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I really should say my wishes into the wind more often. I had just recently mused aloud how I hoped that one day my new favorite artist, Mari Kim, would show in New York City.  Days after sending that aspiration into the air, the Art Amalgamated space made it so with their new show, K-Surrogates, co-curated by Gary Krimershmoys and Jieun Seo.  Three of the rising stars in the art world, Mari Kim, Hye Rim Lee and Jihee Kim give us a deceptively cute, comic book bright, sexy, edgy, provocative exploration of Asian sexuality from their perspectives as Korean women.

We had a chance to speak with Mari Kim, whose work has crossed the globe, riding the Hallyu wave in her collaborations with YG Entertainmentís girl group, 2NE1.  Her manwah-perfect ďEyedollsĒ hide addiction to luxurious temptations, the cuts, bruises and burdens of the male gaze and Western expectation.

K-Surrogates at Art Amalgamated, NYC


Artist Mari Kim


The Lady Miz Diva:  May I start by asking if this is the first time youíve shown your art in New York City?

Mari Kim:  Yeah!


LMD:  Congratulations.  How were you approached to take part in this exhibition?

MK:  Actually, I participated in an art show in Busan and Gary {Krimershmoys} and Jieun {Seo} came to the art show and they wanted to include me in this show.


LMD:  For our readers who are new to you, could you please explain the concept of the Eyedoll?

MK:  I created this doll named Eyedoll.  I duplicate them and make her into a totally different person, but I donít do an exact same copy of the work.  I am questioning in modern art, what is uniqueness and what is originality?  So I kind of try to use her to question uniqueness, because art should be unique; thatís why it has an aura.  When it becomes double and triple, the aura should be gone, so what does it become if you duplicate them?  Does it still have the aura or is something else coming out from it?


LMD:  Many of your pieces feature famous figures, Snow White, Sailor Moon, Wonder Woman, She-Ra, Maetel from Galaxy 999?  Why do you choose these well-known subjects?

MK:  I have a lot of series.  I have famous women and politicians and some women from cartoons and comics and some of them from Disney princesses, too. 

In each series, I actually came up with something different, but in this show overall Gary picked females from all different series, so maybe they donít look like they go along.  Some are from cartoons, like Galaxy Express 999.  Basically, I created a doll like an Eyedoll and I turned her into someone totally new and different. 

And someone like Snow White; youíd look at her like, oh so pure and innocent, and she has the stepmother, but she has an apple that is poisoned.  Itís not an ordinary apple, right?  So I turned that apple into a Chanel bag because this apple, it represents temptation.  Because the material stuff that girls like, like a Chanel bag and so on, we want to have them, but itís kind of dangerous for our bank accounts.  Itís a big temptation, but we have to somehow bear it.  Well, some can get it, but for all these rich people, they still have things they canít get.  So, I like conflict.


LMD:  I wonder if that comes into play with the Eyedolls being so perfect at first glance, but then thereís always a little something going on with them, either in their eyes or in their surroundings.

Oftentimes, like with the Snow White piece you mentioned, they are posed with some luxurious vanity item that is a temptation, or theyíre bruised or cut. 

Forgive me if Iím wrong about this, but from my outsiderís point of view, the male and female roles in South Korea seem very traditional with it being a very patriarchal, morally conservative society, and I wonder if the warped perfection of the Eyedolls is a reaction to the expectation of what a women is meant to be or look like?

MK:  Some girls are like that.  Itís not exactly traditional because girls are more liberal now.  But talking about liberal; they may look liberal, but theyíre actually not inside.  They want to marry this guy, or that guy in that age, and then they want to live a life like everybody, and then they want to have babies, and then their babies have to go to good schools, or whateverÖ  So, then when you look at her {Gesturing toward the Maetel Eyedoll}, as you said itís perfection, they all have the same face.  Now girls are as Koreans say, ďrice girls,Ē because rice looks all the same.  And then a lot of girls have plastic surgery; they make the eyes really big, like doll eyes, you know?


LMD:  Iím always hearing about the ďsmall face.Ē

MK:  Yes!  I donít know why Korean girls are so obsessed with the small face, because maybe for the Hollywood interest, they donít have this small jawline and really, sharp pointy chin, but itís really popular like that in Korea.  

So, somehow everyone looks the same and theyíre almost like a doll, and they donít get old; they donít get aged because they have all this stuff that they can put in their face, right?

So, I have the {painting} ďKorean Girl in New York City;Ē itís like thereís a lot of Korean girls obsession - you must know a lot of Korean girl groups - theyíre really popular in a lot of countries like Psyís "Gangnam Style," as well.

And then something Gary probably picked up on, so he named the show K-Surrogates; itís like Korea is a surrogate in Japan, and kind of a surrogate for the Asian culture now, because Japan used to be so popular, but it kind of died down a bit and Korea has all these new and young groups.


LMD:  Speaking of girl groups, I think many of our readers will know you from the work youíve done with the KPop group, 2NE1, for their album cover and the brilliant animated video for Hate You.  Were you given a free hand in that collaboration?

