Space considered and agreed on as a residence type
contemporary Art Journal, 2013 vol.15
By Hyun Ji-yeon, Senior Editor of Contemporary Art Journal, Seoul
Nestling, here and now
Ha Cha-youn has been out of her homeland of Korea for 30 years. Germany and France served as her bases, and France where she started studying abroad is currently a basecamp of her work and life. Seoul is a place geographically unfamiliar to the artist. She is from Seoul, but it is strange to her because she left it 30 years ago and rarely returns. Her Seoul exhibition Nestling is her narration on pieces of Seoul’s landscape she feels are so unfamiliar. This work addressing jjockbang (a small room or a small house that has been divided into smaller spaces to accommodate just one person), the artist found by chance in the village where she resided, comments on the right of residence, the mode of residence, and those alienated from this right through a type of residence, jjockbang.
She has consistently been interested in this issue and addressed this in her previous series Sweet Home, focusing on the problem of homeless people in Paris. The problem is, however, “The images of her previous series are exotic ” for the Seoul exhibition. Anchored to the same critical awareness, Ha arranged new work in Seoul.
“The Sweet Home series was a result of my hands-on experience of the place and surroundings where I walked and lived. I have to make viewers imagine and expand the scope of their thinking when they see my reality and the things I found. But, this series may conceal this reality when
exhibited in Seoul. I thought this series could be exhibited in Seoul, but not this time.”
Feeling a sense of obligation, the artist wanted to show her viewers images of Seoul, especially the jjockbang of Yeongdeungpo, Seoul. The artist herself appears in a video featuring a bed made of paper boxes, a Styrofoam chair, pots of withered flowers, a battered refrigerator, and other things she videotaped around a jjockbang village. Her strenuous, repetitive actions are like a metaphor for the conditions of jjockbang. Jjockbang are a very inhumane impoverished type of residence. They are cramped, inconvenient, unsanitary, and dangerous dwellings. However, what inspired her work was not so much a pessimistic perspective of jjockbang. What she expects is for viewers to sit, move there, and consider how to live there.
“Jjockbang dwellers are mostly those in the worst economic conditions or migrant workers who have to spend the least expense on their residence. These people are not homeless but are almost the same as homeless people in Paris. In France renting a room less than 9 m2 wide is prohibited by law. This means such a room is inhuman size. An area of 9 m2 is considered pretty spacious, but many become homeless due to the law. The law becomes inhuman for a humanistic reason. I wonder whether French people see jjockbang as a solution or an inhuman condition. Personally, I am in the middle. I see jjockbang as a solution but they should be improved. The problem needs a solution, which may cause trouble if delayed. Those joining the exhibition are required to think about jjockbang. I think this is the purpose of the exhibition. I expect that the viewers will pose questions such as ‘Can I live here?’ and ‘How can I decorate this?’ If so, this can be a humanistic space. If not, this may become a prison cell. This space may change in accordance with how viewers contemplate this. We have to earnestly explore how to live.”
Forming a solution space for common problems
Ha Cha-youn has always tried to share her anxiety about solutions. A residence-kit in the first work Sweet Home is a manifestation of this idea. The four pieces of this series showcase the stream of Ha’s thought and its changes. In the first work, Ha sets in Styrofoam a Parisian homeless person who used to lie on a bench in a subway station. The artist offers a minor solution necessary for the homeless while using the Styrofoam. Sweet Home 2 features bundles placed by a stream in Paris. Homeless people had kept their bundles between tree branches and made up their bed with things from the bundles at night. In this work the artist intended to arouse a poetic sense through unfamiliar yet real Paris scenes she discovered on a walking path. However, she was not a mere observer of unusual scenes but made constant efforts to elicit “consent” for problem solution.
Her scene appears unfamiliar and poetic, but her camera work is scrupulous and keen. The homeless are swept from visible places, and nestle in obscure, inconspicuous places. The artist captures this aspect. In Sweet Home 3 the artist was distant from presenting any individual solution or seeing subject matter from a poetic, exotic perspective. Through this work of photographs of protests by the homeless in Paris during the winter between 2006 and 2007, the scope of her work extended politically. She felt the urgency of political behavior and the power of enormous political force (*1) in the homeless protests. This sense of violence is also revealed in Sweet Home 4. Triggered by her spontaneous, individual concern, the Sweet Home series involves political issues and public arenas.
“As an alien I might be disadvantaged by a change in policy in a day. When I cannot be appreciated as a useful person here, I might be ousted any time. Even if I am not a homeless person, the problem of the homeless may be my problem. Whenever doing work, I strongly feel this might be my own problem.”
