Week 6 – Young In Hong – February 9-15 – ‘In Her Dream’

On a dark evening, Ann (26, a night worker), Una (22, a jobseeker and a single mum), Jin (31, job unknown) and Elvire (26, a migrant worker, nanny) are having a dinner party. It is not clear whether this is a dream or a real setting. As the party progresses, Ann, Una and Elvire become increasingly drunk and start behaving wildly. They intimidate Jin who finds herself isolated and unable to communicate with the others. She slips away in the middle of the dinner, finding herself left out, starts to talk to herself. This is how her secret starts to unfold.

South Korean artist Young In Hong‘s complex performance piece ‘In Her Dream’ begins with a dinner party, explicitly referencing Judy Chicago’s 1979 feminist masterwork The Dinner Party, in which thirty-nine mythical and historical women were written back into history from an “ongoing cycle of omission”, celebrating many ‘female’ artforms that have traditionally been undervalued and recontextualising them in a work of ‘high art’. Similarly, in Week 5 of fig-2, ‘Lichen Hunting on the West Coast’, Rebecca Birch introduced us to the Gaelic songs that Hebdridean women traditionally used to accompany textile work. Young In Hong’s work this week also focuses on female experience, but while Birch was interested in an ongoing experiential inquiry, Young In Hong explores violence and isolation using historical reference, music, and dance, combined in a single symbolic work.

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Two key true narratives inform the piece:

  1. In the red light district of an unnamed city in Korea: women, sex workers, crammed into a tiny room, with windows barred so they couldn’t escape. There was a fire, and nineteen women died. After the fire, a diary was discovered, a poetic diary in which the diarist said: I am looking at a cage outside the window, the birds cannot sing, and I cannot talk — and we see each other, but we cannot talk.
  2. A woman, abused from the age of nine, having suffered for twenty-one years, with two broken marriages and incarceration in a mental hospital, unprotected by Korean law, murdered the man who raped her. In the court case she said “It wasn’t a person I killed; it was a beast.”

The ICA theatre space was set out with two different stages, one centred on the dinner party, the other an abstract space with a tall white veiled enclosure – these are broadly associated with everyday outward life and inward psychological life, juxtaposed to explore the conflict between the two. During the dinner party western elements predominate with a modernistic solo cellist, Zosia Jagodzinska, performing on the edge of the stage, as the scene becomes more phantasmagoric. The dancer who plays Jin becomes alienated from her peers and moves to the second space, through the audience, chanting with more disturbed movements, “It’s not a person. It’s not a person. It was a person.” and “Bird in a cage”. She enters the veiled cage and dances while Korean percussionist Jeung-Hyun Choi issues shamanic chants to the beat of her drum. The cello arpeggio reprises, and she and the other dancers return to the first stage, their faces in veils, and the light fades away.

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Young In Hong explains that she wanted to create a layered work referencing feminist history, using collaboration and improvisation to develop a structure “to make a work you can fear and experience rather than understand based on giving information.” The work dramatises contradictions between real and psychological life, bringing together familiar and strange elements not only through the staging and scenario, but through the use of Korean drums and Shamanic music on one side, and cello and more Baroque informed settings. Making the two work together in one piece is disruptive, but helps to communicate some of the issues of Korean modernity that have created a society in which those women could burn in a barred room, and a woman was driven to murder her rapist.

Modernity in Korea happened fast, creating “a very compressed society, very irrational” in which unpredictable things happen as a consequence. The complex elements of Baroque figure heavily and to Young In Hong, who grew up with these (having been born a Catholic), express questions about the modernity of Korea and its contradictory development. The work is performed by women, but Young In Hong claims that she does not divide men and women along the traditional lines of gender politics, but is more interested in power and how it can be redistributed through making art. Nonetheless it is a piece about a woman’s story and takes expression through female participants, so a male perspective is necessarily omitted. This seems fitting in a work those intellectual and artistic antecedents are rooted in an endeavour to give voice to women omitted from history.

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Official page for Week 6: http://fig2.co.uk/#/6/50

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Week 5 – Rebecca Birch – February 2-9 – Lichen Hunting on the West Coast (2015)

In the Hebrides, lichen was used for dyeing tweed. Reindeer moss, old man’s beard, grew scarlet-tipped in heathland. Yellow Candles and Coral Crust grew among the heather.  To full the cloth and remove the oil, before ammonia came to be used the tweed was soaked in piss.  To shrink the tweed, men in Nova Scotia, and women in the Hebrides, rhythmically slapped the cloth, using it as percussion while singing songs in Gaelic: three songs would shrink it, and after twelve the work would be complete.

