June 5, 2023


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Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Poetics Surveyed at Whitney and Hessel Museums – ARTnews.com


In image documentation of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Aveugle Voix (1975), the artist seems in all white, squatting, with her black hair flowing down to her ankles. Executing in San Francisco, Cha bound her eyes with a length of white material on which VOIX (French for voice) was stenciled in black, and wrapped all over her mouth one more band marked AVEUGLE (blind). She then unfurled a scroll that reads: “words / fail / me,” and “aveugle / voix / sans / mot / sans / me” (blind / voice / devoid of / term / with no / me). Depending on whether or not a person reads from the base, in the buy that the text progressively look, or from the major, soon after they are all revealed, the lines pose a multiplicity of meanings: How is 1 muted by means of the eyes, blinded by the mouth? The work’s title, practically “blind voice,” could also be a pun for “blind sees” (aveugle voit). Viewers attempting to unravel these paradoxes will be disappointed, for these ambiguities are component of Cha’s prolonged flirtation with instability inside of language, and concerning language and expertise. In her 1975 video clip Mouth to Mouth, a sea of black-and-white static gradually shifts to reveal an open up mouth, stretching in variations of its O shape to advise the vowels of the Korean language, which Cha spoke fluently, along with French and English. It emits no seem, on the other hand rather, we listen to rushing h2o and chirping birds, at times interrupted by the crackling hiss of electrical interference. The do the job suggests a preverbal inquiry into how we come to be somatically acclimated to the “mother tongue” lengthy just before we can talk it. The discontinuous sounds, meanwhile, advise to me a form of beginning, both of those of a child and of language by itself.

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Cha’s investigations into the sociopsychological mechanics and consequences of language are on perspective in two New York exhibitions this spring by way of summertime: a mini-retrospective titled “audience distant relative” at the Hessel Museum of Art at Bard School, finely orchestrated by curatorial MA graduate Min Solar Jeon, and a assortment of will work in this year’s Whitney Biennial, “Quiet as It’s Saved,” curated by David Breslin and Adrienne Edwards. Aveugle Voix and Mouth to Mouth are integrated in both reveals, as are the artist’s unfinished attribute movie, White Dust from Mongolia (1980), and her mail-artwork perform viewers distant relative (1977). The latter piece is a handmade artist’s book containing 7 white folded sheets of paper abstractly labeled, when shut, with titles including “object/subject,” “messenger,” and “echo.” The texts, set up in a vitrine, incorporate poetic ruminations. “The messenger, is the voice-existence / occupying the space. / voice existence occupying the / time among,” Cha writes in a person. “I can only think that you can hear me / I can only hope that you listen to me,” she pleads in a different.

A grid of eight images shows a woman with long dark hair engaged in a performance involving a banner with printed words. She is blindfolded and muted with strips of fabric stenciled with words in French.

Perspective of “Theresa Hak Kyung Cha: audience distant relative,” 2022, at Hessel Museum of Art, Middle for Curatorial Reports, Bard College, demonstrating Aveugle Voix, 1975 (element).
Photograph Olympia Shannon

The eponymous exhibition at Bard opens with this do the job, but not like the Whitney installation, the mail performs here are accompanied by an audio piece in which the artist chants a breathy incantation that is unsettlingly serene, orphic, and vital: “In our romance / I am the object / you are the subject…. In our marriage / you are the object / I am the issue.” This do the job sets the stage for the exhibition, which charts the artist’s attentiveness to the audience as activated by Cha’s manipulation, repetition, and reduction of words and phrases and illustrations or photos. In a textual content accompanying “Paths,” her 1978 MFA thesis show at the College of California, Berkeley, she writes, “The artist, like the alchemist, establishes a ‘covenant’ with his components, as well as with… the viewer. The artist turning out to be object for the viewer, the viewer as topic, the artist as topic, and viewer as item.… It is through the existence of the ‘Other,’ any variety of conversation is founded, concluded.” Acutely attuned to how both of those verbal and nonverbal communication is engineered, Cha leaves openings for site visitors to be part of the slightly off-kilter echoes and rhythms of her operates, and even turn out to be enveloped in her logic of denaturalized, circuitous temporalities that reverberate within just and throughout her published texts and images, books, video clips, films, slides and projections, and performances.

The pacing of the Bard exhibition honors Cha’s use of associations, reverbs, and ripples. At times, voices from unique films echo and intersect in an intricate dance, so a great deal so that it can be complicated to trace the origin of any a person voice. A soft, gauzy cloth delineates a space at the heart of the exhibition, enveloping Passages Paysages (Passages Landscapes, 1978), a 3-channel nonlinear online video installation that incorporates photographs of Cha’s spouse and children photographs, rooms and rumpled beds, letters, and the artist’s hand. Most exceptional once more is the existence of the artist’s voice, which alternates amid her three fluent tongues. At moments she would seem to address us specifically, while at other people we appear to be to have stumbled into her inner thoughts: “불 켜봐, 불 켜봐” (Transform on the gentle, change on the light), she says. “불 꺼져, 끄지 마, 지금 꺼” (The light-weight is turning off, don’t convert it off, switch it off now). “아직 끄지 마” (Really don’t switch it off nonetheless). Listed here, she conveys her preoccupation with interaction, as perfectly as impediments to transmission—what remains unsaid or unheard.

Within a large gallery, three segments of gauzy fabric set off a viewing space for a three-channel black-and-white film.

