Mitsuo Kim: A conversation on blurring borders

by Mara Sartore
July 28, 2015
Mara Sartore
Kim Mitsuo

Mara Sartore mest with Mitsuo Kim in Basel where he was participating at Volta with his gallery, MA2 (Tokyo).

Mara Sartore: How did you become an artist?

Mitsuo Kim: Since I was a student I wasn’t very good at studying or being at school so I figured out from an early age that my way of making my way in the world was to make art.

MS: You were born and raised in Japan from a South Korean family.

MK: I’m born in Japan and educated there but in a North Korean school.

MS: Why did you attend a North Korean school?

MK: There was a time when communism in North Korea had much more power than in South Korea and that’s when they started building these schools in Japan.
In the earlier days it was normal for Koreans in Japan attend North Korean schools because they had more influence in the community. Japan born Koreans, either Northern or Southern, because there were discriminations from the Japanese they tended to go to Korean schools.
Now the balance is definitely shifting between North and South but there is still a bit of conflict when Koreans need to choose to which school to go to in Japan.

MS: Is there still discrimination in Japan toward Korean people in general or has the situation changed?

MK: Growing up in Japan I personally didn’t feel any discrimination, but in my education they taught us that there was discrimination.
I think that there might be an underlined discrimination which you can’t probably feel but it’s there.
That’s why I still like to make works that question these aspects.

MS: How has the situation and this double identity influenced your work?

MK: The situation for people like me is always shifting, it gets better and then it gets worse again. My conflict regarding the nationality is always going on. That’s why for example I use burning candles in my work: because the flame is something that is unstable and difficult to control.

MS: Many of your works which I have seen have this element of borders, I’d like to know how your education influenced the vision in you art and also how much of it has been politicized?

MK: The theme of borders is definitely in my works, but not because I like to emphasize the lines between people but they are there as a reminder that people shouldn’t be conscious of them and that’s why I blur the lines.
I don’t want people to see a big emphasis on conflicts.
During part of my education there was anti-Japanese rhetoric but because we grew up in the age of internet and we could have access to information we realized it was nonsense and we didn’t soak in it.

MS: Could you tell us what this image of the books represents and the meaning of these pieces?

MK: Growing up there’s always been a contrast between what I was taught in school and what I saw outside.
When I realized that something I was taught was actually not true I tried to project that in my works, for example in the pics that have white pages, it’s about when your torn in between believing or not what you’re told. That’s why the pages are white. And the piling up of the books is to signify the constant flow of this information that you don’t know if are true or false.

MS: Do you have any upcoming exhibition planned?

MK: I will have new exhibition at MA2Gallery which I have curated. It will be two man show with artist Youichi Higashionna (who is represented by Marianne Boesky) and myself.

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