Miru Kim is fearless. She ventures into places to make her art that most of us would neither enter nor risk arrest to be in: underground tunnels, sewers, abandoned factories, power plants, the tops of bridges and churches. Once she arrives at these hidden and desolate places, Kim explores the setting, finds the best point of view, puts her camera on a tripod, and removes her clothes — in order to take some of the most engaging photographs of the moment.
The nude has a rich history in art, and its use as subject matter is constantly evolving, especially in contemporary photography and video. Spencer Tunick uses naked bodies to create installations of flowing flesh in public places, which he captures in photography and exhibits as prints; Katy Grannan finds her subjects via classified ads and photographs them nude or provocatively clothed in the privacy of their homes and in nature; and Pipilotti Rist puts sensuality center stage in her surreal video fantasies, where fruits, flesh, and flowers merge to create moving installations.
Kim adds to this discourse by exposing herself in industrial ruins and on city structures. Her pose isn’t flashy or provocative; instead, Kim becomes one with the space she inhabits. She is in awe of where she is — a place that she has discovered and climbed high and low to reach. She researches each site and learns its history and considers how the body, which metaphorically could be that of a child or an animal, might approach it. These abandoned and hard to find places become her playgrounds, where art can be made.
Hooked on hacking buildings, which she does alone, with her sister, and with her friends, Kim has traveled the world in search of sites to use as her stage. Her earliest pictures were made in the abandoned Revere Sugar Factory in Red Hook Brooklyn in 2005. Her next important find was a former asylum in Berlin, where she worked in the underground tunnels and storage areas. Returning to New York to get an MFA in painting from the Pratt Institute, she continued her perilous activity.
Networking with other urban explorers, Kim soon began to infiltrate broken-down power plants in Philadelphia and Yonkers, sewers in London, demolition zones in Seoul, and the famous catacombs of Paris, where she shot eleven of the photographs in her Naked City Spleen series. An image of her lying on a pile of bones in the catacombs sends chills down the spine, while another one of her going down the catacomb steps ironically brings to mind Marcel Duchamp’s modernist masterpiece, Nude Descending a Staircase.
The title of Kim’s body of work combines Naked City, an old nickname for New York, and Charles Baudelaire’s famous volume of melancholic poems, Le Spleen de Paris. In the process of making the series, she’s crossed paths with homeless men, rats, cats, wild dogs, birds, and even a dead person. Triumphing over the dangers, Kim projects a playful, liberated spirit that perches on ledges, climbs on machinery, balances on beams, and strolls down tracks and tunnels.
For her adventurous vision, Kim has already been the subject of several solo and group shows in the US. She’s been discussed in Time Out New York, the New York Times, the Financial Times, and Esquire; she was featured in an Ovation TV documentary about portrait photographers, directed by the legendary Albert Maysles; and she was invited to present her work and ideas at the forward-thinking TED conference.
Rounding out her “rising-star” success, 48 of Kim’s photographs from the Naked City Spleen series, shot between 2005 and 2009, are currently on view at Gallery Hyundai in Seoul. The exhibition, which is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, runs through September 13.