While the choruses of the women’s work songs are pure music, the verses tell of lost love, battles, and tales some gory, shocking, sad, or moving. Over the years these were written down and cleaned up. In Greenock, Inverclyde, a lady called Frances started a singing group, to try to bring back the songs’ original rawness. Gaelic hasn’t been spoken for years, except in Uist, and none of the other women know it. But they learn a song each, to keep it safe.  They’ve written new songs, but these are pastiche. There is no improvisation. They sing, they slap the tweed, they natter.

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The group has started to perform beyond the sitting room too, at a women’s guild in Houston and in schools. While she was resident at the CCA in Glasgow, the artist Rebecca Birch was invited to make a project with the women. She went to make a film about them, the film not as the sole outcome of working with the women, but as part of an experimental and experiential journey. Now, in the ICA studio, she talks about them, making drawings to anchor the conversation, and projecting video of the women singing, and images of lichen, onto the walls and onto lichen-shaped plasterboard screens that are, over the week of the exhibition, disintegrating.

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This is an attempt to spatialize the fragments of the narrative, to reenact and remember locations and people within a new space, constantly manipulating the surfaces and the atmosphere in order to creative an immersive but strange journey into the habitat of the women, and allowing visitors to the show to return and bring in their own memories and subjectivities. Think of an apple: yours might be green, mine might be red. Or a strawberry.

The biggest strawberry variety is the Happle. They don’t taste good. The best tasting is Elsanta. Rebecca Birch used to pick strawberries outside Birmingham. The owner of the strawberry field had a plan to surround Birmingham with them so that everyone would be in reach of strawberry fields, but his business declined over eight years, and he went into toffee apples instead. This became more mechanised each year, from a simple double dipping action to a hand crank machine to a huge mechanism. While she tells us all this, she draws.

Birch employs “an anecdotal avoidance of the thing that is at the centre of the work” and explains “I kept telling them about what I’d eaten, rather than the film; digression to package a narrative that people find a bit rubbish.” There is a studied unforcedness, a deliberate neutrality, and normalcy intended to draw people in. The ontological elements of the narrative are foregrounded, to draw the story out from a flat surface into an experience. But the lights are low to introduce a meditative feeling in the audience, to ritualize the experience, invoking a performance with a performance. The audience can move between different parts and levels of images; the screens break up and reconfigure the images. This is a continuation of a theme of Week 2 (Charles Avery): surfaces that make holes in the images behind, where 3-dimensional shapes interrupt the projection of images onto two-dimension space, interrogating the image spatially. These objects are delicate, and break, but achieve the paradoxical solidity of mirrors when projected onto.

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The original choir in Greenock had disbanded because the men had gone away. The women were interested in songs about tweed, and in singing them. Their openness is remarkable, and after her week at the ICA, Rebecca Birch will return to them. Hers is Week 5 of the fig-2 series of 50 new exhibitions in 50 weeks, and shares with Week 1 (Laura Eldret) a deliberate ongoing-ness, a desire not to impose finality of form or content, but to see what happens. The week is a window on the work.  She also continues Laura Eldret’s interest in “women’s work” which Eldret documents in Mexico, and Birch in Scotland, and which will come into a more troubling focus in Week 6 (Young In Hong).

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Week 4 – Simon Welsh – January 26-February 1 – 4/4 – Banana in the mirror (30 Jan)

The fig-2 project shares with the original fig-1 project a sense of freedom from conventional notions of art practice and curation, where it is more about using the available space for a creative purpose, what ever that might be in whatever discipline.

In week four, the poet, environmental activist and public speaker Simon Welsh, delivered a series of forty-two minute lectures. I’m not going to offer critical commentary on what he said, just to try to share with you what I took from his words, with apologies for omissions and distortions. “The worst tragedy for a poet is to be admired through being misunderstood” (Cocteau). Simon’s vision is abundantly positive, with mythic Blakean resonances and a kind of panpsychical holism centred on the empowerment of the individual for the greater good of all.

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4/4 – Banana in the mirror (30 Jan)

We are obsessed with how we appear. Social media widens the gap between the Projection and the Actual Self (as much as we can be said to possess such a thing). When you look in the mirror, there’s a streak of toothpaste on your face. You wipe it away. From the mirror, rather than your face. You know it’s not your ‘real’ face, but it’s social media and you have mistaken the mirror you for the real you. What if you suddenly see a banana in the mirror? It can’t be there with you, but it’s there in the mirror. What then?

Simon Welsh was in email marketing. A crisis befell a company. The comparison was with Domino’s Pizza, when some videos went viral exposing some saboteurs putting pubes in the pizzas. Do you then pay a bunch of people to direct the online conversation toward positive spin? This is what alcohol, tobacco, and arms companies do. This is like wiping the mirror instead of your face. And in this instance, the banana in the mirror is real.