Watch of “Theresa Hak Kyung Cha: audience distant relative,” 2022, at Hessel Museum of Art, Heart for Curatorial Experiments, Bard School, displaying Passages Paysages, 1978.
Photograph Olympia Shannon

Visitors of Cha’s style-crossing autobiographical text Dictee (1982) will be acquainted with her formal and conceptual method of making simultaneous, parallel discussions across a number of addressees and speakers, these as the 9 muses of Greek mythology, Joan of Arc, Saint Thérèse, Korean groundbreaking Yu Guan Before long, and Cha’s mom Hyung Before long Huo (a initially version of the reserve from the Bard library archives is on screen). Cha was born in 1951 in Busan, South Korea, and her multilingualism was shaped by her family’s 1962 immigration to the United States, the place she also uncovered French her mother’s was necessitated by the 1909–45 Japanese profession of Korea, for the duration of which she was forced to continue being in Manchuria, wherever she was born. There, far too, the Japanese had outlawed the Korean tongue, but she ongoing to communicate it in non-public whilst doubly displaced at this historic juncture between Korea, China, and Japan. “You discuss the tongue the necessary language like the other individuals,” Cha writes in Dictee. “It is not your possess. Even if it is not you know you must. You are Bi-lingual. You are Tri-lingual. The tongue that is forbidden is your possess mom tongue.… Mom tongue is your refuge. It is becoming household.”

Located at the details of fracture among the languages, Dictee specifics how displacement and colonial encounters can spur alternate articulations of selfhood, constantly contingent and relational. Similarly, in Chronology (1977), involved in “audience distant relative,” eighteen colour photocopies of Cha’s spouse and children pics disrupt the common linearity and wholesome propaganda of this sort of albums. Pictures of Cha’s mother, father, and siblings are repeated in violet ink and sometimes overlaid till they turn into indiscernible, whilst the friction concerning kind and information is heightened by hand-stenciled fragments of textual content: time’s possess shadow, element ache / ake. A sister get the job done of Chronology is integrated at the Biennial: alternatively sterilized in its presentation, the black-and-white photobook Existence Absence (1975), with its basic black go over, is exhibited in a vitrine alongside a digitized movie of its web pages, which aspect pixelated translations of the household shots used in Chronology. Cha’s deployment of product deterioration and distorted transfers of her household photographs parallels her use of static sound in Mouth to Mouth: by way of the distortion of the supply, she highlights how translation can open up up the probability for adding another layer of not only dissonance, but also enrichment and enlargement. She stages a postcolonial clash of lineages, histories, and narratives throughout language zones, divesting from the thought of the purity of the originating source and giving in its place a view of how languages dynamically animate each other.

View of "Theresa Hak Kyung Cha: audience distant relative," 2022, at Hessel Museum of Art, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, showing Aveugle Voix, 1975 (detail).

Watch of “Theresa Hak Kyung Cha: viewers distant relative,” 2022, at Hessel Museum of Artwork, Center for Curatorial Research, Bard Higher education, showing Chronology, 1977 (detail).
Image Olympia Shannon

White Dust from Mongolia, on see in each exhibitions, also will take as its subject actual physical, psychological, and linguistic displacement. Comprising sluggish cinematic shots of teach tracks, meandering footage of Korean folks at a market, and scenes from an plane trip at a seemingly deserted amusement park, between other quotidian pictures of Korean lifestyle,  White Dust is a travelogue of sorts that Cha filmed with her brother on a three-month journey to their homeland in 1980. As she writes in the initial sketches for the movie, it was intended “as a simultaneous account of a narrative, commencing at two independent factors in Time,” centering on a younger Korean woman residing in China and tracing the arc of her reduction of memory and capability for speech. Cha’s own migration and exile, as well as her roving mental curiosity, are refracted through her in-depth shot descriptions and notes for the film and other initiatives that she was working on that exact 12 months, all of which are on view at Bard. (Even though operating on White Dust, Cha edited Apparatus, cinematographic equipment: Selected writings, which was revealed by Tanam Press in 1980, with essays on cinema by Roland Barthes, Dziga Vertov, Maya Deren, and Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, between other people.) In the year of Cha’s take a look at, army typical Chun Doo-hwan mounted a brutal military services coup, declaring martial law and suppressing the ensuing mass protests. These actions culminated in the Gwangju Massacre, in which civilians celebrated a temporary governmental retreat just before the rebellion was crushed.

None of this turmoil is depicted in the film, nonetheless, reflecting Cha’s characteristically allegorical and oblique strategy to taking into consideration the earth around her, as nicely as Jean-Luc Godard’s distinction amongst “making a political movie and earning a film politically,” the estimate with which she opens the preface to Equipment. Fitting into the latter camp, White Dust exists only in fragments, and was left unfinished right after Cha’s murder in 1982 at age thirty-a person.

The relative obscurity of Cha’s work for the duration of her life span was adopted by a handful of exhibition highlights in the initially many years next her loss of life, together with “The Desire of the Viewers,” a retrospective of Cha’s perform curated by Constance Lewallen at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Movie Archive in 2001. In mild of the ongoing, cascading societal and political collapses of the 20th century that continue to shadow up to date life, Cha’s prescient proposal of semantic and psychological fracture as a new constructive theory would seem significantly to resonate with a broader viewers that incorporates a lot of present-day artists. At the Whitney, for instance, Korean artist Na Mira’s a few-channel infrared, holographic video clip installation interweaves histories of Korean feminism and shamanism with biography, and explicitly functions imagery from Cha’s White Dust. Having up Cha’s elliptical, declarative voice—“우린 다른 시간에 왔어” (We arrived at diverse moments)—together with camera glitches and throbbingCha’s embodiment of diasporic memory, which hints at a thing that is recognised but not nevertheless expressed, begging to be introduced. As Cha writes in Dictee: “It murmurs within. It murmurs. Inside is the ache of speech the soreness to say. Much larger nevertheless. Bigger than is the discomfort not to say. To not say. Suggests very little from the suffering to communicate. It festers within. The wound, liquid, dust. Should crack. Have to void.”


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