An artistic needle in an urban haystack

arts / Article

"A Needle Woman," silent; 6:33 minute loop. Courtesy of the artist

Kimsooja becomes a needle woman in eight synchronized videos in a darkened Miami Art Museum (a Knight Arts grantee). Like a needle in a haystack, only the back of the Korea-born artist is shown, standing completely still and straight, her long black hair in a pony tail, while the populations of eight major metropolises move around her. It's a mesmerizing optical. Indeed, she named this work "Kimsooja: A Needle Woman," after she shot these videos between 1999 and 2001.

Each video is 6:33 minutes, and is looped. She picked out these cities for her social and artistic exploration: Cairo, Delhi, Lagos, London, Mexico City, New York, Shanghai and Tokyo. On the wall of the back room, four of these are a great example (you can sit on a bench to watch them several times, it's worth it). The first video is London, and people barely pay attention to her at all, they almost run over her in fact. One tourist takes out his camera, but for the most part few find this strange, if they noticed her at all. But the opposite happens in Lagos. Kids can't get enough of her, trying to provoke her into moving or responding, giggling, staring, even poking. Then, in Cairo, the men are the ones that stop and stare — and stare and stare. These are the cultural differences, but the overarching theme is how similar in a sense all these high cities are, with people swarming in the over-populated streets, in constant motion. In the center of it all, Kimsooja (now based in New York City) stands alone and motionless. "With this simple gesture, the artist exemplifies the perennial struggle to preserve a place for the individual within society, while embodying the experience of being engulfed within a foreign culture. In the process, she provides a vivid sense of the effects of globalization at street level."

Eight cities swirl around the artist in a constant loop in "Kimsooja: A Needle Woman."

The exception are two pieces in the middle space, where the artist is all alone, in one case laying on top a mountain peak, in another gazing out over a sacred river in India.

Organized by associate curator Rene Morales, the exhibit will include some ancillary events, including a workshop "Stillness & Movement" on July 28 at 2 p.m., with local dancers Priscilla Marrero and Carlota Pradera and sound artists Gustavo Matamoros. And then on August 18, MAM will have three screenings of a super-intriguing film, "LAGOS/KOOLHAAS," a study of that most hectic of third-world cities from the eyes of the great architect.

Get out of the heat and rain and spend some time with this exhibit.

"Kimsooja: A Needle Woman" runs through Aug. 26 at the Miami Art Museum, 101 W. Flagler St., Miami;305-375-3000. Visit for more information about events.

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