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


In photo 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. Accomplishing in San Francisco, Cha sure her eyes with a duration of white cloth on which VOIX (French for voice) was stenciled in black, and wrapped around her mouth one more band marked AVEUGLE (blind). She then unfurled a scroll that reads: “words / are unsuccessful / me,” and “aveugle / voix / sans / mot / sans / me” (blind / voice / with out / term / devoid of / me). Based on regardless of whether 1 reads from the base, in the get that the words and phrases progressively look, or from the best, immediately after they are all unveiled, the traces pose a multiplicity of meanings: How is one muted as a result of the eyes, blinded by the mouth? The work’s title, actually “blind voice,” could also be a pun for “blind sees” (aveugle voit). Viewers trying to unravel this kind of paradoxes will be annoyed, for these ambiguities are element of Cha’s extended flirtation with instability in just language, and concerning language and practical experience. In her 1975 movie Mouth to Mouth, a sea of black-and-white static little by little shifts to expose an open mouth, stretching in versions of its O shape to suggest the vowels of the Korean language, which Cha spoke fluently, alongside with French and English. It emits no sound, nevertheless as a substitute, we listen to speeding drinking water and chirping birds, occasionally interrupted by the crackling hiss of electrical interference. The get the job done implies a preverbal inquiry into how we grow to be somatically acclimated to the “mother tongue” extended before we can speak it. The discontinuous seems, meanwhile, advise to me a kind of delivery, equally of a youngster and of language itself.

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Cha’s investigations into the sociopsychological mechanics and effects of language are on look at in two New York exhibitions this spring by way of summer: a mini-retrospective titled “audience distant relative” at the Hessel Museum of Art at Bard Faculty, finely orchestrated by curatorial MA graduate Min Sun Jeon, and a assortment of works in this year’s Whitney Biennial, “Quiet as It is Stored,” curated by David Breslin and Adrienne Edwards. Aveugle Voix and Mouth to Mouth are incorporated in both demonstrates, as are the artist’s unfinished element film, White Dust from Mongolia (1980), and her mail-artwork function audience distant relative (1977). The latter piece is a handmade artist’s e-book that contains seven white folded sheets of paper abstractly labeled, when closed, with titles like “object/subject,” “messenger,” and “echo.” The texts, mounted in a vitrine, include poetic ruminations. “The messenger, is the voice-existence / occupying the room. / voice existence occupying the / time concerning,” Cha writes in just one. “I can only presume that you can hear me / I can only hope that you hear me,” she pleads in yet another.

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.

Watch of “Theresa Hak Kyung Cha: viewers distant relative,” 2022, at Hessel Museum of Artwork, Middle for Curatorial Reports, Bard School, exhibiting Aveugle Voix, 1975 (element).
Image Olympia Shannon

The eponymous exhibition at Bard opens with this function, but in contrast to the Whitney installation, the mail is effective listed here are accompanied by an audio piece in which the artist chants a breathy incantation that is unsettlingly serene, orphic, and critical: “In our relationship / I am the item / you are the subject…. In our partnership / you are the object / I am the matter.” This work sets the stage for the exhibition, which charts the artist’s attentiveness to the audience as activated as a result of Cha’s manipulation, repetition, and reduction of words and photos. In a textual content accompanying “Paths,” her 1978 MFA thesis exhibit at the College of California, Berkeley, she writes, “The artist, like the alchemist, establishes a ‘covenant’ with his things, as nicely as with… the viewer. The artist turning out to be object for the viewer, the viewer as matter, the artist as subject, and viewer as object.… It is through the presence of the ‘Other,’ any type of conversation is founded, finished.” Acutely attuned to how equally verbal and nonverbal communication is engineered, Cha leaves openings for website visitors to be part of the a little off-kilter echoes and rhythms of her will work, and even grow to be enveloped in her logic of denaturalized, circuitous temporalities that reverberate within just and across her prepared texts and images, textbooks, videos, films, slides and projections, and performances.

The pacing of the Bard exhibition honors Cha’s use of associations, reverbs, and ripples. At situations, voices from various 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 comfortable, gauzy material delineates a place at the heart of the exhibition, enveloping Passages Paysages (Passages Landscapes, 1978), a three-channel nonlinear video set up that incorporates pictures of Cha’s family photos, rooms and rumpled beds, letters, and the artist’s hand. Most remarkable yet again is the presence of the artist’s voice, which alternates amongst her a few fluent tongues. At moments she seems to address us right, whilst at other individuals we appear to have stumbled into her inner views: “불 켜봐, 불 켜봐” (Transform on the mild, turn on the light-weight), she suggests. “불 꺼져, 끄지 마, 지금 꺼” (The mild is turning off, don’t turn it off, transform it off now). “아직 끄지 마” (Really don’t switch it off nonetheless). Listed here, she conveys her preoccupation with conversation, as very well as impediments to transmission—what stays 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.

