Drifters’ Voices – For Park Kyongju’s <26 Day Archeology>
Park Sujin (Independent curator)
It was very glad to hear the news of Park Kyongju’s solo exhibition in a long time. I really wanted to see how Park Kyongju visualized her times in various scenes while being on the borderline of the art for long. The exhibition titled 26 Day Archeology was for us to encounter not only 26-day records left by Tran Thanh Lan, a Vietnamese marriage migrant woman, but also an archeological site of artworks that the artist Park Kyongju has created for 21 years.
There are always migrants at the center of artworks created by Park Kyongju. She has told that she took pictures of migrant workers to protest against discrimination when she was also a migrant. Taking pictures of migrant workers in front of the Berlin Immigration Office where foreigners who live in Germany must visit 1), she showed that migrants’ issues were her issues, too. And then, The Year-end Party of the Korean Association of Berlin (2000) which dealt with Korean miners and nurses who were dispatched to Germany in 1960s made us face them as migrant workers, differently from the images which had been generated in Korea. Her pictures had hardscrabble and arduous lives and reality of migrants who had endured toughness.
The artist who came back to Korea faced the marriage of migrant workers and marriage migrant women in Korea and realized that they were also victims of discrimination same as her in Germany. The situation where victims in Germany become aggressors in Korea indicates that the minority and the majority are not fixed but it is about relationship. Therefore, no diaspora, homesickness, and longing exist in migration that she showed through her works. Instead, there are voices of migrants. She has conducted various experiments 2) showing being the concerned person and the identity of migrants in different forms. In that sense, Park Kyongju’s work is considered the art of the minority.
2. Forgotten Deaths
26 Day Archeology is originated from death and diary of a marriage migrant woman. The artist named the diary Lan’s Diary and has been immersed in her death and diary for a long period of time. Sometimes she was a litigation representative of the victim and sometimes, also a journalist or artist not to make her death be forgotten. As such, she has been preoccupied with the woman’s death and diary by changing her roles. The statute of limitations of the case which occurred in spring of 2008 ended in 2018. Now, two years have passed since the statute of limitations ended.
I got to know her death firstly from Theater without Actor (Arko Arts Theater Small Hall, 2013). I knew that the show would be performed through a very impressive poster and expected that it would be a play and performance about marriage migrant women until I actually watched the show with the expectations on Park Kyongju’s artworks on the borderline between genres. However, my expectation was half right and half wrong. The show was a play and performance but on the other hand, it was another kind of reportage. The artist chased after a forgotten death from diverse perspectives and the case itself and the form to reveal it were unprecedented and shocking in many respects. This show has been updated multiple times after the premiere in 2011 and the play script of Lan’s Diary was updated and published 3) this time and exhibited.
This exhibition is an extension of her series of artworks titled Unrespected Death. The series started from the Death of a Korean Miner Dispatched to Germany, an opening performance of German Arirang, Asking about its 45 Year-old History (planned by Park Kyongju, Kimdaljin Art Archives and Museum, The Memorial Center for Korean Miners Dispatched to Germany· Korean Cultural Center). A miner who died tens of meters under the ground in an unfamiliar foreign land couldn’t be mourned. As such, the miner himself and his death were forgotten. The deceased miner that the artist recalled asked. “Do you remember me?” Her performance was belated but it remembered him and mourned his death. Forgotten deaths exist in Korea, too. The artist constructed the series with migrant workers who died due to the fire of Yeosu Immigration Detention Center and the death of a marriage migrant woman of Lan’s Diary, and completed the series with 26 Day Archeology. Here, we may realize that the biggest mourning is not forgetting and remembering them. Therefore, we need to mourn them and give back their dignity by remembering their un-honored deaths.
26 Day Archeology recalls forgotten deaths. Ascertaining the case through evidences as if she evacuated an archeological site, she focuses on the voice of bodiless Tran Thanh Lan so that her forgotten death will not be forgotten any longer.
3. Drifters’ Voices
Regarding this exhibition, the artist says “if society looks away from truth, truth has no choice but personify itself and be in front of people”. A bodiless voice is heard through a personified diary. The voice is heard from being themselves with others’ bodies. The concerned person speaks aloud by taking on other persons’ bodies.
In the exhibition 26 Day Archeology, new works including If a Diary is a Human Being, a performance, 2018 Criminal Trial, Wooden Monument Road, object installations, Here Lies the Diary of Tran Thanh Lan, an audiobook, 26 Day Archeology, a video installation, and the play script Lan’s Diary were exhibited. A feature of this exhibition is that a performative work is exhibited together with installations. It was not a temporary and one-time performance which could be seen in general exhibitions but there is performativity penetrating this exhibition.
