Interview with Minouk Lim
“A Grim View of the Modern World: Minouk Lim teams up with local choreographer for collaborative exhibit at the Walker”
On the evening of May 31 Heat of Shadow, an exhibition of Korean artist Minouk Lim, opened at Walker Art Center. The exhibition space was heated with people anticipating the one-time-only performance— Firecliff 3. For this, Lim met with Minneapolis-based choreographer, Emily Johnson, for two weeks of high intensity and collaboration. This performance integrates dance, music, and readings led by Lim and Johnson themselves.
At 7 p.m. four dancers appear from the audience holding an object that is shaped like a twisted branch. At the back of the audience, the screen shows a real-time video projection of the performance that is recorded with infrared film. Wearable Sculptures (2012) by Lim, resembling various totemic devices, intermingle with the bodies as in religious rites. Lim’s poetry weaves the themes of personal memories, nature, art and politics in and out of the present, past, and future:
Rainwater welled in my head, pronouncing farewell and apocalypse. It is raining in Minneapolis/ Seoul. We had a splendid rain also in 1984 (in Minneapolis/ Seoul).
Now we (you and I) are scared of rain. Aren’t we?
The rain we have in Minneapolis/Seoul is purple.
Prince made the rain and nobody sees it in America.
Its color turns into purple when it comes down from red North to blue South.
The temperature of shadow begins with purple.
The purple rain we have today is our organ.
Lovers will die, the anonymous will die, and I will die too.
One layer of brain, stomach, hair, and genitals sank again after having dispersed into space.
When asked about what she feels about the color purple, Lim says, “Purple is the other. Color purple is substance-less one. Not exactly a color, purple is a shadow or a direction.” This “purple-like” sentiment permeates throughout Lim’s work.
When it comes to nature, Lim says her primary concern is death, as the world undergoes major catastrophes including the Fukushima earthquake, foot-and-mouth disease, and avian influenza. She adds that death makes us reflect philosophically. When she began to work on FireCliff 3 she asked herself, “What is an art on the brink of apocalypse?”
Firecliff 3 reflects Lim’s on-going concern about “otherness” and “placeness” in contemporary society. “On my first visit to the States, I immediately noticed how abstract the concept of ‘a place’ can be. I thought of Malevich’s painting of a black square amidst a white background. ‘The people in this place—it feels to me, as the trembling brushstroke of Rothko,’ I thought. For me, this explains the relationship between subject and other and it is what matters to me more than the geographic location of a place.”
Lim’s primary concern is about the memories of an individual who are denied to own a sense of “placeness.” Lim’s approach to capture the stories of those living in the shadow is using an inferred camera, which senses temperature even in darkness. In Firecliff 3 Lim uses an inferred camera to show how the warmth of a touch leaves a memory in a place. A dancer rubs the floor with her hand in a repeated circular motion and this creates a ring of heat on the floor. The infrared film effectively captures this ring as it appears as a yellow circle.
Aside from Firecliff 3 and its sculptures, Heat of Shadows includes three large-scale video installations. Lim refers to her video works as “performance documentary theater” because they integrate performance, music, film, and writing. For instance, The Weight of Hands (2010) is a collage of video shots of a construction site in daylight and a staged performance at night. The performance is of a night pilgrimage in a desolate construction site. With a lone drummer at the lead, a tour bus carries a mop of pilgrims in the rain. At one point, a woman starts to sing and people hold up her body and carry her. The languid singing of a woman, rain, and a bulldozed landscape transport the audience to an emotional space that is lonely and melancholy, yet intimate.
A large body of Lim’s work critiques the social and political conditions of a contemporary global society by showing the grim side of growth and development. New Town Ghost (2005) shows a slam poet rapping with a megaphone accompanied by a drummer in the back of a pickup truck. The actress for the poet is a young woman sporting a spiky short haircut— and she does not smile. In her poem, the twenty-year-old New Town Ghost mourns about the loss of the familiar and the alienation that comes with a new economy.
With the loud and fast drumbeat, the truck drives through the narrow and wide streets of Young-deung-po. Young-deung-po is considered a symbol of modernization in Seoul. Since the 1960s the town has gone through generations of development and re-development and most recently, it has been designated as a part of the New Town Project by the city of Seoul. The goal of the project is to bring an overall higher quality of living in the areas that are considered to be lacking the basic infrastructure of the city. Meanwhile, the original residents of Young-deung-po feel ambivalent about the New Town project, including Lim, who used to have a studio there.
Projected in three panels covering a long wall is S.O.S. Adoptive Dissensus (2009.) This performance is staged in Han River, a major river in Seoul that traverses the city horizontally. Historically the Han is strongly tied to the growth of Seoul. A phrase, “miracle on the Han River” refers to Korea’s rapid growth between 1960 and mid-1990s from war-ruined crumble to one of the largest economies in the world.
There are three staged performances in S.O.S. Adoptive Dissensus. First, a group of demonstrators holding mirrors scream, “Save the place with no name!” Next, a love couple moans at the loss of a place where they used to make love. Lastly, an unconverted long-term prisoner, who is still living under surveillance says, “When we can say no, we will meet again.” The three performances represent the voice of those in the shadows in the rapid modernization of Korea.
In another interview Lim compares her own attitude towards life to that of an unconverted long-term prisoner. The analogy she uses is a love-stricken broken machine. “[It’s like a] machine that refuses to take orders, and wants to think instead of engaging in repetitive tasks… A place for art is where the paradigm of Neoliberalism fails. Being a critical thinker, maintaining cynicism and impulse, and challenging hegemonic structure and classism, artists are always longing for the new.”
Korea in 1987 was not a place where Lim could freely express her artistic inclination, so she quit her art education at Ihwa University for École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. “With a canvas on my hand, I was going back and forth on the streets where policemen and gas bomb covered the sides of the street. I was bewildered with my thoughts on art and politics. During this time, one of my professors made me write a letter of apology for holding a criticizing stance about a piece of artwork. It was a shame. I wrote the letter of apology and I decided to study abroad.”
Lim was able to grow as an artist in Paris where she could freely show her artistic expression among professors who were readily impressed with her works. Now she is an international artist who struggles to understand and act upon local issues in Korea through her art.
Published on Korean Quarterly, Summer, 2012 (vol 15 num 04) 45-46.