Motivational speakers remind us that the Chinese word for ‘crisis’ comprises the characters for ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. Simon advised the company to use their crisis as an opportunity: we have a side we aren’t proud of, and we are working to change it. A more positive use of social media. To learn to apologise.

A real apology begins “Sorry that I . . . “

If you start with “Sorry that you . . . “ this isn’t a real apology. “Sorry you were upset” disconnects it from your emotional state; how can you apologise about what you can’t experience?

“Sorry if . . . “ is worse yet: the apology is conditional. “Sorry if I offended you” . .  and what if you didn’t offend them? Does that mean you’re not sorry? People communicate differently to each other in person than online. “Sorry if . . . “ has become normalized.

This is one way social media has impacted on us, but social responsibility is growing. Welsh cited the Miley/Thicke twerking moral panic about an incident that might have been a tacit admission on our part that the media has been sexualising young girls in a troubling way. A better role model is New Zealand songwriter Lorde, who is more of a reflection of who we are when we are ourselves rather than projected in the distortions of the mirror.

The media is powerful. In Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four the printing presses on one side declare that “peace is certain if there is no war” and the other side that “war is certain if there is no peace.” Profound stuff. More seriously, the head of ISIS does not exist; he was invented by the CIA to focus energy, somewhat like the “five minute hate.” Films demonize this head of ISIS to reify the myth of his existence.

The human race is an entity, a superorganism, of individuals. The mirror can be held to account, because when you move the people, the money will follow it. Simon Welsh invites us to reunite with who you are on the inside. The new study of “Reputation Management” encourages us to paint a pretty picture of ourselves on social media. It is alarming that this is being taught. Instead we have to be empowered by our apologies. It is madness to repeat the same experiment expecting different results.

Expand out. Be willingly vulnerable. Take your clothes off in the street and wait for a police officer to ask “Can I help you?” then say “Yes, I’m cold.”

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Week 4 – Simon Welsh – January 26-February 1 – 3/4 – Symbiosis versus competition (28 Jan)

The fig-2 project shares with the original fig-1 project a sense of freedom from conventional notions of art practice and curation, where it is more about using the available space for a creative purpose, what ever that might be in whatever discipline.

In week four, the poet, environmental activist and public speaker Simon Welsh, delivered a series of forty-two minute lectures. I’m not going to offer critical commentary on what he said, just to try to share with you what I took from his words, with apologies for omissions and distortions. “The worst tragedy for a poet is to be admired through being misunderstood” (Cocteau). Simon’s vision is abundantly positive, with mythic Blakean resonances and a kind of panpsychical holism centred on the empowerment of the individual for the greater good of all.

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3/4 – Symbiosis versus competition (28 Jan)

The squirrel when it eats and excretes, doesn’t think it’s planting an oak tree.

Corporations set out to barcode everything. Governments and the NHS exist because we can’t or won’t govern our own destinies. The outside is a reflection of the inside. Getting out of the driving seat and then complaining about the direction. But within what corporations say, how can we take ownership? To escape the paradigm of competition, look to symbiosis.

Look to higher forces that aren’t religious. When we were nomadic, we followed herds and restored what was taken. With settlement came property and ownership and then fear of losing what we have, and then the thought: should we attack first?

Competition is bred into us. School sports days aren’t run for fun. The attachment to winning  causes problems. Are there other possibilities beyond competition? People can choose their own realities, but these can be prisons.

Tim Macartney’s TED talk “The Children’s Fire” imparts a valuable message for a system whose government is obsessed with pushing selfishness and ‘independence’. It’s hard to share when the paradigm goes against it. If someone wants to talk to you, you distrust them because you suspect they probably want something.

Simon performs poems on the train, to disarm and try to de-program us, in the hope that our insularity can be shrugged off. His poems are about political freedom, a rejection of “Normative abstraction” (ie. ideology). Why should being an ‘individual’ be the same as being ‘alone’? We have to jump out of the water to realize we were in water. The water supports us, we don’t need the love of other fish. The concept of ‘agape’ is realized when the fish knows what the water is.

Abundance, sharing, doesn’t need recognition. Happiness gives itself out, when you accept yourself, as part of others, as part of everyone, everything.

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Week 4 – Simon Welsh – January 26-February 1 – 2/4 – Poetry in court (27 Jan)

The fig-2 project shares with the original fig-1 project a sense of freedom from conventional notions of art practice and curation, where it is more about using the available space for a creative purpose, what ever that might be in whatever discipline.

