Posts Tagged ‘art’

Nothing to Declare

Invited by artist & professor E.G. Crichton to participate in Nothing to Declare, as part of her Wandering Archives project.

About the show:

Nothing to Declare is a contribution to contemporary discussion on migration, not only of people across borders, but of forms and realities across time and space, with the dysfunctional city of Manila as initial site. But instead of the subaltern who cannot speak[v], the project focuses on those who have nothing to declare –those whose marginality is source of intervention and strength, of subterfuge and resistance, of constraint as well as change.

In brief, NOTHING TO DECLARE revolves around the following interrelated themes:
1. shifting geographies emerging from diasporas, migrations, overseas work
2. shifting identities arising from movement, mobility, displacement, exchange; implying a sense of rootedness and slippage, identification and estrangement, familiarity and alienation, entitlement and distance
3. shifting spaces, connoting not just physical relocation, but mental and spiritual dis/position, as well as dislocations, gaps and silences that take place in immediate, virtual and hyper-realities
4. shifting positions, implying an appreciation of difference and a willingness to dialogue, work together, listen and engage.
5. shifting power relations, connoting multiple flows and streams of choices, constraints, control and conditions of creation, dissemination and reception
6. shifting possibilities, connoting transformations and breaking grounds where marginality – of having nothing to declare – IS source of intervention and strength, of loss as well as triumphs

As part of the Wandering Archives project, participating artists were asked to archive a queer life. I chose to examine the geographical passages of James Baldwin.



11 2011

The Utopia Project at kaffny URBAN

The video for “The Utopia Project” (2004) will be screening on November 13th as part of the Korean American Film Festival New York. The event includes film, video, & new media from U.S. & international artists. Live music & DJ’s also provided. Looks like a dynamic lineup! Glad to be a part of this great event.

Event info.





10 2011

Architectures of Memory 10.21.2011

Some images of our work tonight. We utilized two elegantly powerful projectors & Isadora to help map our videos onto the natural surfaces of Mitchell’s Cove, an inlet off the ocean in Santa Cruz. All photos by Soraya Murray.

 The site at daytime: 


Event setup:

Our projection surfaces:







10 2011

The Utopia Project (2004)

The Utopia Project | Installation for Public Spaces

First street tests of the Utopia Project in Brooklyn, NY. Intended as a series of video installations to be projected onto the streets and architectural facades of the Financial District in NYC, this project began as an investigation into the Greek origins of the word utopia, and its various translations as ‘no-place’ or ‘good place.’ I wanted to know what contemporary interpretations could be activated within the political, social, and economic climate of the time, namely during the second term of Bush’s administration and the Iraq War. Other questions of place, the meaning of place, and personal conceptions of utopia in relation to one’s place in the world were also investigated. Choosing the Financial District for this project was intended as an intervention of a site (as place, or no-place) and its the symbolic power.

Link to video.



10 2011

On the Cosmopolitan Imagination & Contemporary Art Practices

Isaac Julien’s latest work Ten Thousand Waves (2010) is a 9-screen installation that was made in response to the 2004 Morecambe Bay tragedy in which 23 Chinese cockle-pickers drowned in an incoming tide off the coasts of Northwest England. All the victims were undocumented immigrants, working a high-risk job for little money in order to pay off debts incurred to migration traffickers or to send money back to families in their homeland. Julien, moved by this incident, began his research for the work, first enlisting the poet Wang Ping to compose Small Boats, a poem that is recited in the installation. Julien travelled to China from 2006-2009, working in the Guangxi province and Shanghai to research and produce Ten Thousand Waves. The press release for the installation states that the work “combines fact, fiction and film essay genres against a background of Chinese history, legend and landscape to create a meditation on global human migrations.” The piece also features an array of Chinese performers (most notably film actress Maggie Cheung), artists, and calligraphers.

I have chosen to look at this work as an articulation of what scholar and art historian Marsha Meskimmon has termed the cosmopolitan imagination, and as such, I am interested in how it operates within the realm of affect and the symbolic, providing a sensory and experiential interface between the audience and the represented other. I wonder what potential such an interface has for invoking the viewer’s imagination toward an empathic, ethical, and felt response? Furthermore, in thinking about the power of the imagination and the affective within this artwork, and within artistic practices in general, I also ask: What is art’s agency? What is its potential to make the world? I have found that Meskimmon’s book Contemporary Art and the Cosmopolitan Imagination provides a number of discursive insights from which to begin, and that lend themselves well to the productive interrogation of art and its potential to make new subjects and relations in an ever-increasingly globalized world. Julien’s body of work, along with the artworks examined in Meskimmon’s book, address this globalized world and the issues that rise in its wake, such as human migrations due to economic labor, human trafficking, or refugeeism, new encounters between the ‘native’ self and other, ethical or moral responsibility toward this other, and who we mark as citizen, guest, or alien.

