Up on the 4th floor of the Royal College Darwin Building, is a large white studio, it’s expansive views extend over the roofs of Kensington as is slips down from the Park towards Cromwell Road. Presently, this room in the sky, is home to the RCA Sculpture MA program. Within this sandwiched space, floor expanse exceeds ceiling height in such a way as to make one clearly aware of the lateral slice that we are standing in. Windows stretch along the reach of one wall and bring and a low level of light into the room. As if to acknowledge the spatial arrangement of the whole at reduced scale, a 2-dimensional replication, we find a long low expanse of mid grey wall has been defined with paint. The midtone sits behind a precisely hung array of framed portraits. Salon style, domestic scale, these 66 images take us on an optical journey into the past. But what kind of past is this? Who’s past is this? The found picture frames, sourced from charity shops, each with their own distinct character need closer examination. We peer through the grubby glazing, to gaze into the faces of yesterday. Past accretions of the discarded, sometimes a crack in the glass or an occasional residual label 80p/£1.50, serve to remind us of the artists task; the constant recycling of past into present, and all the while with a clear eye on the future. There are classical portraits disassociated from context, but more often the images are rich in contextual detail. Four happy don’t care hair girls in sunshine at a festival in what looks the 1990’s; two teddy boys with distinctive brill creamed quiffs; an elderly man, in hefty overcoat, gazes out through winter sun on Charing Cross Road. Looking further, we might recognize a famous person here and there. Muted colour, interrupts the monochromatic impression of the greater expanse - within some of these portraits the distinctive hues of analogue seem to date the bulk of these portraits and snap shots in a space between the 1950s and the 1980’s/early 90’s?
But what is really going on here, what is this unifying something that makes this collection of seemly random images into an artwork? What happens when we focus on these faces is that with surprise and a frisson of joyous problem solving, we find just one face, the same face again and again. The same face looks out at us from the snap of three young girls sitting side by side, vinyl boots, feed the birds,1960 something, sisters? best friends? captured on a visit to Trafalgar Square. The same face is there as a young bookseller, full of the latent promise of the intellectually rich and socially charmed future that lies ahead of him. This face again and again, Sijong’s face. Sijong as punk rocker, as Queen of Great Britain and as a young polo playing Prince Charles. As mother, father, boy and girl, the full remit of a scrubbed up bright and brittle 1950’s family. Sijong as those girls in baggy purple and pink nylon jackets at the festival, as the teddy boys, and as the man outside Foyles, as Barry Miles at Indica books. Sijong is man/woman/boy/girl/old/young and all positions in between. Here is Sijong’s British History, fabricated from traces, from the histories of others, from the found images that have successfully negotiated the transition from analogue to digital, to sit in perpetuity as pixel arrangements in the miasma of data that we all now swarm in. These fragments of British history, considered, selected, extracted and then skillfully manipulated have allowed Sijong to perform a by stealth, artful, and complete conceptual invasion of this island. An invasion that transcends the artificial restrictions of visitor visa that a corporeal body is subject to. Tackling and transcending the twin towers of division in our times - nationalism and identity politics - with wit and brilliance here is Sijong Kim’s story.
September 2018, Sarah Staton