Public nudity is a common fear for millions, but no one confronts it quite like artist Miru Kim.
Her body of work is, literally, her body, and she photographs herself in taboo areas, such as the catacombs beneath Paris or the suspension cables of Manhattan Bridge, and has even gone as far to get into a pig pen on her hands and knees in order to get at one with the creatures.
Is it working? It better, because the 30-year-old is getting a worldwide reputation as a provocative artist whose work appeals to art experts and casual viewers alike.
"I have always been timid since childhood," she told AOL Weird News. "Most people may think I'm joking considering my work, but it's true. [When I spoke at the TED technology, entertainment and design conference in 2008], I had to cross my leg and my arms both because they were shaking so much... I couldn't even say my name during interviews a few years back."
Kim first started disrobing for art back in 2004 and admits it was not easy at first.
"Now I'm used to it, but when I first tried to be nude in front of camera in 2004 I was very nervous," she said. "I remember, in order to get used to being nude for my project's sake, I modeled for a nude portrait for a painter in Berlin, who was my studio mate at the time, and I got so nervous I couldn't stand still.
"This was a mortifying and humiliating experience at the time. I had to force myself because I had decided
on a project using myself naked in photographs. At first, it was for sheer practicality that I was doing it myself, but the performance aspect became increasingly important. As I got used to being naked in urban ruins, I felt these spaces transform from dangerous to peaceful, from stranger to familiar."
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Still, fear -- and overcoming it -- will always be a part of her artistic focus.
"My work in general involves getting over my fears that are deeply imbedded since childhood: Fear of darkness, fear of dangerous activities in general, and fear of dirt -- I had a considerable obsessive compulsive disorder as a child," she said. "It's beyond therapeutic. I do this through art, because I identify with countless other people who go through
the emotions of overcoming fears."
However, few of those countless others have gone to the extremes that Kim has.
In the process of getting a good nude shot, she's found a dead body, run in to a schizophrenic homeless man, ran way from security guards in subway tunnels and dodged a helicopter while standing nude on the Manhattan Bridge in New York.
Oh, and there was the time she risked arrest by sneak-stripping all over the city of Istanbul, Turkey.
"I think the funniest experiences were probably in Turkey, where I got seen in public for the first time," she said. "I was with a Turkish fashion photographer shooting at an abandoned train depot by the active train station. Angry guards came to us, but my friend was a very smooth talker and got us out of there.
"The guards apparently thought that he was shooting some kind of soft-core in public, which doesn't happen often in Muslim countries."
And that wasn't her only crazy experience in the nation.
"I was in a poor residential area and a Turkish filmmaker friend was helping me in an abandoned house and we got
seen by some residents nearby," she said. "He told one nosy old lady that he was from the military police and that she shouldn't question what we are doing."
Although the lady -- and others -- disappeared for a while, they soon returned.
"While we were shooting, they came back out to the balcony and started shouting at us, 'What are you doing with a naked woman if you're from the military police? We're calling the police,'" she said. "My friend told them to wait till he comes down to them to explain and, meanwhile, we packed everything and ran."
Kim didn't have to deal with police when she did her pig piece, "The Pig Therefore I Am," but that work came with a unique set of problems all its own.
"I got many bruises from bites," she said. "Pigs do bite and very hard, mind you. They could have shredded me to pieces in seconds if they wanted to. They were being very curious and gentle with me overall, probably because they didn't understand why I was naked with them. They probably thought, 'She looks like us, but not quite!' But even the 'curious nibbles' got me bad bruises."
Even after the shoot was over, the memory -- and the dirt -- lingered.
"Even worse part was washing myself afterwards," she said. "These hogs are confined in such an unnatural setting that their manure becomes a concentrated toxic waste.
"Imagine 2,400 hogs in one barn pooping and peeing for six months without getting washed. Even though large chunks eventually falls through the slats, the floor is caked with manure, and the ventilation fan blows dust from the dried feces all over the barn. I scrubbed myself red with white vinegar after the shoot and I tried everything from peroxide to toothpaste on my feet.
"My camera had that lingering odor of hog barns for months, because you can't wash a camera."
Although Kim's art has put her in some precarious -- and, in the case of the pigs, just plain dirty -- situations, the positives outweigh the negatives.
"I love adventures," she explained. "Whether it's climbing the bridges or exploring tunnels, all of this is very gratifying just as experiences even without shooting. However, the experiences in the hog farms were the most valuable to me, because I now really think about what I and other people eat every day.
"I gained a lot of respect for investigative journalists and documentary filmmakers who get into the bowels of industrial food production, most notoriously the meat production. I experienced first hand that it's really difficult to do but
very important for the public."
Although Kim's work has been acclaimed by serious art critics, she realizes that casual viewers may take away something different. She's OK with that.
"People have different interpretations of my work, and I like that flexibility and openness," she said. "The
figures in the photos work as a direct sensory link between the space in the photograph and the audience, because everyone can relate to skin on a very basic human level, the sense of touch."
And that's the naked truth.