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but while Birch was interested in an ongoing experiential inquiry, Young In Hong explores violence and isolation using historical reference, music, and dance, combined in a single symbolic work.
Two key true narratives inform the piece:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Official page for Week 6: http://fig2.co.uk/#/6/50