The reality of migration in a globalized world has already created the need for significant shifts in practices concerning human rights, citizenship, and ethical directives at the local and global levels, just as it has also altered our shared material and imaginary worlds. This is what sociologist Saskia Sassen describes as the “bridging effects of globalization” which “produce both material conditions and novel types of imaginaries that make emigration an option where not too long ago it was not” (132). Sassen also describes patterns of international migration that are based in ethnic networks and that “operate within the broader transnational spaces constituted by neocolonial processes and/or economic internationalization” (146). I highlight these points as they provide further context for Julien’s Ten Thousand Waves, and in understanding China’s position as a rising economic force in the globalized market that is still bound by traces of colonial history, particularly to England. Further, beyond the specific example of China, Sassen’s insights provide a much-needed expansion of how we understand the many registers of globalization across social, economic, technological and cultural landscapes. I would argue that Julien’s installation, as it operates in the realm of the aesthetic, also creates a novel type of imaginary – the cosmopolitan imaginary – that creates a space for encounter with difference – of the other and also of place.

Meskimmon describes cosmopolitan imagination as an emergent concept that “generates conversations in a field of flesh, fully sensory, embodied processes of interrogation, critique, and dialogue that can enable us to think of our homes and ourselves as open to change and alterity” (8). She also locates the cosmopolitan imagination in the space of the relational and dialogic: “Understanding ourselves as wholly embedded within the world, we can imagine people and things beyond our immediate experience and develop our ability to respond to different spaces, meanings, others” (8). She argues that art is one of the most significant sites for this imagination to come forth and manifest in the material world. I would also argue because it operates at the level of affect through the symbolic and the poetic it has the potential to call forth the pragmatic; it can serve to engender new relationships, subjectivities, and agencies in the world. To make this argument, it is important to understand affect as the foundation for “the production and transformation of the corporeal self through others … of intellectual rigor and exigent thought” (8); it is through affect as a felt and sensory knowing that we make ourselves with/in relation to others, as well as demystify the strangeness of the other.

Meskimmon further states that art can enable us to “encounter difference, imagine change that is yet to come, and make possible the new” (8). In this way, art as an articulation of the cosmopolitan imagination creates a transitional space, platform and an interface for the exploration or emergence of subjectivities and new kinds of ethical relationships. I greatly appreciate Meskimmon’s argument for the power of the imagination and of affect to be registers of experience that can effect change at the level of the subject, something she argues is “at the core of ethical and political agency in the most profound sense” (8). If art is to find its own agency, one that is not reliant on explicit activism or political actions, but rather upon its own devices of affect and imagination, then how and where can we locate it and ourselves through it? I am a believer in both art that operates purely at the level of the material and the symbolic, as well as art that is explicitly a social practice, i.e. – applied directly to a social situation and context – and do not believe them to be mutually exclusive nor binary opposites. I would argue that we should not limit ourselves to investigating one genre or form over another, but seek to find the many, hybrid, and varied ways in which this emergent form of artistic practice makes its way into the world of relations and the material. In the investigation of art and the cosmopolitan imagination, if the means by which we measure art’s agency is partially attributed to the making of relations in the world, then we should also consider the ways in which the subject’s ‘response-ability’ and ethical responsibility to the other is invoked. I wonder: How does aesthetic response make ethical response? Meskimmon states, “Connecting the universal with the concrete in and through imagination as a socially-transformative force, aesthetics becomes a primary site for the materialization of a cosmopolitan ethics” (43).


