Ink on paper, 97.5 x 72.5 x 2 in
Acquired Jan 2023
When Gala Porras-Kim was invited to contribute to the Gwangju Biennale in 2021, she sent a letter to the director of the National Museum about a peculiar holding in the museum’s collection: the remains of two human bodies from a centuries-old shipwreck, with the codename Sinchangdong43. “These objects, which are material parts of people who are unable to express and determine how their remains are to be kept,” she writes, “provoked several questions about their current existence in the museum––out of their final resting place––and the disruption caused by their extraction.” Porras-Kim was interested in the process by which a real person, with a name and a life, becomes an object of study in a museum, meticulously preserved alongside paintings and sculptures. If we could talk to these people today, what would they say?
A terminal escape from the place that binds us is Porras-Kim’s visualization of the answer. Made through the ancient art of paper marbling, where various oils and colorants are swirled onto an absorbent surface, the drawing records the results of Porras-Kim’s attempts to communicate with the dead with encromancy, a form of divinatory pattern-making through spiritual invocation. Where do you want to be? Do you want to stay in the museum? Do you want to return to your hometown? The resulting abstract shapes form what the artist calls a “potential landscape” and remain purposefully opaque—their actual desires, and what exactly this map charts, remain illegible to us, but the work might be the first step to acknowledging the agency of this person.
“This attempt to honor the voice and personhood of the dead will also benefit our own afterlife,” Porras-Kim concludes in her letter, “by setting an example for future living people who will have to deal with our own remains.”
Gala Porras-Kim. Courtesy the artist and Commonwealth and Council.
Born in Bogotá, Colombia, and based in Los Angeles, California, Gala Porras-Kim explores the ways that we care for, conserve, and collect culture. Through an interdisciplinary practice across drawing, sculpture, and installation that often engages archeological artifacts and histories, Porras-Kim prompts viewers to consider forms of knowledge and spiritual practices that are often overlooked by Western museum classification processes. She was born to a Colombian father and Korean mother, who were both academics, and grew up at research sites. Her father obtained political asylum in the US when she was 12, and the family settled on the West Side of LA, where she would later attend UCLA and then Cal Arts.
Porras-Kim’s work has been featured at the São Paulo Biennial; Gwangju Biennale; Whitney Biennial; Made in LA Biennial, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She has received numerous awards, including from Creative Capital, Joan Mitchell Foundation, and Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation. She was a Radcliffe fellow at Harvard, and was an artist-in-residence at The Getty. In 2023, she will have a solo show at the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC) in Mexico City.
In the museum, we think of death. The label next to an object is its epitaph. Works are stored in temperature controlled rooms like morgues. We whisper so as not to disturb the sleeping beasts, suspended in space and time.
Gala Porras-Kim is interested in life––the life of an object before it arrives at a museum and its “afterlife” in a museum. She explores the tensions that emerge when sacred objects with ritual or context-specific uses enter the classification and preservation conventions of Western secular institutions. “Museums tend to follow the same type of regulations, display, and concerns about how to care for the material elements of works over other things they could consider,” she said in a 2022 interview. “Objects might have a function that is more important than their material being.”
Porras-Kim wonders what these objects might want. As Martha Buskirk wrote in Artforum in 2022, Porras-Kim assumes a “playful, yet serious role” as a self-appointed advocate for spiritual entities “caught in a form of conservatorship from which there is no apparent escape.” If Egyptian statues are the reincarnation of specific individuals, is the museum their plan for the afterlife? If the objects taken from a sacred cenote in the Yucatán were meant as offerings to another world, should they be resubmerged in water when on display?
Blurring the lines between curator and artist, Porras-Kim has looked deep into the holdings of many museums, including LACMA, Harvard, the Met, and the British Museum, in order to craft—with equal parts imagination and wit––alternatives to cultural repatriation and restitution. These responses are often abstract, with meticulous re-drawings of collections or large-scale marbled paper works. Sometimes, all that remains of her research is an email correspondence that demonstrates the limits of what an institution is willing (or able) to do to accomplish her provocations, and the record of this attempt serves as the work itself.
On January 16, 2023, Arkive launched an acquisition round titled “After, Life,” engaging in dialogue, discussion, and debate on the work of Gala Porras-Kim and her visions for the afterlives of objects. A terminal escape from the place that binds us (2022) was considered alongside Cappella Arcivescovile, Ravenna, marble floor reconstruction (2022) and the commissioning of a future illuminated text work, all re-thinking what it means to care for and collect objects, ever sensitive to the multitude of ways that we interact with artifacts in our daily lives.
After a series of votes, the community selected A terminal escape from the place that binds us (2022) as the ninth acquisition into the collection. Core team members then worked with the Los Angeles-based Commonwealth and Council gallery to acquire the work. A terminal escape from the place that binds us (2022) will go on display via long-term residency at a prominent public location, as selected by the Arkive membership.
We encourage you to read further into Gala Porras-Kim, her works, and her career. To kickstart the process, please find a few selected readings and interviews below. As always, this is just the start. Apply to Arkive to continue the conversation with the community.