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The inception of 그림자가 핀다 (And the Shadow Blooms)

그림자가 핀다 (And the Shadow Blooms) is my project space in the den of Wo/Manhouse 2022. It is a site of beauty and dissonance. I thought I would share my original proposal for the space, which gives context to the videos that explain the content. It began with an exploration that re-examines what it means to be of a diaspora that represents / disrupts Korean-ness / American-ness and "home."

그림자가 핀다 (And the Shadow Blooms) project sketch

"Go Back Home."

What does it mean to be told to “go back home” when home is here?

Where is this mythic “home” that I am being told to go back to?

It is a place where my cultural inferences reside, where the domination and imperialism of the West (America) meets the colonization of the East (Korea).

This xenophobic slur exposes all of my estrangement, longing for re-culturation with a culture and country of origin I feel I should know, and the way I am continuously proximal but simultaneously dislocated from those who wonder where home is for me.

I am also bi-racial (Korean-Caucasian), which means I can’t exactly long for a wholeness based on relocation when I hold the fragmentation in my body. I am not just displaced culturally, I am the living embodiment of Korea’s history of colonization and imperialist invasions. The power dynamics between the East and the West are born in me and the colonized and colonizer dance an uncomfortable and stilted jig in me.

I want to create a site of beauty and of violence that is the equivalent to the one that I am asked to hold in me. I will invite the viewer to sit in a blossom that is aesthetically beautiful, charged, dissonant, layered with meaning, and laced with violence. This furious and inflamed blossom will re-examine what it means to be of a diaspora that represents / disrupts Korean-ness / American-ness and home. This is not about the nostalgia and inferred loss of a homeland, as that homeland was not accessible to me in the first place. This disruption of home due to fragmentation of culture intersects with the specific violence that I am asked to hold as an Asian-bodied woman living in America. I intend to create an inceptive space that agitates perception, power and dominance, and pattern through the act of overlaying more pattern. Disrupting old patterns can create emergent patterns. This is a communication, a provocation, a pathway, a ritual, an inexplicable longing for missed and imagined sustenance.

I grew up in a house in rural Oregon that my Korean war-survivor immigrant father built, complete with green shag carpet, laminate tile, wood paneling, and wallpaper eerily akin to the 1970’s style house in Belen that houses Wo/Manhouse. I’m certain he thought the home he built was modern and very American, proof of his progress and assimilation to his new culture. I spent some time helping my white mother repaint and choose new carpeting when she moved back to this same house in later years. It was an exorcism of my father’s energy and the ghosts of difficult memories and abuses held in the bones and skin of the house. The wounding was revealed, as only a home can know the wounds of the occupants that resided in it.

A house is a vessel for the bodies that occupy it, and it is also a living embodiment of those bodies. This is how a house transforms into a home. We had Korean art on the walls of our home growing up – there were ruptures in the American home with Korean aesthetics (as well as smells and tastes) peeking through. There was abuse and neglect and discord peeking through too.

There is a fabricated, objectified non-person I am flattened into as an Asian-bodied woman in America. I am concerned with surface and ornament in an exploration of what substance whispers beneath these skins. I will paint the den a radiant yellow – simultaneously an opening to light and an enclosure. I hope to achieve a translucent paint layer in which the ghostings on the wall from prior picture hangings and on the ceiling from a light fixture are retained. Traditional Korean striped fabric (skin) will be added at the bottom of the walls and disengaged stripes will float up the walls. Paint may be used as well. Blossoms in the designs of traditional Korean motifs will be added to the glass block window and sliding door. At least one blossom will be drawn on the wall using thread (veins). The shelf in the room will become an alter that will hold small sculptures created with the fabric remnants of my sculptural works, violent symbols of guns and knives, colorful dildos, and other objects to be determined. The guns, knives, and dildos will be interspersed through the room in the corners and/or East wall to emphasize phallic symbols associated with externalized violence and dominance.

The symbol of the blossom enclosure is created by the icon of the mountain. The patterns on each wall will be formed in the shape of a mountain (a triangle, an inverted vagina), and those mountains in turn become the petals of the flower which the viewer/participant is invited to sit in.

The Korean aesthetic is not to be subordinate to the Western one, nor is it to dominate entirely. They will echo one another in a flamboyant dance. The bones of the existing American aesthetic are residual and interlaced. I want to overlay Korean patterning on top of the existing American one, in a way that I long for an integration of my East and West cultural inferences to be integrated, seen, and known in me. This is a symbolic cross-cultural exploration of overlapping aesthetics and concerns. It is an act of illumination while occluding.

The choice is not one of assimilation to American standards and aesthetic nostalgia for Korea, the mythic home country – it is a longing for amalgamation of both of these contrasts to be integrated and create alchemy. I want to manifest this visually, yet retain the conflict that occurs through dissonance in aesthetic objectives. This is precisely how it feels in my body.

I also want the project to become interactive and a space of healing. I intend to include a small Korean floor table and sitting pillows and invite viewer/participants to tell their 말못할사연 (mal-mot-hal sa-yeon / Stories Never to be Told). In the Korean shamanic tradition, 말못할사연 are acknowledged through ritual, often resulting in profound and unimagined changes in the storyteller and the witnesses of the performance. There will be square colorful paper available to write on and instructions on how to fold the paper into a shape to enclose the story. The bright colors of Korea are simultaneously attractive and joyful and also symbols of suffering and misfortune. My hope is to string together the colorful packets containing collective 말못할사연 and lace them around the outdoor patio. In this way the viewer becomes a participant, and a community of healing is stimulated. Toward the end of the project, I would like to hold a performative ceremony for participants to tell their 말못할사연. The intent is to center the stories of Asian diasporic marginalized gendered people in the ceremony and create an enclosure for individual and collective wound healing.

There is no returning to a mythic, safe home. There is only creation of a new space that is a reflection of me and my community. Interestingly, I am home here in Albuquerque, although the Asian population is not substantial. We are low in numbers but strong in community across the pan-Asian diaspora that calls this place home. I could not explore these cultural dissonances until I arrived here and felt safe and held in community. There is safety even among recent violences that have been enacted on the community. Home is most often a space of violence and safety.

All of the spinning, coiling, circling, writhing is not for naught as I untie the knot…. In the unwinding the wound is unwound, the edges and the shimmering light revealed, and I am unbound. This is the space of home.

그림자가 핀다 (And the Shadow Blooms) project sketch


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