The making of an artwork such as Ten Thousand Waves was possible only through the artist’s own moral and ethical response to the Morecambe Bay tragedy and the deaths of 23 foreigners in the waters of England. As someone who had been working with ideas relating to migration, diaspora, and difference for virtually the entirety of his career, Julien was in many ways already deeply invested in the narratives of the victims. The tragedy brought to light the great challenges and dangers immigrants face in their journeys to lands of perceived greater opportunity as well as the pressing ethical dilemmas within the UK regarding the treatment of and (lack of) basic protections for the foreigner and the alien. It is difficult to accurately assess the efficacy of this work in terms of making ethical response without having the in-person, sensory experience of it. Even so, the power of its visual poetics, the placement of the screens in creating a dynamic and immersive media space within the gallery, and the editing of image and sound that vacillates between narratives of journeying through ancient myth and contemporary urban cityscapes all work to create a kind of experiential space through which the audience moves. An excerpt from Wang Ping’s poem Small Boats, which is used in the Ten Thousand Waves installation reads as follows:

Tossed on the Communist road
We chose Capitalism through great perils
All we want is a life like others
TVs, cars, a house bigger than our neighbors’
Now the tide is rising to our necks
Ice forming in our throats
No moon shining on our path
No exit from the wrath of the North Wales Sea

The tensions between Asia and the West, Communism and Capitalism, traditional and modern play out here, laying out a multilayered leitmotif for the installation. Julien himself is very much the cosmopolitan artist, able to claim a hybrid identity between his Caribbean ancestry, British upbringing, sexual identity, and whose scholarly and artistic practices are informed by postcolonial theory as well as an intercultural dialog. In an interview Julien describes his research process in China as being transformative, a kind of process that created an intersubjective conversation between himself, his Chinese collaborators, and the place and time of China in both contemporary and historical terms.

My researcher at that point, the artist Jacqueline Hoang Nguyen, found these illustrated prints related to fables of the protector goddess Mazu, who, like the Morecambe Bay workers, originates from Fujian province. We read many fables but it was the “Tale of Yishan Island,” in which Mazu saves a group of fishermen at sea, that in a way allegorized the tragic events in northern England and related them to the story in China.[1]

Again, it is through placing dual elements into tension and dialog: fable and real life tragedy, the historical and the contemporary, the local and the global, that Julien crafts a work that resonates simultaneously within different registers of time and place, connecting the events of one location to another, and bridging experience across borders of nation and culture into a shared realm of affect, experience, and imagination. It is in this shared space that conversation across difference or an ethical response-ability engendered within the viewer can be made possible.


I use Julien’s work here as an example of how art in practice and in final form can articulate the very essence of the cosmopolitan imagination that Meskimmon began to elucidate. Juien’s work operates at the level of the symbolic and affective, and I would argue that other artists working in very different ways also contribute to this conversation. Further investigation into their work and their practices could help to flesh out and complicate the scholarly project of contemporary art and the cosmopolitan imagination. A few who come to mind are Brazilian born Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, see – Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Green (2010), The Land (1998), and Untitled (Free) (1992), whose work explores concepts of home, hospitality, and generosity; Allora and Caldazilla’s Chalk (2002) or Under Discussion (2005) which are works that investigate the limitations and boundaries of civic space and ideology across different national contexts, or Cuban born artist Tania Bruguera’s treatise on “Useful Art,” and her current participatory project with immigrant communities in Queens, New York, Immigrant Movement International.

I mention these works as a kind of note to self as possible routes to investigate within this project. I believe it is in many forms of cultural production that we will find new platforms and interfaces for art as it can serve the aesthetic, social, and practical needs of a globalized world and the nomadic experience. Meskimmon’s book provides an important foundation in this investigation, which needs to be further expanded and investigated across artistic practices and platforms of cultural, social, and economic exchange at the (pluri)local and global scales.



Works cited

Meskimmon, Marsha. Contemporary Art and the Cosmopolitan Imagination. New York, NY: Routledge, 2010.

Sassen, Saskia. A Sociology of Globalization. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007.

Special thanks to Soraya Murray for editorial supervision and insight.


05 2011

Han Circuit: prototype installation

Some photos for the first prototype of Han Circuit, a two-channel video installation.


The background image was a landscape image of Yeonpyeong Island just after the recent North Korean bombing. Periodically, text ran across this image, which was taken from interviews with a North Korean defector and an elderly woman who had been separated from her son during the Korean War.

The main screen was divided into five smaller sections or panels, each a visual representation of Han and haan*: archival images of Koreans during the war, a dancer performing a traditional Buddhist dance called Seung-mu, and images of fire and water.

Viewer-participants sat in between the two projections.HanCircuit02

A live camera-feed inserted the viewer-participant’s image, also picking up the landscape image behind him, into the center frame of the main projection screen. Movements made by the viewer-participant also changed light intensities in the camera’s lens, which then effected the transparency and mixing of the images within the panels of the main screen.


He could also listen to traditional Korean folk music via headphones, which helped to facilitate a more intimate experience.



