Dawn Kim: Whistling in the Dark
‘Whistling in the Dark’ by the artist Dawn Kim (b. 1989, South Korea) presents a growing collection of black and white photographs taken at various locations across the United States and abroad — bound not by the restraints of a contained and centralized subject, but instead hinting at a collective notion or feeling activated by her enduring interest in the occult, and in a reconsideration of the common human laws governing our instinctual and often strange interpretations of the photographic image.
One cannot comfortably apply the phrase “inspired by” to Kim’s work, and she takes her photographs devoid of any singular purpose or aim: “I read my pictures almost like tarot cards,” she states, meanwhile stressing that she possesses neither specialist knowledge of tarot card reading, nor any inherent psychic ability. It is rather the curious act of tarot card reading itself, and mankind’s penchant for reading a deeper sense of cosmic purpose within signs, that Kim is seemingly drawn to. In a sense, the mythical and divine attributes given to the arbitrary pulling of cards from a deck, become analogous for the photographic act itself — the camera takes the position of the cartomancer, the medium which guides the subconscious inclinations of the photographer, who subsequently creates images from which to divine hidden meaning or truth.
Kim’s likening of her photographic process to tarot card reading points to her larger interest in communities bound by shared faith, be it that of obscure and esoteric origin or that of the more familiar world religions. The black and white photographs, many of which were created with a 4×5 large format camera, seem at first glance to be connected by little in the way of subject matter, and to contain but tenuous visual links to communities unified by faith. The scenic imagery, often of pastoral landscapes whose location seems intentionally vague, is interspersed with photographs of a rather more cryptic nature, pointing to the unfettered, open-ended photographic process to which Kim adheres.
In one photograph, hands entangled in a head of messy hair suggest an inescapable anxiety, and in another, a pair of shears uncomfortably close to the fingers of the user suggest impending harm. The faceless protagonists of Kim’s photographs, each engaged in disconnected and often ambiguous actions, seem to embody a latent potential for the sinister — as if their turned away faces conceal horrors of which the viewer may not be privy to.
Kim sees a relation between her photography and “The Call of Cthulhu,” a short story by the renowned science fiction author H.P. Lovecraft. For Kim, that story “positions the terror of coming to terms with the concept of infinity, beyond ourselves, beyond human life.” It is not the alien and grotesque nature of Lovecraft’s creatures and mythos that stirs fear and horror within us, but rather the confrontation with the sense of the infinite, and the vast plains of unknown, indescribable and fearful knowledge. The possession of “too much” knowledge becomes a burden of ineffable proportions, and this sense of horror is encapsulated in Kim’s body of photographs, suggesting the possibility of mankind’s precarious position in this new dark age, marked by the cosmic indifference hinted at in Lovecraft’s worldview — one that is neither pessimistic or optimistic, giving way to a more open interpretation.
Dawn Kim (b. 1989, South Korea) is an artist currently based in Austin, Texas, whose work encompasses photography, video, artists’ books and performance lectures. A selection of her photographs, entitled “Half Rest”, was recently exhibited at The Print Center in Philadelphia, as part of the 95th ANNUAL International Competition. Her upcoming solo exhibition “Once in a Blue Moon Twice”, as part of fellowship at the St. Elmo Arts Residency, will commence on the 3rd of May at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (Austin, TX).