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Miru Kim: Exploring the Unconscious of the City

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Miru Kim, a New York-based artist, has done extensive work in various urban ruins, such as abandoned subway stations, tunnels, sewers, factories and hospitals in addition to many more, the results of which have been photographs that seem to originate from a completely different time and space. A new presentation of urban dynamics, Kim’s photography takes her viewers underneath the surface of the city, winding down and into forgotten structures of times past.

Miru Kim was born in Stoneham, Massachusetts in 1981 and then lived in South Korea until moving back to Massachusetts in 1995 to attend Phillips Academy in Andover. She moved to New York City in 1999 to attend Columbia University and in 2006 received an MFA in painting from Pratt Institute. Falling in love with New York City, Kim came to view the city as a living organism and felt an increasing desire to “disect it and look into its unseen layers”. She also acquired an interest in creatures that inhabit these abandoned, hidden places–namely rats. Following the rats, Kim began to explore these abandoned structures, discovering an entirely new dimension to the city.

Old Croton Aqueduct, Bronx, NY
Miru Kim Photography

However, merely photographing these soon to be demolished ruins wasn’t enough for Kim; she wanted to create a fictional character to inhabit these underground spaces, and the simplest method at the time was to model herself. Kim says she decided against clothing because she “wanted the figure to be without any cultural implications or time-specific elements–a simple way to represent a living body inhabiting these decaying, derelict spaces.” She decided to title this series of photographs “Naked City Spleen”, referencing Charles Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen poetry of urban alienation, Naked City being the nickname for New York City and the spleen embodying the melancholia and inertia that come from feeling alienated in an urban environment.

Meeting like-minded individuals, Kim became a part of a loose, internet-based community of fellow urban explorers and guerilla urbanists. And while some explore these kinds of structures purely for the thrill, Kim does not go after danger, instead exercising every precaution so as to avoid any risk to her health such as falling through old floors, getting burnt in steam tunnels, inhaling asbestos, stepping on nails, touching mold, etc.

Tour Saint-Jacques, Paris, France
Miru Kim Photography

What makes Kim’s photography extraordinary is the fact that she engages with these abandoned ruins in the nude, portraying a figure that is both believable and engaging. Her poses aren’t flashy or provocative; instead, Kim becomes a part of the spaces she explores, truly embodying the personality of the creature that would inhabit each individual ruin. The contrast of the dead, forgotten urban worlds with the soft, quiet vivacity of the bare human body provides a refreshing new perspective and also emphasizing human vulnerability.

When asked what she was trying to achieve through her Naked City Spleen series, Kim answered,
“I often felt a kind of alienation and anxiety in urban environments, and one of the ways I could escape the negative side of that was to visit forgotten, abandoned places in the city. The feelings of isolation and loneliness I’ve had may be related to having moved alone to the U.S. at age 13 without knowing the language. But I think most urban-dwellers understand these feelings regardless of culture.”

Revere Sugar Factory, Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY, USA
Miru Kim Photography

Manhattan Bridge, New York, NY, USA
Miru Kim Photography

Ossuary, Catacombes de Paris, Paris, France
Miru Kim Photography

In addition to her Naked City Spleen series, Kim has also done a number of collaboration projects with other artists. With Daniel Harray, Kim collaborated on a production of August Strindberg’s “A Dream Play” performed one time only in the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel in downtown Brooklyn on September 27, 2008.