The feed from the camera was also on a delay that fed into the two side panels of the screen, so that when the viewer-participant left the installation, his image would slowly reappear and linger for a while.



Han Circuit

Two-channel video | MiniDV | Color & Sound

Work in process

Han Circuit is a two-channel video installation that explores themes of the Korean psyche in socio-cultural and spiritual terms, as well as within the context of Korea’s modern history since the turn of the twentieth century until the present moment. There are two primary cultural forces which drive the content and form of this piece; the first being what is known as psychological han, a particular sentiment, or psycho-emotional state that is best understood as a cumulative process of suffering, longing, or resentment caused by extraneous forms of oppression. It connotes enduring hardships caused by forces outside of one’s own control, and can be especially understood within the context of Korea’s modern history, a narrative that includes colonization, civil war, and national division.

The second force at play is philosophical han. Though it shares similarity in spelling, philosophical han is distinctively different in that it is a philosophy indigenous to Korea that is concerned with the understanding and fostering of a harmonious relationship between man and the Universe. It is also an organizing factor in many forms of traditional music and dance. It is a philosophy that has existed since the very beginnings of civilization on the peninsula, and offers ways of understanding how to harmonize disparate or dissonant elements within the world. Kim Sang-Yil, a noted han scholar once stated that psychological han epitomizes the Korean psyche since national division, and philosophical han offers ways to understand how unification could be made possible.

This installation embodies the cyclical nature of psychological han while also adhering to elemental principles found within philosophical han. Cybernetic theory has offered a plentitude of possibilities in thinking about the conceptual and physical design of this piece. By understanding psychological han as a continuous pattern of generation, feedback, and regeneration, this installation has been designed as a closed circuit reactive piece, in which the viewer is also implicated into the circuit. Through this design I offer the viewer an intimate venue of experience for the understanding of the particularities and complexities of the Korean psyche.


12 2010

A (much needed) departure from the Korean psyche…

I just can’t get enough of these kids.

All Is Full of Love – Björk

I’ll Be Your Mirror – The Velvet Underground

Jóga – Björk


05 2010

Expressions of the Emergent: Korean Video Art, History & Memory

A recent paper I wrote concerning 3 Korean video artists & representations of modern Korean history & collective memory. It’s a long one, so if you want to read it in its entirety click on the link below.

Other relevant links:

Jin-Me Yoon
Park Chan Kyong
Koh Seung Wook
The Dongducheon Project @ Museum as Hub
Deleuze – Cinema 2
PDF version

Here it is:

Expressions of the Emergent: Korean Video Art, History & Memory

Video & the Project of Emergent History

Some say the nameless deaths buried in
the Sangpae-dong Public Cemetery
are ‘whores,’ while others say they’re
‘Yankee Princesses.’

Those who resent the violence of U.S. soldiers
call them ‘Sisters of the Korean people.’
But what shall I call them?
Those no one has remembered nor named?
No, why do I even want to call them?
-  Seung Wook Koh, “Driveling Mouth” (2008)
Single channel video installation with color and sound (emphasis added)

The lines of text presented here are from Korean artist Seung Wook Koh’s single channel video about the lives and memories of sex workers in Dongducheon, a military camp town that lies approximately in between Seoul, the Republic of Korea and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). This particular city, whose infrastructures were first designed and implemented by Japanese Colonists, only to be ravaged during the Korean War and later rebuilt by the U.S. Military, has become a symbol of Korea’s traumatic and contentious modern history, replete with historical narratives of colonization, rapid modernization, and postwar industrialization. Hidden somewhere deep within the gaps of these major historical narratives are the personal stories, memories, and histories of the people of Dongducheon, the civilians who have become the dispossessed of the U.S.-South Korean military order. Their lives have arguably been the most affected by the tumultuous shifts and displacements of war and colonialism yet have been rendered virtually silent and invisible from public discourses. Koh’s work serves as a documentation of these gaps just as it poses these critical questions: Who have been the people of Dongducheon and why should we remember them, or call them forth – those who have been forgotten, unnamed, and made invisible? What does this act of remembrance provide for our understanding of the present moment and our future trajectories?

