Imagine exploring an industrial hog farm. Now imagine doing this in the nude. Now imagine having photographs taken of yourself while you are doing this.
“I was covered in their saliva, urine, and feces,” Ms. Kim, 30, writes in the statement that accompanies her most recent photo series, “The Pig Therefore I Am.” The photographs show the New York-based artist crawling naked amongst 2,400 domesticated pigs at an industrial hog farm in upstate New York.
“The Pig” is the second of two series in Ms. Kim’s breakout collection of photographs featuring the artist posed nude in unconventional, if not unsettling, environments. Her first series, “City Spleen,” shows her wandering abandoned, industrial boneyards of the world’s major metropolises, including the Tour Saint-Jacques in Paris, the Arthur Kill Ship Graveyard in Staten Island, and what she called her “toughest” site to date, the London sewer.
Although “City Spleen” was shot around the world, its concept grew out of Ms. Kim’s fascination with New York. “I’ve lived in New York City for twelve years, and have come to appreciate the different layers,” Ms. Kim told The Observer.
In the statement for “City Spleen” Ms. Kim writes, “the city has an anatomy and a psyche as complex as that of any human being.” She adds that during her explorations she often becomes “an animal or a child interacting with the surroundings.”
“At first it was just for fun,” Ms. Kim told The Observer. She began roaming the city’s ruins after she connected with a group of urban explorers while searching online for Julia Solis’s book, New York Underground: The Anatomy of a City. “Sometimes, I don’t even take photos,” the au naturel explorer admitted with a giggle.
Jamie Anderson, a director at London’s Waterhouse & Dodd Gallery, Ms. Kim’s most-active dealer, told The Observer in a telephone interview that the distinctive feature of Ms. Kim’s work is that “the photograph is the end point of such a prolonged process.”
“Her work has a strong conceptual element, and a sort of innocence, a child-like spirituality,” he added.
Her photographs are simple and unembellished. “I don’t even crop them,” said Ms. Kim, who has never formally studied photography. To make her photographs, Mr. Anderson explained, she usually employs a self-timer.
Ms. Kim said that her nudity is meant to stimulate a powerful gut-reaction from her viewer. “My goal is to establish a direct-link between audience and space, so that people can look at it and feel something,” she told The Observer.
The inspiration for the series came from Ms. Kim’s studies as a pre-med undergraduate at Columbia. “It was shocking to me how similar the anatomy of a pig is to that of a human,” she said.
But shooting at industrial pig farms turned out to be a difficult task. “It was almost impossible to find the location,” said Ms. Kim. She sent letters to a few hundred farms and was rejected by all of them.
“[The farms] wanted to make sure I wasn’t with an animal rights group,” she said, adding, “they also didn’t want to expose the bad conditions. It is extremely unnatural. It is very concentrated.” She ended up sneaking into one of them.
PETA has featured her work, but Ms. Kim wants to leave interpretation to her audience. “I want to keep my work poetic, rather than overtly political,” she told us.
She also isn’t about to bill herself as the naked self-portraitist. In her next series, Ms. Kim told The Observer, she plans to photograph people other than herself.
Asked for details, she only revealed: “I am really interested in the idea of skin.”