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but while Birch was interested in an ongoing experiential inquiry, Young In Hong explores violence and isolation using historical reference, music, and dance, combined in a single symbolic work.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 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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