I argue that the answers lie within the understanding that the authorship of history is a claim of orders of knowledge and power, and additionally, that the act of constructing history is a social and political one, giving legitimacy to certain experiences, meanings, and subjectivities while delegitimizing others. In this process of construction, what is accepted as official history, usually crafted by a dominant regime, becomes codified as “historical truth,” creating the conditions that perpetuate hegemonic determinations of reality and orders of knowledge that serve the interests of some at the expense of others. In the context of Western civilization we have seen the results of this in the histories that have been used to legitimate colonialism, racism, sexism, and other corruptions of the Euro-American Empire. Yet, in any so-called pluralistic and democratic society – where polyphonous voice is to be valued as critical in sustaining the principles of democracy and the individual’s right to self-determination, there is a crucial need to give voice to the subjectivities that have been muted and the histories that have been suppressed. To do this means to critically look backward into time to search out the stories that disrupt, complicate, and threaten accepted notions of historical truth, shifting and enlightening our present realities and unlocking future possibilities. As one possible answer to Koh’s question, “why do I even want to call them?” I will refer to Gilles Deleuze who stated, “History amounts only the set of preconditions, however recent, that one leaves behind in order to ‘become,’ that is, to create something new…Men’s only hope lies in a revolutionary becoming: the only way of casting off their shame or responding to what is intolerable” (1990, 171).

Therein lies the task of a certain kind of storytelling – for the purposes of this essay, a certain kind of videomaking – that concerns itself with issues surrounding the representation of personal and collective memory, and the histories rendered silent by official narratives. What stories must be told so that we may understand our set of preconditions? How do we remember the events of the past in order to create the spaces for a “revolutionary becoming”? Additionally, because I will be investigating the ways in which time-based media approach these issues, how does the audiovisual medium of video form these narratives that often lie in the realm of the Foucauldian unthought, awaiting a language in which to think them? Within the context of poststructuralist discourse on history and how the medium of film has created new spaces for critique and revision, Robert A. Rosenstone argues that postmodern theorists have yet to bring forth a kind of writing that “brings the ways we know or think of the past into line with the poststructuralist critique of current historical practice” (1998, 199). An alternative method is needed, one that can fulfill the postmodernist claims against official history. Where Rosenstone looked to film to support these claims, I look to single channel experimental video, and its integration with the practice of what I will term emergent history, for its unformed, uncodified, and indeterminate qualities, as well as its numerous potentialities in challenging the assumptions made by prescribed “historical truths.”  Read the rest of this entry →


12 2009

The project

For those of you who don’t really know exactly why I am here (don’t worry, I’m figuring this out too as the days go by…), you may view my project proposal here:

States of Becoming: The Korea Project

This is the seed of thought that has brought me to where I am now, and will undoubtedly be adjusted and further defined as things progress. Your thoughts, comments, links, etc are welcome.


08 2009

Art & Seoul

Made it to the National Museum of Contemporary Art today. It was a little bit of an arduous task, but once I sweat my way through the trek, it proved to be well worth it. The museum is situated within Seoul Grand Park, a vast expanse of nature in the city, which also houses a zoo and various children’s rides. It was so beautiful and serene, surrounded by green mountains – I felt like I was somewhere outside of the city far away from the subway I had just exited.

seoul grand park 06*

There was an amazing array of work from Korean artists of the 19th-21st cent, largely little or unknown in the U.S. I am still processing all of the work that I saw today. To see pieces created in the last 100 years of Korea, through Japanese occupation and the Korean War was really profound:


Artist: 이형록 [Hyong-rok Lee] – circa 1950-ish

On special exhibition were works by video & installation artist Ik-Joong Kang, who also collaborated closely with Nam June Paik, as well as the 2009 artist of the year, Suh Yong-sun, and an overview of works of the “Korean Diaspora” – specifically artists who have immigrated to Japan, China, & the Commonwealth of Independent States (fascinating).

Here is a little preview of what I saw (from Ik-joong Kang/except for 1st image – Kang & Nam June Paik):


The lower rung of the video tower.



NMCA 020*

There is much more that I wish I could post right now, but I am realizing that I need to spend the next few days just processing all the media I have been collecting…. video soon to come.

Time to dive into the editing!


Oh yeah, just as a side note, I successfully found a shortcut to my subway station. It cuts the time in half, and a much more enjoyable path – through a series of quiet residential streets. Still trying to navigate the subway system, which is fairly user-friendly except if you get on the platform going in the wrong direction. Then life may suck for a moment, especially in rush hour, as you try to find the path to the right platform. I’m used to the MTA in NYC, which has been notorious for making transit hell, so this really shouldn’t be a problem!….

There is some weird feedback going on in my camera here. This is not what the sky actually looked like today.

On my way home. (There is some weird feedback going on in my camera here. Not the way the sky looked.)


08 2009