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but while Birch was interested in an ongoing experiential inquiry, Young In Hong explores violence and isolation using historical reference, music, and dance, combined in a single symbolic work.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 3 – Hiraki Sawa – January 19-25 – Lineament (2012)

“A boy shuts his eyes for a moment. When he wakes the world he once knew is gone. His room is an unfamiliar place. His language has failed him. he has forgotten everything and everyone he ever knew. Gone. The world he now lives in is one of lost things.”

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From this terrifying conceit, Hiraki Sawa’s two-channel film “Lineament” draws us into a surreal world of dream-like continuity and disjuncture, in which we are taken from the familiar world and into the logic of the film. In the same way, in the corner of the ICA studio there is a record player playing the sound, a palindromic score, and on the screen we see the same record in different situations, playing on a beach, held up to the ear to try to listen to it without playing, or merging into someone’s head like a halo, or being played in strange rooms.

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Curator Fatoş Üstek has spoken of a desire to create a “continuum” through the 50 weeks of fig-2, with threads continuing through the whole year, incrementally resulting in a “subliminal constellation of meaning.” One of these threads is this week literally represented by thread. Throughout the film we see black string stretching between spaces and experiences. We see the vinyl record being played and as it is played, the outer grooves come away as string stretching off elsewhere, visually dramatising the ephemeral act of listening/apprehension as the vinyl disappears into thread, drawing off a three-dimensional artefact into two-dimensional string vanishing into the single dimension of a vanishing point.

This is itself interesting and beautiful, but it also ties into a primal theme in the production of art: the line. This is where it all began. Recent cave art has discovered abstract line drawing created by neanderthals half a million years ago, and pretty much all of what we think of as visual art can in some sense be reduced to ‘the line’. Cubism developed Cezanne’s theory that be everything could be broken down into cylinders, spheres & cones (lol note: not cubes). He thought these could then be shown to recede to a central point; note that another contender for oldest identified work of art is a single red dot made 40,000 years ago.

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Fatoş Üstek has identified “stretching a line” as one of the themes of her intended “continuum” for fig-2. For Week 4, and, wait for it, next in line, we look forward to the poet Simon Welsh, whose basic building block for poetry is, of course, another kind of line.

What Hiraki Sawa does with his line is to desconstruct multi-dimensional space (ie. the record disintegrating into string) and then to repattern it according to a dream-logic that works by visual association and transformation. We see the string proliferating into series of lines coming down a wall. We see beautiful webs forming, which are then echoed by images of chandeliers and clocks and gears, radiators and plugholes. These are the visual vocabulary of the film, elements which are repeated in different configurations and which echo or transform into each other.

The string is pulled into strange machines made of outsized old-fashioned clock parts, which then join with the central character of the film, not physically but compositionally; we also see him as a soft machine with the string going into his head and out again through the ears.

The film enacts an attempt to reconstruct memory by contructing a new (sur)reality out of these abandoned objects all connected by a thread that is symbolic of silence: when the vinyl record has turned to string, all this is left is this connecting material, which is in turn symbolic of the order of meaning-making whereby, according to poststructuralist theory, objects (such as words) do not have inherent essences but are used to create meanings that exist between them rather than arising out of them.

This is how we construct and reconstruct reality every single day, constructing and reconstructing the present out of the forgotten lost things of the past. In the same way, I have constructed an at-this-precise-moment meaning for the film “Lineament” by connecting the objects according to ideas I am familiar with, arising from what they bring up from my memory. But really there is only the line, and clocks, and rooms, and the objects in those rooms. What they mean is whatever you can make them mean by drawing connections out from your amnesia. And now, perchance to sleep. The point about a nightmare is that you wake up.

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3rd stamp of 50 on the loyalty card:loyaltycard3

Link to fig-2 website for Week 3: http://www.fig2.co.uk/#/3/50