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층층 나무 Layered Tree Raising

What does it mean to witness the raising of a tree? What is the meaning you sense in the evergreen?

This opening performance took place on December 23, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea at the Toy Piano Music Festival with original improvisational score by 서화영 Hwa Young Seo. I performatively raised the tree sculpture from a flat collapsed shape by pulling on the 동앗줄 (ropes from the sky) into a layered, ecstatic conifer. The tree danced in its interaction with me.

This performance pushed me to my limits around my discomfort and ineptness with the Korean language, culture, and understanding of interpersonal codes. In Korea, I am a foreigner and wear an American identity informed by my independence, queer identity, role as an artist, and clumsy handling of nuanced Korean social practices. I felt the collapse of culturally informed readings of my gender and hybrid racial identity landing on me, as I have in the past when visiting Korea. This visit, a new external read entered the lenses placed on me - that of being a middle aged person. My layers of identity had to flex and reconfigure multiple times as I negotiated the story and presence of this green tree sculpture, worked with the grace of the musicians and performers, and navigated the wide spectrum of interpretations that were placed on the tree that intersected culture, religion, animism, folklore, gaze, and body. I found myself rooting, many times, and it helped me remember my solid yet flexible tree self.

One way I root is to climb. I took some time to climb while in Korea, including this red pine on Inwangsan Mountain in Seoul.

Layers of meaning can be read in the tree: it was Christmas time and the tree is a conifer. The tree also contained traditional multicolored Korean fabric, ropes in the colors of 오방색 (Korean color wheel), and materialized Korean animistic myths of 당산 나무 (sacred trees). I am interested in inceptive culture that layers old and new. These layers of tree embody: color, culture, nature, ritual, resilience, tradition, emergence, timeless wandering and remembering center. That which we raise together reaches to the sky as it roots in the earth, and collides the patterns of old into a new, green form.

Rooted in me, in you, and in we is a tree.


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