Lost in Coding – Yoonhee Kim



Prepared with some nerve relaxing (the weather was still causing thoughts of fleeing Europe and/or suicide) and easily consumable bar of chocolate (I learned from my last studio visit), this time I went to visit Yoonhee Kim who I got to know through my residency at Node (Center for Curatorial Studies). Yoonhee Kim, born 27 years ago in Busan, South Korea, studied sculpture at the College of Fine Art in Seoul, followed by a MA in Fine Art in Utrecht and the decision to stay in Berlin to persevere her career as an artist. Thankfully, because that gave me the opportunity to meet up in her studio in Neukölln to talk about her art practices.

At first sight, Yoonhee Kim’s art can be described with antitheses like: planned and random, removing and saving, rules and illogic, intuitive and system; at the second look, however, one can find out that these are not necessarily antagonisms, as she uses this arbitrariness of language and patterns as material. She peels the words off their meaning to an extent where she uses their remains to sculpt new forms.

“That’s why I’m interested in language. It is totally illogical and arbitrary, but follows a system nevertheless. I try to understand that system, break it down and translate it in new ways. So, in my practice I am especially focused on the potential of language that has possibilities to be extended by physical aspects in language, such as text as image and speaking as sound.”

In the two works I want to present you, Yoonhee Kim uses the written words of poems and the origami patterns as mere starting points, transforming them into various new systems that follow her own arbitrary rules, and intuition respectively. In “A possible scope”, for instance, Yoonhe Kim encodes each letter of the alphabet into a number system, subsequently locating each word out of 40 poems on grid paper, completing it by connecting the dots like in a coordinate system. Before everything gets too mathematical, though and you stop in order to grab some chocolate yourself, I will now entertain you with some images:



Ok, now focus again (if you finish reading you can have some sweets!). For Yoonhee Kim the works are in constant process, hence the next transformation of the poems into circles seems obvious.  Here she transformed the numbers of the words yet into another code, by drawing its diameters; subsequently encoding it once again into a notation system. In this (supposedly) last stage the poems cannot only be viewed as mathematical drawings, but can also be decoded through the means of melody. Thus, Yoonhee Kim creates her own coding systems that follow rules, but are arbitrary at the same time, leaving the audience with their own understanding of the code and participating in the playing of the poems themselves (on those music machines I don’t know the proper name of but everyone knows from kindergarten)

In one of her other works, “Begin with…wax, bake, day, sock and way”, Yoonhe Kim transcribed the word “begin with” with the pattern of the Japanese origami alphabet on grid paper, attaching four different codes of presenting it, by removing either squares, diagonals, straight lines or dots. Again, view the process here:


In this work, Yoonhee Kim attaches another way of decoding to the newfound patterns, namely that of the English Braille system. After her reducing and saving processes the left over dots came out to form new meanings, such as wax, bake, day, sock and way.

In conclusion (because I know you want your chocolate), I was intrigued by Yoonhee Kim’s ways of using the written word as merely an image and its meaning as the material for her language sculptures. Of course, she could have just used some computer system to do the coding, but working with her hands and using language like a color or a shape is what defines her practice and also stems from her background as a sculptor. “The process of how we perceive another language and the ways it affects the other can also be compared to art in a way. Like a foreign language that you don’t understand but know there is meaning inside. I like to play with these different ways of connotations and how it affects the visitors.”


In many of her other works, Yoonhee Kim also uses that what could be lost in translation as a tool, translating it into new levels of understanding and how meaning can change through inaccurate, imprecise or poor translations. Think of how many misunderstandings and conflicts are created through the “mis-coding “of language, feelings, traditions, cultural habits, etc. and Yoonhee Kim’s art gets a whole new sphere of interpretation and meaning.

Yoonhe Kim; Seeing Competition, 2012, video on loop, 06:44
Yoonhee Kim; Seeing Competition, 2012, video on loop, 06:44
It’s basically a form of competition between two people about copying the image of
words that they don’t know. First I showed them some words one by one for only 40 seconds for each – at that moment, they are only allowed to see the words. And after the 40 seconds, they have to copy the words on their papers without seeing the words.



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