The artist feels tension – that the homeless problem might be her own problem, not others, and realizes the problem of the homeless in Paris has an import more than her own psychological projection, at the same time. The issue of the homeless in France is not merely a problem of residence but an entanglement of the problems of immigration, being an illegal alien, France’s experience of colonization, national economy and politics. This is a problem of society and nation, and a common issue beyond an individual’s problem, be it the subject of the problem of an artist or an individual. If the politics “is a confrontation with adversaries, formulation of adversaries, establishment of solution space and ‘common being’ for different elements, and condition of such reproduction, such exchange, and such history (*2)” Ha’s work can be seen as a political act to propose exchange for common being and solution space and conditions for reproduction.
“The issue of immigration may present a typical keyword in globalization. Our situation is different from that of Europe in terms of the geographical, material conditions of immigration. When the European continent regards people from its colony as illegal aliens, I feel the contradiction it avoids is an ethical responsibility. I think it is difficult to attain any solidarity in life and a true global community is simply imaginary.”
Came from some other place but and also came completely from here
Considering that the majority of immigrants to Western countries like France are residents of their previous colonies, the problem of immigration may raise a keener issue. These immigrants are unique “strangers” (*3) who came from “other place” and also “came completely from here”. They are disparate citizens excluded by and inclusive simultaneously in the mainstream. Western
countries are saddled with debts they have to settle as colonizers, and have the assignment to include and exclude such immigrants. And in this process globalization in Western nations seems inextricably bound up with their attitude to embrace other culture (represented by immigrants).
“There are many migrant artists who address diverse themes such as colonization, modernization, and cultural difference. Their work seems influenced by the region where they reside in Europe. Alien artists’ works exhibited in France appear already Westernized. They have long lived in the West, and only a few artists came to the West after coming of age.”
A number of artists not excluded by the Western world that adopts immigration as a means for recolonization have already acquired idioms familiar to Western aesthetic paradigms. As the idioms have been assimilated into Western elements, they do not cause any cultural trouble.
“French people have for a long time had confidence in foreigners being integrated into French. About five or six years ago, fortunately, the second and third generation of migrant artists presented more exhibitions showcasing their own culture. If this atmosphere is formed before discussing the elemental issue of art, it could be socially influential. That is, art assumes this role.”
“When introducing Korean artists to a foreign country, we tend to select artists whose idioms fit Western aesthetic tendencies and theories to which we feel familiar. Their idioms make no cultural trouble. If a work of art is in a plethora of Korean hallmarks, many rather often overlook and ignore it. This work is not understood but just disregarded without drawing attention. This is the problem we all have to consider seriously.”
As our conformist attitude toward Western language is problematic, lack of understanding often entails in regionalizing the other’s language. This intimates to us lots of things. What we cannot overlook is the fact that some who are well aware of Western aesthetic paradigms use the dominant language of the majority of the West but others use languages turning down such dominance. Those who came from ‘some other places” but use the language here completely are the leading roles who make this language more intricate. Such immigrant artists’ twofold or multiple identities envision the possibility of generating new culture by splitting the nation’s integrated culture and revealing the culture’s diverse aspects.
Language came from another place and the language here
Artist Ha Cha-youn feels she came from another place and came from here completely both in Europe and Korea. That is why desires to understand another culture and create her own language
have consistently collided in her inner world. Nestling and Sweet Home are all fragments from each city, Seoul and Paris. Their typical urban images are not represented in these series. The spaces in the series reproduce Seoul and Paris by making each metropolis look unfamiliar. In the series the artist seeks “harmony”, “solidarity”, and “creation of new communal being”.
“Individualism is not an elemental solution for humanity. Something communal antithetic to something individual may embrace humans and not be harsh. We have lost this due to extreme industrialization. When I face this problem, I make constant efforts to be in concord with others.”
The struggles of the homeless in Paris between 2006 and 2007 drew much media attention with many participants and an organized movement. However, the concrete situation of and request made by the protesters was not covered by the media. It was the homeless that disappeared all of a sudden in a midst of converting “the rights of residence into a problem of the general public”. Nicolas Sarkozy, then Interior Minister, showed this, stating that workers and retirees have “countervailing” priority rights of residence.
Yang Chang-yeol, Enfants de Don Quichotte
The Politics of Minority, Greenbee, 2007, p.295.
Étienne Balibar, We, the People of Europe, Trans. by Jin Tae-won, Humanitas, 2010, p.234.
Étienne Balibar, Ibid., p.115.