Beginning with an opening reception Wednesday evening, senior Jeainny Kim’s exhibit, “(as) Thick as Thieves,” will be on display until Dec. 9 at Duke’s Power Plant Gallery — the first exhibit by an undergraduate to be shown at this professional gallery. Kim interprets everyday objects using a scanner and gives them new outlooks by magnifying or blurring certain parts of the objects, integrating her highly personal experiences into those objects to evoke an emotional response from viewers. 

Kim said her technique is like camera-less photography. She created most of the works that will be at the exhibition using a specialized photo scanner designed for photographers and artists. Special features of the photo scanner make her works look surreal — nothing like the regular scanners used in offices. 

Those features are both the greatest advantages and disadvantages of creating her work. The photo scanner magnifies everyday objects and visualizes their details, such as texture, that the naked eye cannot see. With such intricate details, most of the scanned photos have large file sizes, often around two gigabytes. However, because the scanner cannot accommodate depth, objects that are scanned above the surface of the scanner appear blurry in the photography.

“I work around the lack of depth and detail and balance those to create my pictures,” Kim said.

The ways in which the objects are scanned reflect Kim’s emotional experiences and messages that she wants to convey. Kim chose the title of her exhibit, “(as) Thick as Thieves,” to exemplify this visceral quality of her works. Like the meaning of the colloquial phrase — it references a close relationship between two robbers — her works are focused on emotional and personal themes such as pain, love and uncertainty.

“I try to give shape and form to emotional experiences that a human body goes through,” Kim said.

Kim has been working on bringing out such emotions through ordinary objects like nails and rubber bands. When she first started creating surreal photographs via the use of a scanner, Kim did not adhere to an organized process. She would go to places like CVS to explore materials and pay attention to the textures or colors of certain objects, like latex tubing. She would then scan the objects and explore more intricate details — from the fuzziness of towels to the smooth surface of a Band-Aid — about the objects that she could not perceive when she first saw them.

However, Kim said she now has a better understanding of her process. She uses two distinct ways to approach the objects she chooses. She first lets the material speak for itself and pays attention to what it is saying. Then she evokes the emotional experience she had during that process and translates it into a visual language, scanning her objects in certain ways that would represent her emotions.

Kim recalled that the experience of moving to a new country, in which her first language is not widely spoken, was the reason she turned to visual art. Kim immigrated to California from South Korea when she was eight years old, and her inability to communicate in English frustrated her immensely. As a book lover, she was also shocked that there was a large discrepancy between the level of books she could read in Korean and the level of books she could read in English.

“When I first came here, language was basically dead to me. I could not speak. I could not understand,” Kim said. “Naturally, in my silence, I turned to visual art. I turned to sight and observation.”

Kim learned painting at a local studio and drew on her own for five years before coming to college. Although she stopped painting in high school, her interest in art was reignited when she came to college through a variety of classes offered at Duke. She took other classes like economics and computer science, but quickly realized art was her passion and became more serious about it by the time she chose visual arts as her major. Kim also minors in computer science, which, according to her, helps her design virtual reality environments that are related to her works.

Looking ahead to the opening reception, she added that the viewers could expect a performance art show — her attempt at trying a new form of art. Kim said she wants the viewers to approach her work with an open mind and pay attention to how the pieces affect them emotionally.

“I want people to come to my exhibit, feel something, and leave with some feelings, whether [they] relate or they simply appreciate how it looks,” Kim said.

“(as) Thick as Thieves” opens with a reception Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Power Plant Gallery, located at the American Tobacco Campus, including an artist’s talk by Kim at 6:30 p.m. The exhibit will be on display through Dec. 9.