Check out of “Theresa Hak Kyung Cha: viewers distant relative,” 2022, at Hessel Museum of Art, Center for Curatorial Experiments, Bard School, exhibiting Passages Paysages, 1978.
Photo Olympia Shannon

Readers of Cha’s genre-crossing autobiographical textual content Dictee (1982) will be common with her official and conceptual system of developing simultaneous, parallel conversations throughout many addressees and speakers, this sort of as the 9 muses of Greek mythology, Joan of Arc, Saint Thérèse, Korean groundbreaking Yu Guan Soon, and Cha’s mother Hyung Quickly Huo (a to start with version of the reserve from the Bard library archives is on show). Cha was born in 1951 in Busan, South Korea, and her multilingualism was shaped by her family’s 1962 immigration to the United States, exactly where she also uncovered French her mother’s was necessitated by the 1909–45 Japanese occupation of Korea, during which she was forced to keep on being in Manchuria, where she was born. There, too, the Japanese had outlawed the Korean tongue, yet she continued to discuss it in private when doubly displaced at this historic juncture among Korea, China, and Japan. “You converse the tongue the required language like the some others,” 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 have mother tongue.… Mother tongue is your refuge. It is currently being residence.”

Located at the factors of fracture among the languages, Dictee details how displacement and colonial encounters can spur alternate articulations of selfhood, often contingent and relational. Similarly, in Chronology (1977), provided in “audience distant relative,” eighteen color photocopies of Cha’s household pics disrupt the regular linearity and healthful propaganda of these kinds of albums. Images of Cha’s mom, father, and siblings are recurring in violet ink and occasionally overlaid until finally they develop into indiscernible, while the friction in between sort and message is heightened by hand-stenciled fragments of textual content: time’s very own shadow, portion 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 Presence Absence (1975), with its plain black deal with, is shown in a vitrine alongside a digitized online video of its pages, which element pixelated translations of the spouse and children pics utilized in Chronology. Cha’s deployment of substance deterioration and distorted transfers of her family members pictures parallels her use of static audio in Mouth to Mouth: via the distortion of the resource, she highlights how translation can open up up the possibility for adding one more layer of not only dissonance, but also enrichment and enlargement. She phases a postcolonial clash of lineages, histories, and narratives across language zones, divesting from the thought of the purity of the originating supply and offering rather a view of how languages dynamically animate every single 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).

See of “Theresa Hak Kyung Cha: viewers distant relative,” 2022, at Hessel Museum of Artwork, Center for Curatorial Reports, Bard University, showing Chronology, 1977 (element).
Photograph Olympia Shannon

White Dust from Mongolia, on perspective in both exhibitions, also can take as its subject bodily, psychological, and linguistic displacement. Comprising gradual cinematic photographs of practice tracks, meandering footage of Korean persons at a market, and scenes from an airplane journey at a seemingly abandoned amusement park, among the other quotidian shots of Korean existence,  White Dust is a travelogue of sorts that Cha filmed with her brother on a 3-month journey to their homeland in 1980. As she writes in the first sketches for the movie, it was intended “as a simultaneous account of a narrative, beginning at two individual points in Time,” centering on a younger Korean woman dwelling in China and tracing the arc of her loss of memory and ability for speech. Cha’s very own migration and exile, as properly as her roving mental curiosity, are refracted by means of her detailed shot descriptions and notes for the film and other tasks that she was functioning on that exact same year, all of which are on watch at Bard. (Although operating on White Dust, Cha edited Equipment, cinematographic equipment: Chosen writings, which was printed by Tanam Push in 1980, with essays on cinema by Roland Barthes, Dziga Vertov, Maya Deren, and Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, amid other folks.) In the calendar year of Cha’s pay a visit to, military typical Chun Doo-hwan mounted a brutal armed forces coup, declaring martial regulation and suppressing the ensuing mass protests. These actions culminated in the Gwangju Massacre, in which civilians celebrated a short governmental retreat ahead of the rebel was crushed.

None of this turmoil is depicted in the film, however, reflecting Cha’s characteristically allegorical and indirect method to considering the earth around her, as very well as Jean-Luc Godard’s distinction concerning “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 immediately after Cha’s murder in 1982 at age thirty-one.

The relative obscurity of Cha’s function in the course of her life span was adopted by a several exhibition highlights in the to start with many years following her dying, such as “The Dream of the Audience,” a retrospective of Cha’s function curated by Constance Lewallen at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in 2001. In light-weight of the ongoing, cascading societal and political collapses of the 20th century that proceed to shadow modern lifestyle, Cha’s prescient proposal of semantic and psychological fracture as a new constructive theory appears progressively to resonate with a broader viewers that contains a lot of up to date artists. At the Whitney, for occasion, Korean artist Na Mira’s three-channel infrared, holographic online video installation interweaves histories of Korean feminism and shamanism with biography, and explicitly features imagery from Cha’s White Dust. Getting up Cha’s elliptical, declarative voice—“우린 다른 시간에 왔어” (We arrived at various periods)—together with digicam glitches and throbbingCha’s embodiment of diasporic memory, which hints at a thing that is recognised but not still expressed, begging to be released. As Cha writes in Dictee: “It murmurs inside. It murmurs. Within is the discomfort of speech the discomfort to say. Larger sized still. Greater than is the soreness not to say. To not say. States nothing at all towards the soreness to speak. It festers inside. The wound, liquid, dust. Must break. Must void.”


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