In week four, the poet, environmental activist and public speaker Simon Welsh, delivered a series of forty-two minute lectures. I’m not going to offer critical commentary on what he said, just to try to share with you what I took from his words, with apologies for omissions and distortions. “The worst tragedy for a poet is to be admired through being misunderstood” (Cocteau). Simon’s vision is abundantly positive, with mythic Blakean resonances and a kind of panpsychical holism centred on the empowerment of the individual for the greater good of all.

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2/4 – Poetry in court (27 Jan)

We the people are remarkably similar in thinking we are different, and this is a lever for divide and rule. Josh Fox’s fracking documentaries, Gasland, unfold like poems, exposing the ‘biodiversity scam’ and sparking unprecedented interest, forming part of a community spirit allied against the frackers’ “dark Satanic drills.”

In this spirit Simon Welsh has made films about a Frack Free Sussex: the chant went out: Belt it out of Balcombe! He organised a demonstration that attracted six hundred people. Not protesters but protectors. He received criticism for developing a working relationship with the police, though this relationship ensured the safety of the protectors and a sense of the legitimacy of the cause. This is astute because the laws have been jimmied to make it hard for us to sustain a voice.

Public Order Act 1986 Section 14 allows the police to dictate the size and location of public assemblies, to atomise movements in a physical way on the ground.

The Queen is at the top of the constitutional power structure, but is she pro-fracking? “The Crown” says fracking is okay, but this could mean “The City” as it often does. The hymn God Save The Queen is “a black magic prayer to keep us separated from our divinity” to divert us from knowing that we are the custodians of our country, our planet, and keep us from empowerment.

Section 14 is a prayer too. While the police tried to read it to Simon Welsh, he sang, to drown it out. He was arrested anyway, and frisked in Crawley police station. A gay man, he brought humour to this invasive procedure, and the frisking officer blushed, then became the butt of humour among his colleagues. He experienced an empowered feeling at the same time as he was having his rights taken away. In the cells he wrote a poem. He was advised to use it as his statement, to say in his defence that he had experienced “temporary heart consciousness”

In court, the poem was his extraordinary defence: “Arrested for singing

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Week 4 – Simon Welsh – January 26-February 1 – 1/4 – Listening the world into existence (26 Jan)

The fig-2 project shares with the original fig-1 project a sense of freedom from conventional notions of art practice and curation, where it is more about using the available space for a creative purpose, what ever that might be in whatever discipline.

In week four, the poet, environmental activist and public speaker Simon Welsh, delivered a series of forty-two minute lectures. I’m not going to offer critical commentary on what he said, just to try to share with you what I took from his words, with apologies for omissions and distortions. “The worst tragedy for a poet is to be admired through being misunderstood” (Cocteau). Simon’s vision is abundantly positive, with mythic Blakean resonances and a kind of panpsychical holism centred on the empowerment of the individual for the greater good of all.

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1/4 – Listening the world into existence (26 Jan)

We listen the world into existence, and then we speak it into being.

Simon Welsh has been writing for twenty years. He is speaking tonight for just forty-two minutes. The theme is vibration and sound, the light and colour at the start of the universe. When we first try to engineer our own destiny, sound comes first. We listen the world into existence. Following the big bang, there are dips, but we hope that each dip is smaller than the up.

Let’s set the stage for a kind of listening with open hearts and open ears, dropping at the door your defence mechanisms. These are, more broadly, causing death and war. No, not you. Yes, you. We have a spectacular task ahead of us as humanity.

Humans, uniquely, have to pay to live. Nestlé has declared that water is not a human right.

Simon chooses to use rhyme because rhyming couplets cause brainwave patterns akin to those in dreaming. These patterns allow you to experience the dream as if it were real life. Alpha waves cause you to nod.

You are worthy of love. To love yourself you have to listen yourself into existence. Adyanshanti tells of Agape, the form of love that is an outpouring, inspired by anything. You want to give, and then everyone wants to give to you. This is the start of a global consciousness, at once global but involving each of us operating as individuals.

This is a vulnerable position. Brené Brown’s TED talk The power of vulnerability recounts a ten year study into how whole-heartedness is to be vulnerable. Self exposure can lead to breakdown. The bullied person can snap and stop caring. So listen.

In the same way that magnets can manipulate matter – iron filings form patterns on a sheet of paper, without apparent physical manipulation – sound can inform the space in an invisible fashion. In Nassim Haramein’s new science a baby is created from everything, within and without woman. From zero points. Magnetism brings baby together from a vibration. Listening yourself into existence.

Demons are angels waiting to be born. We can transmute negative expressions into creative force, done with the love that makes other people naturally curious, and want to be involved. Ask someone a question they’re likely to reply yes to, and ask a few more, and when you ask them the question you really want to ask, they’re more likely to say yes. An old sales trick, applied. Simon Welsh’s poems are an attempt to move you from a position of ‘No’ to ‘Yes’.

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