Korean-born artist JuYeon Kim’s exhibition “The In-Between” takes the notion of things liminal and runs with it. The show’s title refers to the eighth-century Tibetan Book of the Dead, from which Kim takes much of her horrifying imagery of the progress from the visible world to the spiritual realm. Instead of the binary oppositions in Western culture — light and dark, good and evil — Kim draws from an Eastern philosophy where all is mash-up and where experience lies somewhere in between those polarities.
But the exhibition at the ACA Gallery of the Savannah College of Art and Design,
through February 27, is also somewhere in between a student show and the high-caliber, often single-artist exhibitions the gallery typically mounts. And that latter in-between can make for a less than satisfying viewing experience. If you long to see the veil of art-making lifted with this excavation of how Kim and a group of SCAD students collaborated, this guided tour of process might be enlightening. But I was disappointed by the overbearing, often monotonous exegesis in the show, which tended to crowd out its reflective potential.
“The In-Between” consists mostly of drawings, sculptures, works on fabric and photographs that show how the students and Kim collaborated to create two large-scale installation pieces. One piece is “Untitled_ci10” or “the cave room,” a dark, wooden space whose interior is composed of bas-reliefs depicting the “Six Realms of Rebirth” that define human experience — from blissful to tortured. You’ve heard of sensory deprivation booths? This is a sensory overstimulation booth, stuffed to the gills with postures of suffering and abjection more oppressive than a “Jersey Shore” marathon.
If “the cave room” is all darkness and horror, arms reaching out for you, flayed skin and despair depicted in contorted, writhing gray figures, “Untitled_mi10” or “the meditation room” is a contemplative zone for reflection. Kim’s visual repertoire is fascinating, suggesting in part (but there are references galore) textbook illustrations, Greek mythology, Henry Darger, Sue Coe and Atlanta’s own Jiha Moon. There is lyricism and nightmare in equal measure, and the effect of works like “the meditation room” is, to say the least, destabilizing.
Enter into the circular “room,” composed of three layers of cotton panels hung from the ceiling, and you are transported, at least initially, to a place of ethereal light. But what makes this work interesting is the juxtaposition of material and meaning. The content of “the meditation room” is equally as horrifying as, if not more so than, “the cave room’s” garden of nightmares. Rather than allegorical, the content is literal, part of our quotidian world: blood and urine, political violence, death, rage, birth, the full spectrum of messy life transposed in sewing and painting onto delicate strips of cloth. If babies are given quilts adorned with cheerful bunnies and giraffes to delight and soothe, this is a tapestry of overload, of consciousness, of existence, a “Mondo” film of the profane and, occasionally, the sublime.
Had “The In-Between” emphasized the profundity of Kim’s imagery and the powerful form she chooses to express human suffering and experience, this could have been a haunting and provocative show. I would have preferred to be immersed and overtaken, as “the meditation room” does, instead of offered this deconstructed IKEA box of components to assemble. Learning about the collaborative process strikes me as infinitely less interesting than the confrontation with the nature of existence that Kim can only sporadically propose here.