Art of reflection: Kimsooja’s mirrored work transforms Yorkshire Sculpture Park chapel

Kimsooja: To Breathe, in the Chapel at YSP. Picture: Mark Reeves
Kimsooja: To Breathe, in the Chapel at YSP. Picture: Mark Reeves
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A new installation, To Breathe, currently on display at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, transforms the Park’s 18th century Chapel. Yvette Huddleston reports.

The Chapel at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a very special place. As an arts space it has a unique atmosphere imbuing any work on display there with its own historic resonance.

There is a calm, meditative quality about the 18th century stone building, with its past as a place of worship and site of some of life’s major milestones – christenings, marriages, funerals – lending it an air of spirituality.

And it means that when the YSP creative team are programming work for the Chapel, they are seeking a very particular kind of empathy for the surroundings. “When we are thinking of exhibitions that might work in this space, we are looking for artists who engage with its unique qualities,” says curator Sarah Coulson. They seem to have found the perfect fit with Korean artist Kimsooja whose installation To Breathe is currently on display in the Chapel. It is an extraordinary piece of work and forms part of the inaugural Yorkshire Sculpture International, a series of exhibitions produced in partnership with the Hepworth Wakefield, Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute, exploring acclaimed sculptor Phyllida Barlow’s provocation that ‘sculpture is the most anthropological of the arts.’

Kimsooja’s creative practice is very much centred on and inspired by human activity, particularly traditional forms of female craft and labour. She started out as a painter but became dissatisfied with the limitations of two dimensions. It was while sewing a bedcover with her mother that an idea came to her explains Coulson. “The physical act of sewing made her think about working through that plane. It made her think about fabrics and more generally about the nature of women’s work in the home. These quiet, hidden domestic actions.” Out of this came a fascination with fabric and all its loaded associations – the way in which humans effectively ‘wrap’ themselves in it, with clothes, sheets and covers.

This notion of wrapping, folding and unfolding became a significant focus of Kimsooja’s work and it grew to encompass whole buildings, as she has done with the Chapel. The floor is covered with a mirrored surface which creates a feeling of great depth and height, as though you are hovering over something, or treading water in a bottomless pool. “You normally have that sure feeling of being on solid ground and this makes you reassess,” says Coulson.

All the windows have been covered with a diffraction film so that when light enters a breathtaking array of rainbow spectrums appear on the walls, further reflected by the mirrored floor. The quality of the light alters depending on the time of day. It is accompanied by a soundtrack of the artist breathing which makes you pay close attention to your own breathing. “I think what she really wants you to do is take time, stop and slow down.”

When Kimsooja first visited the Chapel she immediately responded to its beauty and simplicity, says Coulson. “And she was interested in the idea that it was a place where people would have come and spent these important times together. Her work is very much about transforming the familiar. People know this place but what she has done is to make you look at it afresh.”

At Yorkshire Sculpture Park until September 29.