latest production, including a few large-size works. So far, the works by Kim In Tae have been described from a structural standpoint – as an assembly of the smallest units of matter, shape and sense – which is functional to the global understanding of the meaning of every single sculpture. The smallest unit or the global shape of the work offer the spectator two opposite points of view (close and distant) and two horizons of meaning; to the point that the artist – in order to describe his works – had to use the metaphor of film editing, where the global story is made of the sum of many smaller significant scenes.
The East-to-West journey made by Kim In Tae's sculptures – through the sea, in the Mediterranean – loads this exhibition with many historical and iconographic suggestions, which might offer new inspirations and new directions to the research and work of Kim In Tae.
Since ancient times, peoples in the Mediterranean area – thanks to the Phoenician merchants – have imported products from the peoples in the Far East, which reached the towns on the eastern coasts of our sea. These products, described in books and essays of different periods, which were believed – whether right or wrong – to be of eastern origin, had a remarkable place in the western history and culture. The uncertain origin – from far away places – contributed to fill with magic and mystical taste many of the items of eastern origin.
The sculptures by Kim In Tae presented in Capri – all of which interestingly depict animals – are made by assembling metal “small units” which represent butterflies.
There is a very famous place on the Island of Rhodes, in Greece, on its western side, called the Butterfly Valley. It is a natural park, of about 60 hectares, which stretches along the river Pelekanos, where one can find very rare animal and plant species. But the real reason which makes this valley famous – a magical place – is the fact that from the end of July throughout September this park fills up with millions of butterflies (Callimorpha quadri puntuaria). During the day, the butterflies rest in the shadows, on the rocks and on the plants, covering – as a carpet – everything they run into, therefore creating a natural spectacle that is impressive for its uniqueness.
This phenomenon is due to the presence (on the Greek island and other places in Turkey) of a specific tree, the Liquidambar Orientalis, which can be found only in south-western Anatolia and on the island of Rhodes. This bush – that can grow up to 7 metres – produces a sweetish resin which is smelly and irresistibly attracts butterflies.
The scientific name of this tree refers to the presence – in its bark – of a liquid amber resin. As a matter of fact, this resin has been known since ancient times: it had been imported as perfume into the West by the ancient Phoenicians and, later, by the Greeks. Used as a balm, or as powder (mixed to the bark) or as an essential oil to be burnt with incense, it was called Black Storax and also Oriental Amber or Sweetgum. In many 16th century essays, the origin of this essence is often uncertain, generically referred to as “oriental”, the trade with the Indies, but the reason for its use is very clear: to give a quite sleep where the dreamlike images could appear as clear as possible.
Kim In Tae maintains to use butterflies as “small unit” because they represent the illusion – the illusion of the shape – giving an impression that they could fly away any moment. The shape of the full sculpture appears very clear and tangible to the spectator, but its interpretation is inextricably tied to the thought of how fragile the image is, since it can disappear as the butterflies fly away. Therefore, the artist builds steady steel sculptures where – in their global image – the boundary between what is real and what is not, nevertheless, seems to be a fine line. Each work is a metaphor of the wishes that, in life, some times seem to be tangible and other times a mere illusion.
Between the past and the present, between East and West, strange suggestions seem to intertwine...
Kim In Tae creates deceptive shapes, by assembling thousands of butterflies; this construction process recalls to mind what actually happens naturally at the valley in Rhodes. Millions of butterflies cover all the things they lay on, completely; the shapes – also the steadiest ones – illusorily seem to lose any solidity and they seem to be made only of the bodies of these insects. The resin which attracts these butterflies has been used by western peoples for many centuries in order to give an image to the most deceptive thing in life: dreams... often a projection of human desires.
In nature, as well as in Kim In Tae's art, butterflies create deceptive shapes. In nature, butterflies are attracted by a sap... that same sap – Oriental Amber – that people use to give a shape to their own illusions, to their own ideas, to their own ambitions. In Kim In Tae's sculptures, this sap is the inspiration, used by the artist to give shape to his own illusions, to his own ideas, to his own ambitions.