Nude artist Miru Kim had to dodge a helicopter for this shot.
If you were to just watch the first five minutes of Miru Kim’s TED Talk you’d think her black turtleneck sweater, averted eyes, soft voice and sketches of subway rats would mean she was a crippling introvert and a total wet blanket. But if you noticed during those minutes the quiet passion in her voice you’d see she was going somewhere.
The small 30 year-old Korean is an unusual artist—less in her execution than in the psychology behind her work, though both are certainly unconventional. Kim takes nude photographs of herself in “taboo areas, such as the catacombs beneath Paris or the suspension cables of [the] Manhattan Bridge, and has even gone as far to get into a pig pen on her hands and knees in order to get at one with creatures,” according to the Huffington Post.
It’s evident in Kim’s TED Talk—where she admitted, “I had to cross my leg and my arms both because they were shaking so much…”—that her pictures aren’t for attention or shock value. She’s not an exhibitionist, a pervert or a revolutionary. Rather, she’s suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder and debilitating fear.
In an interview with Huffington Post Kim said, “My work in general involves getting over my fears that are deeply imbedded since childhood: Fear of darkness, fear of dangerous activities in general, and fear of dirt—I had a considerable obsessive compulsive disorder as a child. It’s beyond therapeutic. I do this through art, because I identify with countless other people who go through the emotions of overcoming fears.”
Getting naked in public is the stuff of nightmares, say nothing of these places being dangerous. Kim has posed on the tops of skyscrapers, in abandoned and deteriorated buildings, in subway stations and in sewers, to name a few.
“She’s found a dead body, run into a schizophrenic homeless man, ran way from security guards in subway tunnels and dodged a helicopter while standing nude on the Manhattan Bridge in New York,” reports the Huffington Post.
Even for extroverts these feats are intimidating, but Kim, under nothing more than a timid varnish, has grown used to both the nudity and the danger. She describes an incident in Turkey where guards confronted her and her photographer, who “was a smooth talker” and got them out of the situation safely.
Kim’s photographs are worth her abandoned caution. Originally, I was skeptical to believe the photos would even be interesting; nudity in art is nothing shocking, and nudity in public—while it can be horrifying to take part in—is less than scandalous to witness.
But the fact that she’s naked both is and isn’t the point. There’s no focus on her sexuality and the nudity is hardly explicit. Simple bare skin rather than bare genitals is the beauty in her exposure.
“The figures in the photos work as a direct sensory link between the space in the photograph and the audience, because everyone can relate to skin on a very basic human level, the sense of touch,” says Kim. The scope of the settings in her photographs are often vast—in purpose or history if not in size. Seeing her small exposed body against monumental structures, expansive landscapes and extensive rust, rubble and dirt is stunning.
Kim creates an unexpected connection through contrast between the active and supple human body and the lifelessness of inanimate objects. This kind of dichotomy and the essence of her art couldn’t exist in the relationship between two naked bodies or Kim’s naked body and a smaller, less exotic scale. The dynamics in her photographs are powerful in a singular way only when put together.
Many commenters on Huffington Post’s article about Miru Kim find the fact that it’s her body in the pictures to be inconsequential. Though the back-story of her fears and compulsions aren’t explicit in the art, the implied sense that Kim at her most vulnerable is facing them in environments that are universally understood as being uncomfortable, if not scary, is essential to the work’s profundity.
How Kim affords her travel, who exactly is taking each photograph and where she comes up with these ideas are unknown for now, but her work is definitely worth checking out.