Heesoo Kim’s latest solo exhibition with Unit portrays the universal emotions of a particular moment in time. In Normal Life, the artist conveys the thoughts and feelings of those around him, using his own singular perspective to visualise our shared anxieties. Exemplifying what Kim calls ‘neutral expression’, the exhibition distils the experience of standing quietly next to a stranger, observing them only for a moment before moving on.

Capturing these fleeting experiences, Kim’s portraits strive to reveal our hidden emotions, tapping into the parts of ourselves that we try not to show the world. Demonstrating a shift in the artist’s practice towards group portraits and sculpture, Normal Life does not only consider our relationship to our own emotions but explores our connection to society and its changes more broadly. 

Kim’s lifelong fascination with portraiture stems from his past career in photography, reflecting a motivation to arrest ephemerality. However, the figures in Kim’s paintings remain deliberately obscure. Devoid of idiosyncrasies, these people could be anyone. For Kim, ‘emotionless characters’ mirror the hidden side of modern society, becoming projections of the more difficult thoughts and feelings that we strive to push away. The artist is particularly interested in the singular anxiety that has grown from our rapidly developing technological age.

While we simultaneously expose and mask our true selves online, we retreat from the physical world to digital spheres. This sense of isolation is reflected in Kim’s portraits in which figures either appear alone or are presented together with minimal interaction.

In many paintings, figures in sombre clothing appear next to sepia counterparts. Perhaps these monochrome people reflect the internal struggle between inward and outward emotion, becoming visualisations of the thoughts and feelings we try to repress. Kim observes that many of us do not show our sadness or anxiety, hiding these negative feelings from wider society. As such, these monochrome figures seem to convey the protective mental shields with which we surround ourselves.

The sculptures, new to the artist’s practice, also demonstrate what Kim defines as the ‘veiled story’ that lives inside us all. These sculptures even appear in the paintings themselves. In one image, a figure is about to hurl a sculpted bust across the picture plane, perhaps alluding to an increased resistance to honest emotion.

These ideas eventually give way to a more positive outlook. In Kim’s preferred painting of the exhibition, Untitled (Trust), a figure falls through mid-air, seemingly reaching out for support. Another figure, a later addition by the artist, appears at the bottom of the frame with arms outstretched to brace the fall. Kim hints at ideas of companionship, reminding us that we are not always alone. In the end, the artist insists that these works are never based on fully formed thoughts. Rather, Normal Life reflects the vacillations of his experience and the internal monologue that weaves through his mind every day.