While If a Diary is a Human Being, a participatory performance, is being staged, every audience becomes a page of the diary, reads the diary, and stages a performance. The artist and an actress, these two people hang from the ceiling horizontally to each other and intervene in the audience’s performance of the diary. The artist and the actress lean on each other’s body to perform the diary, hanging from the ceiling horizontally to each other for three hours every day during the exhibition period. They do this for three hours because they want to express the time window of the death of Tran Thanh Lan which is presumed to be three hours. 4) The time of the performers hanging by a rope is the time which decided life or death of Tran Thanh Lan who dangled on a rope.
2018 Criminal Trial also is a performance staged during the exhibition period together with an archive of the police records of the falling of Tran Thanh Lan. Especially being the concerned person that the artist highlights is a keyword of the artwork. In the performance that a marriage migrant woman who wears a police officer’s uniform explains the case, being both a police officer and a marriage migrant woman at the same time is shown. The woman who explains the case is a police officer and a marriage migrant woman who died at the same time. The Chinese performer tells about the case as a speaker in an unfamiliar accent. Unfamiliarity needs focus. As our attitudes towards a story delivered in an unfamiliar accent, we should focus more on unfamiliarity. We should concentrate much more on voices of the minority.
The exhibition space is divided into two areas. In the front area, installations and performative works are exhibited and the back area is produced as a space for mourning. For Wooden Monument Road, sentences of every page of the diary became a wooden monument. That is the road for us to remember the death of Tran Thanh Lan who left the 16 page diary of her 26 day life in Korea. And, 26 Day Archeology exhibited together is a video artwork demonstrated by multiple monitors with the motif of an experimental film with the same title on which she has been working. The storyboard and every cut of the video excavates each scene of the case as it prevents the case from being altered and forgotten over time, and is riveted by each scene as if the artist collected insects.
As the title 26 Day Archeology indicates, this exhibition is an archeological site that fragments of the truth of the case have been excavated to find a real truth of the death buried under 26 day records of Tran Thanh Lan in Korea. Also, that is a record and an archive of the process to track down the truth. Through this exhibition, we mourn forgotten deaths including the death of Tran Thanh Lan, listen to bodiless people’s voices, and give back their dignity.
4. The Minority’s Media
Park Kyongju was majored in printmaking and experimental film and started to create her artworks based on visual art. Her initial works created with the use of diverse media such as photos, videos, and performances have transformed by crossing over different genres including musical band, online broadcasting and TV, theatre and musical, and film through collaboration with migrant workers and marriage migrant women. Additionally, the leader of a cultural group also is a part of her works. As such, she has wanted to take on any media and roles, not as an artist of white cube, if the minority is able to make their voices heard.
Lastly, I asked her a question. “What is the most important in your work? What do you think the artist has to do?” She answered. “I put importance on ‘being the concerned person’. By doing so, I will be left as a minority to the end. And, as an artist, I’ll be on the borderline of the fine art every moment, being involved in a social art.”
1) Applicants for Immigration was introduced in the group exhibition titled Connected (Berlin Communication Museum, 1999) and then, exhibited in her second solo exhibition Working Holiday (Insa Art Space, 2001).
2)Park Kyongju exhibited Migration as part of Project 3 in the Gwangju Biennale 2002, demonstrated migrant workers’ music project in Ssamzi Space, and staged the election campaign performance of migrant workers in Anyang, Gwangju, Daejeon, Changwon, and Daegu, the cities of Korea in 2004. And the same year, she exhibited migrant women’s life stories in Choheung Gallery. Then, she has run the International Broadcasting System for Migrants in Korea, Salad TV, and currently, she is running Theater Salad, a multicultural theater consisting of marriage migrant women. As such, she has been involved in diverse kinds of works.
3) Lan’s Diary created with the motif of 16 page diary that Tran Than Lan (22 years old), a Vietnamese marriage migrant woman, left as a keepsake was premiered in the Box Theater of the Seoul Art Space Mullae. Then, lan’s Diary Update Version 1.0 was staged in the Theater of Heahwa-dong No. 1 located in Daehak-ro of Seoul, and live online. Theater without Actor which was also lan’s Diary Update Version 2.0 was performed in Arko Arts Theater Small Hall. And, the play script lan’s Diary was published in 2019.
4) This performance symbolically shows the last moment of Tran Than Lan who hung on to a rope that she made to escape from the apartment’s veranda while being locked, not that she killed herself. The artist and the actress personified page 9 and the last page, page 16, of the diary, respectively. Especially page 9 that the artist performed includes an important clue related to the truth of the case.