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Won Ju Lim: California Dreamin'
MULTIMEDIA | In haunting tableaus and otherworldly environments, Won Ju Lim unleashes the psychic dimensions of time and space.

California Dreamin’ in Review by Miranda Caravalho

Article by Miranda Caravalho

I don’t dream well.

It’s a side effect, I think, of one of six medications I take. When I go to sleep my dreams are usually loud and fast and vaguely upsetting. To put it kindly, a dream journal was never something that interested me. But my close friend has spent the past six months messaging me when she wakes up just to tell me, in whatever detail she can remember, whatever she dreamt about the night before. It’s how, she tells me, she chooses to say “good morning”. So recently, I’ve been inspired to do the same.

But there’s an important quality of dreams: they erode, very slowly, until you’re left with a cupped palmful of rock and silt. As I write this, I had a nightmare earlier in the week that left me shaken for the whole day – and now I can’t remember a single detail about it. I had another dream, a better one, but as hard as I think I can only remember the dining table from my childhood and the color yellow. Dreams dissolve, they evaporate back into the clouds of your subconscious to be mixed up into another strange rain the next time you set your head on the pillow.

And it’s not just dreams, it’s memories too. Think about Won Ju Lim, the artist who made the leap from living in Los Angeles to Berlin, Germany, and found herself almost madly homesick for the place she left behind. So from almost six thousand miles away, Lim made herself another LA from basic materials like glass, light and shadow. But in doing so she made something that wasn’t quite a city, and not exactly a complete work of imagination. What she had done was an amalgamation of dream and memory, a collection of the basic sense stimulation of what, to Lim, made up Los Angeles. That’s how California Dreamin’ was brought to life.

You enter California Dreamin’ through a black curtain. It’s about half the main gallery of the San Jose Museum of Art, which has been completely blocked off from any light or sound from the outside world. What that results in is the chance to walk through someone’s mind and step foot into Won Ju Lim’s own perspective. You can see her city through her eyes, and feel the sheer power of her wanting, her pining for something that may or may not have ever existed.

The exhibit is not without the foggy unreality of dreams. The piece that stuck out the most to me was “Piece of Echo Park”. Its a multimedia sculpture that depicts the mountainside of Echo Park. There are houses. Trees. It’s a fairly realistic topographical depiction of the region, that is, until you circle the mountain range and see it slowly dissolve into what looks like dripping wax. It gives the appearance of the mountain being alive, with a skin of greenery and architecture that covers flesh and blood. It’s both haunting and strangely reminiscent. I think we all know a certain place that just seems to pulsate with life.

California Dreamin’ isn’t a big exhibit, but in its narrowed scope its managed to create a very vivid and refined experience. Though sculptures and projections she has created something that gives the chance for anyone to experience living in another country and longing for your home. There’s no way of knowing how much of what she chose to represent made itself known through the sounds and smells of Berlin in 2002, but it’s undeniable that she focused on what she did for a reason.

And after sixteen years that experience has been brought to America for the very first time. In that time period, things have changed. Lim is now and Assistant Professor and the Chair of Sculpture in Graduate Studies at Boston University. She has homes in both California and Massachusetts. It would be fascinating to take another walk through her mind right now and see what shapes and colors now make up her vision of Los Angeles.

Lim has created in California Dreamin’ a small trip that is absolutely worth taking. It’s one of the first exhibit’s I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing that allowed me to just stand there, looking at nothing in particular, and still be absolutely immersed. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. So why not experience it for yourself?

You’ve spent your whole life living in your dreams, it’s about time you visit someone else’s.

JUN 22-SEP 30: Won Ju Lim: California Dreamin’ | San José Museum of Art, San Jose, CA

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