MK:  I was totally free.  I didnít have to do anything I didnít like.  I even offered to draw them many paintings because I did 21 because they are 2NE1.  21 different pictures for their album.  And then I directed their music video.


LMD:  Youíve studied animation.  Was making the ďHate YouĒ video the biggest animated project youíve done?

MK:  No, actually, Iíve done longer ones on my own.  But you might not think they are as polished as I did for 2NE1, but I think itís a lot more interesting.


LMD:  Where can I find them?

MK:  You can go on YouTube.  I have a channel there under marikim77.


LMD:  Youíve also done live-action short films, as well?

MK:  Yeah, thatís right.  I donít know if theyíre going to put it on in here, but I always make movies, and with every solo show, I make a movie, and I do a lot of installations and statues with the movies.


LMD:  You have established a make-up line with the company PeriPera.  Even though your Eyedolls are so gorgeous and seem made for complete consumability, do you have to be careful that your message wonít get lost when you consider commercial collaborations?

MK:  I think a contemporary artist should not select their audience.  I think I should communicate as much as I could.  Because even if you make a lot of money being an artist, like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, I think they still want to communicate with a lot of young people who cannot afford their art.  Thatís why they collaborate with brands like Leviís.  

I am not really afraid doing this kind of stuff.  I would like to show as much as I want to people, but I donít want to do something just for money.  I want to do something that is really appropriate for my work and it can kind of represent my work, as well.  Some brands like PeriPera, it represent young girls; I think it goes really well with my art.


LMD:  Do you see the 2NE1 project and the rise of KPop in general affecting your recognisability? 

MK:  Some, because I have a lot of Facebook friends.  Because all these people came from nowhere; I donít know them, but they all of a sudden came to me.  You know that Facebook has a limit of 5,000 friends, but you can subscribe to me and I have almost 6000 subscribers.  So I have more than 10,000 friends, but I donít know all of them.

Obviously, they came from somewhere, they know me from somewhere; I donít think they are big art collectors, so it mustíve come from that.  So, I noticed that and I really appreciate their attention and kind hearts.


LMD:  What is next for Mari Kim?

MK:  I will do more work.  I want to experiment, so I will do some more experimental work.  Youíve seen all these, but I have more things that you probably havenít seen that is coming next.  I hope I can find some chances to show this work overseas.

Koreans see my work more often, so I would like to be somewhere other than Korea, as well.


LMD:  Does the new work feature the Eyedolls?

MK:  Yes, but itís abstract. {Laughs}



Co-Curator Gary Krimershmoys


The Lady Miz Diva:  What is Art Amalgamated and what is its mission?

Gary Krimershmoys:  It is a project space, so we do try to have an interesting mix of projects since we started in 2012.  We have an international roster of artists that we work with.  We like artists that experiment and push the boundaries and we like artists that are interested in an international cultural dialog.


LMD:  Can you tell us what was the impetus behind the K-Surrogates exhibition?

GK:  It was actually my first trip to Korea that happened this summer, and I participated in an art fair there.  I knew one of the artists personally and was introduced to the work of the other artists in the exhibition and I thought it was a unique perspective of looking at Korean culture that has never been seen or discussed in America.  It appeals to a kind of post-feminist ideal of beauty and female culture in Korea.


LMD:  What I noticed about the three artists you chose initially was that their work takes current pop culture tropes about femininity and beauty and spins them on their heads.  Was that part of the allure of bringing the three together?

GK:  It is.  And theyíre all engaged in the culture in various ways outside of even the artistic practice, where theyíve directed videos and collaborated with bands, and two of the artists have make up lines in Korea.  So I just thought about catching the zeitgeist of the moment through these three artists would be kind of unique to bring to the space.



Co-Curator Jieun Seo


The Lady Miz Diva:  Can you please talk about the origin of K-Surrogates and what made you decide to work with these particular artists?

Jieun Seo:  I was interested in the three artists and I told the three artists who were in Korea that I thought if I had some kind of theme, it would be interesting.  Then I figured that they were female artists and they are dealing with the kind of idea or concept of a woman in contemporary society.  So, I started conceptualising the whole concept of our show.  I looked at other work, too, and I picked put the work that can represent the theme of our show.


LMD:  I was speaking with Ms. Kim about the ideal of feminine beauty in South Korea and how it seemed that women were expected to be in the same sort of mould.

JS:  Yes, right.  Nowadays, because of TV or videos, we are observing a kind of Western concept of beauty.  So you have to have a high nose and big eyes, a slimmer face and the slim body.  So that kind of thing is something that Korean people, or Asian people are really concerned about right now.  

You know that in Korea and other Asian countries, they are having a lot of plastic surgery to make them more beautiful, and they just want to be a product of something.


K-Surrogates runs from September 26 Ė November 9, 2013 at Art Amalgamated on 317 10th Avenue, NYC, Ground fl.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

Sept 26th, 2013





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