ONE ARTIST’S MANTRA OF KEEP CALM & CUT ON
At Toronto’s recent Artist Project (TAP) exhibition, over 200 artists displayed their work in a massive convention hall in Exhibition Place. But despite the frantic environment, one artist definitely stood out. Toronto-based Christine Kim was able to offer a respite from the crowd, combining quietly beautiful figure drawings with her intricate sculptures cut from paper. On a recent visit to in her sunny Annex studio, she talked to Plaid about her childhood, her tumultuous relationship with Catholicism, and the battle scars she’s received from hours spent cutting paper.
Currently on a sabbatical from her regular high-school teaching gig, Kim is now able to focus exclusively on her art. “It’s always hard to be an arts educator; it’s always the first thing to get cut. You’re always trying to validate yourself.”
So, quite similar to being an artist, I suggest. “Definitively!”
But with her exhibit at TAP, Kim certainly received some of that validation, as art-world insiders, the general public, and even her old students stopped by to offer their support. While there’s been great interest in her work following her eye-catching display, she stressed the value of the immediate feedback she received through the show, appreciating “people’s perspectives on the art, their own opinions.”
Surrounded by so many other artists, Kim was “worried the work might be drowned.” To combat this, she added elements of performance art into her visual display, working on new pieces alongside the display of her finished works. “I like to use the environment to alter the viewer’s experience. I’m a bit of a control freak in that way!”, she says. As more and more paper cut-outs accumulated in her workspace, “viewers were able to touch it, move it around [while] I was able to be both present and absent.”
As with most artists, Kim felt the desire to create at an early age: “I always fiddled around with crafts as a child.” Likewise, the quiet and fragmented figures she sketches owe much to her own upbringing. “I grew up a quiet child…I’m drawn to these moments of solitude, that’s when you notice the disconnect within yourself.”
But perhaps the definitive element in her work is Kim’s religious background. As she grew up Catholic, and now teaches in a Catholic high school, she is profoundly aware of the “personal struggle, between what I say as a teacher and what I say as a person.”
Kim’s time spent in the confession booth, combined with her Korean language schooling, first instilled in her the interest in a split-identity. “You’re never able to tell the whole truth…you’re building a fence inside yourself,” she says. Apart from her personal struggle, the booth itself presents its own particular challenges: “the relationship between you and God is split by this screen…why would they conceal it [like that]?”
Whatever your religious background, the idea of the confession booth carries on into everyday life. As Kim admits, “When you meet someone new, you never know the whole truth.” Her work highlights this mystery, as sculpture and illustration are combined to both draw attention to their dissimilarity, as well as find the beauty in the tension. The bodies she depicts are always somehow split, and the contrast between light and dark is what gives her paper installations their surprising depth.
Despite this unique presentation, her paper cut-outs draw from an ancient influence: “The patterns of Islamic architecture, actually. [Muslims] weren’t able to directly represent God, so they moved to geometry to represent that same sense of infinity. I’ve always been very aware of my own mortality…knowing that I’m finite, but [my work is] reaching toward something infinitely.”
Is there any particular method behind creating such intricate designs? “The calm to do it, that’s the secret!”
Kim’s next exhibit is no less ambitious. She’s envisioning a constellation constructed from the interplay of light and paper, where viewers lay down to view her work as though stargazing. “It’s a different state of mind when you lie down, between sleep and dreaming,” she notes.
Eventually, I had to ask. “Do you ever get paper cuts?”
“Oh god,” she says, “before I displayed at TAP, I had about ten!” She shows me the vertical scar that snakes down her wrist. “I’m not suicidal, I swear!”