Born in Busan, South Korea, Young Sam Kim is an artist who currently lives and works in New York, where he received a BFA from the School of Visual Arts, in 2002. Since his youth he had an auditory verbal impairment, which made him prone to internalizing his thoughts and emotions, until he discovered he could express them better through the medium of photography, by creating his own World in the City. Starting from snapshots of the surrounding world, he re-contextualizes the images and turns them into surreal cityscapes and/or landscapes, reminiscent of the “magic realism” of René Magritte’s paintings.
If Francisco de Goya’s Black Paintings, executed in oil and directly onto the plaster walls of his house called Quinta del Sordo (Deaf Man’s House) in his late years, when he became deaf, marked the escape in fantasy and in a grotesque world, as well as the last steps of his descent into the abyss, Kim’s works invite the spectator to a parallel universe, with an oneiric dimension, and which is intended to be better than the real world. With regard to this aspect, the artist confesses: “I am dreaming of a new world. This may be the world that everyone is dreaming of. It’s a world where everyone is connected, free and experiencing their full potential. A world where the true light shines. I hope people can open their hearts and see the true light.” Generally speaking, Kim imagines people incarcerated in symbolic cells, built by themselves because of the routine and of the constraints of their everyday life, or imposed from the exterior by the rules of the “City”. That is why his works suggest both the fear of imprisonment and the desire for freedom.
The work titled People in the City is emblematic for the artist’s vision in his latest series A World in the City IV. In it, contemporary people are captured by his camera in different common activities, both dynamic or static: running on the street, carrying their accessories – coffee cups, bags, purses, umbrellas, caddies – or their pets, using bikes or wheelchairs for transportation, speaking on cell phones, taking pictures or posing for a photo, walking along the seashore, fishing, waiting in lines or in a bus station, or just standing against a wall, smoking a cigarette. They wear casual or formal clothes and are seen from different points of view, particularly from profile, but also frontally or from above. They belong to all races of the globe. Each person or group corresponds to a specific photographic sequence of rectangular shape. These photos are juxtaposed or slightly superimposed, generating 7 horizontal stripes reminiscent of an unrolled filmstrip, like in Eadweard Muybridge’s studies of motion conceived through stop-action photographs. These bands are projected on a sunset sky background and – between them and after the last one – on each new register thus resulted, there is a different, shining sun. On the one hand, it seems like each populated band is a world in itself, self-sufficient and with its own sun. On the other, the unfolding of each band horizontally suggests that it could continue beyond the conventional frame; the common attitudes, gestures, and behaviors of portrayed characters remind one that, in fact, we all live in a global city and “under the same sun”.
The artist creates digitally manipulated contrasts between people’s photos, mostly in black and white, with only a few faded colors, and the background rendered in vivid colors. In other works of the series, magic urban landscapes result from a strange mirroring effect of the earth and the sky. Clear or cloudy skies are dominated by the presence of one or more huge suns or moons, of an orange-red or shiny white color, rendering both day and night light. The earth level is populated by uncanny silhouettes of people, trees and buildings and reflecting water surfaces, while birds and planes hover in the sky. The limits of these registers are fluid and interchangeable, and so are our deepest fears and desires, as “citizens in the global city”.