America's Fiction

KangHee Kim

@tinycactus, the handle of the South Korean artist KangHee Kim is well known to a wide audience and has been documented by the likes of Elephant, Forbes, Fader, Aperture, BJP – all through the course of 2019 and early 2020 during a time where it seemed her personal restrictions over travelling outside of the US, made her escapist images quaint, inventive and a projection of wish fulfilment over a kind of private solitary confinement.

Obviously – this experience is becoming familiar to a growing populous and the citizens of the world are finding their freedom and liberty governed by health warnings and social distancing measures. We are now all living in reflective, anxious, isolated and personal worlds that we normally only inhabit temporarily, in our private lives.

Many people have chosen to open up their private life on social media – for some it’s endlessly fascinating – however now in quieter times, reality seems confined to patience, collective consciousness, kindness perhaps, boredom, certainly sadness and a deeper engagement with the state of our inner and outer worlds.

It is possible that in this world, however temporary it will be, we can be comforted by art and I found myself drifting back to her work over the last few weeks. I think because first, it transcends her personal circumstances. Essentially, she cannot travel outside of the USA, (the country she moved to from South Korea as a child), because of some mistake in the timing of her visa application. She is now under a temporary visa that if she leaves the US would be revoked, meaning, she wouldn’t be able to get back in.

You could argue that an artist who finds herself stuck in the USA has a rich landscape to draw from, not only its cultural history but its privilege of opportunity. On seeing her work for the first time, I thought of Stephen Shore – they use the same props, street furniture, palm trees, pale pastel colour, big skies – the symbols of the dream of the open road. There is also an absence of people. In her work we hear music and prose, we think about artists & architects, we imagine cars, wind and skies, encounters through which as clever Baudrillard said; we ‘enter the fiction of America’. Can we also see an apocalyptic threat, in the clouds? The darker side of our fantasy includes America’s vast and complicated history with oppression, capitalism, violence and it’s hawkish tendencies to close down borders. Similarly, life was quite different before 9/11.

I feel like KangHee can teach us a little right now of our fear of being confined in that it is still possible to dream. It is possible that when the current threat of COVID-19 has been controlled, that we can return to a simple act of getting back out on the road, to see someone we love.

For KangHee, her life will be restricted until her green card comes through. For us, our metaphorical green card is hanging in the balance.