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A dress made of green wire hanging against a wall.

Green Elf, shaped from green wire and threaded with green beads, is one of 30 creations by artist KeySook Geum in "Mind over Matter, Body Under Art." The exhibit runs through January 2006 at the Goldstein Museum of Design in McNeal Hall.

Art of mind and wire

By Pauline Oo

Published on October 19, 2005

Quiet reflection mingled with audible sounds of awe at the opening night of "Mind Over Matter, Body Under Design," the current exhibit in the Goldstein Museum of Design on the St. Paul campus. KeySook Geum's 30 creations--some suspended in the air, others appearing to come out of the walls--are made of beads, silk remnants, and discarded wire, and they are inspired by the human body and the clothing traditions of South Korea, Geum's homeland.

"I want people to feel happy when they see my work," says Geum. "I want them to escape from everyday life."

A smile comes easy when you're standing in front of any one of Geum's pieces or "fashion art" (see sidebar). They're fly-in-the-sky fantasy meets precision reality. The play of light and shadow on many of the hand-made pieces multiplies your appreciation as much as it intensifies the suggestion of an invisible human presence. (Okay, so some people will find this creepy but saucer-eyed fascination will rule).

Green Elf, for example (see photo), is a greenish ephemeral form cobwebbed to a wall. From a distance, it's impossible to tell that the piece is painstakingly shaped from green wire and threaded with green beads. Geum says the piece was inspired by the World Wide Web--both the technology and our increasingly global and interwoven culture.

"The most difficult part of my work is to imagine and form the shapes," says Geum, who has never kept track of how long she takes to complete a piece. On many occasions, Geum, who is both an artist and costume designer, works on several pieces simultaneously.

To wear or not to wear?

Wearable art, or fashion art as artist and academician KeySook Geum calls it, is an art form that began in the early 1970s. Back then, "Art to Wear" was one-of-a-kind pieces of clothing made by artists outside the fashion mainstream and meant to be worn. Today, wearable art has been transformed, becoming more sculptural. In other words, it has become artwork that is in the shape of clothing but not generally meant to be worn. Most of Geum's pieces at the Goldstein are designed only to be viewed and enjoyed as a work of art.

"People ask me all the time 'why do you [work] with wire?" says Geum, who directs the textile art and fashion design department at Hong-Ik University in Seoul, Korea. "I tell them I want to show some type of creativity in my classroom. Fashion is made up of two extremes--very functional and practical and very artistic and imaginary. For my gallery work, I focus [on the latter]."

"Mind Over Matter, Body Under Design" marks a homecoming for the artist, whose work has appeared in cities around the globe. In 1988, Geum came to the University of Minnesota as a visiting post-doctoral student in textiles studies. Her return to the campus in St. Paul was doubly special during the October 8 opening reception because she was flanked by 13 of her students from Korea. The students are part of "Emergence: Student Cultural Collaborations," a yearlong academic exchange program between the U and Hong-Ik University.

According to the exhibit curator Marilyn DeLong, who also happened to be Geum's advisor 17 years ago, "Mind Over Matter" represents an opportunity for all of us to understand another culture.

If you plan to visit the exhibit, which runs through January 8, 2006, heed this advise for greater enjoyment: "Don't analyze it, just feel it," says Geum. "This is artwork."

The Goldstein Museum is located within the College of Human Ecology at 241 McNeal Hall. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday; and 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free.

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