In conjunction with the Library Gallery Exhibition (January 9–March 12, 2017), we sat down with Sook Jung to talk about her practice and her animation, Father’s Story (2016).
Myung-Sun Kim: Sook Jung, thank you for sharing such a personal story. The major economic collapse in Korea in 1997 caused economic turbulence across the globe. Millions of people lost their jobs with nowhere to turn. There was an international bailout of $55 billion USD, but that didn’t change anything about the power structure that caused this disaster in the first place. When we first met, you mentioned that you were going to make a feature film with this animation. Can you talk about your choice to focus on the personal, leaving out what was happening socially, culturally and politically?
Sook Jung: Originally the scenario was for a feature animation, but I had to cut it down to 20 minutes for several reasons. Usually 20 minutes duration is the maximum time limit to be considered for a shorts programming in a festival. I actually was advised to make it even shorter for making better chances to be screened at film festivals. I also had to consider the fact that I was working by myself with certain limitations of resources and deadlines. Regardless of these circumstances, I really wanted to finish the story this time because the scenario has been around in the last 10 years without doing the project.
It was my first priority to establish a personal connection with the viewers that may not be familiar with the historical, cultural, and political backgrounds of South Korea. The personal story becomes a way to open up the conversation about what is happening, connecting personal to political and beyond. Even though it happened in Korea, it was an international event and can happen anywhere. It’s very connected to this place as much as anywhere else.
Also I wanted to reach out to the viewer directly, so in the animation, there is no dialogue between the characters. Instead I, the narrator, talk to them directly. Discussions about power structure, gentrification, and systemic flaws are global issues that are interconnected. The word, foreigner no longer indicates geographical distances, but accessibility to the culture. I believe art making is about making relationships. As an artist, it is my role to make this story accessible to viewers. I am not trying to educate people based on my personal experiences. The only thing I can do is motivate viewers to watch this story and make it interesting enough for them to keep connected to each other in the community.
MSK: Since making this work, what has been the response from people?
SJ: The reactions were very personal and emotional. I think these responses are good enough to start with. I am currently doing comics residency at Sketch with Althea Balmes and Loretta Mui, and I am working on the stories that I haven’t covered in the animation. The comics residency provide me with the opportunity to meet other Asian artists in the community and discuss social/personal influences of the particular cultural backgrounds. Compared to time-based media, comics give me more freedom to work without limitation of length. Since I have started this project, I became aware of the patience that it requires to execute a feature length scenario as an independent artist. I have realized that I need the time to think, feel, reflect on what really happened, and to respond to it.
MSK: You talked about growing up in patriarchal environment and culture. Do you have thoughts on what is happening currently in Korea?
SJ: There is a long history of systematic oppression and violence in Korea, ordered by the government. Military dictators from 1960s to 1980s massacred many innocent people including children, students, and seniors during the democratic movements. Students who led the democratic movements were accused as communist political offenders. Recently there was a Sewol ferry disaster. Hundreds of students were locked down in the sinking ship because they were advised to remain in the ship while the sailor crew escaped first. The families of deceased were accused as extreme leftists when they asked the government for an investigation. This happened under President Park who is the daughter of the dictator in the 60s. Obviously there is a hierarchical system that allows authorities to shift all the blame onto people with less privilege.
“There are certain systemic flaws and repetitions in history. It is getting trickier to realize the substance of what oppresses us.
I think it is related to superficiality of contemporary media.”
MSK: In relationship to talking about all this, I find your choice of materiality interesting. You’re connecting the old tradition of painting practice with digital media, and connecting history to the present or even the future. Objects and bodies are digitized either as projection or a hologram. Your drawings are animated to tell a story in a linear way. At times, these even appear as a diptych. These approaches serve to reflect on the notion of time in a very particular way. In some ways, the materiality ties everything together. The work is connected through the history of art, yet the history is not the past, but living and very much continuing in the present, simply in a different format. Was it your intention to connect memory to the present, as a reflection of systematic oppression that repeats?
SJ: There are certain systemic flaws and repetitions in history. It is getting trickier to realize the substance of what oppresses us. I think it is related to superficiality of contemporary media. The experiences of how people are engaged in the systematic structure is becoming ambiguous, and the reality is getting altered by digital technology. For example, people interact with each other through mobile networks at their own convenience. They don’t need to carry a lot of money because they use numbers on credit cards. People are more familiar navigating through contents instead of watching them in a chronological order.
The use of experimental media is about questioning how people exist in the contemporary society. Art is not just about contents of what the artwork is about but also about what kind of experiences that the artwork offers to its viewers and how people interact with it. I consider time as an essential component of the experience in art.
In my art works, the concept of time such as past, present, and future is mixed up because those concepts coexist in reality. My paintings of rock and rusty cans are the record of accumulation in time. Hologramom shows an immortal state of the human body by looping the footage in a hologram device. Father’s Story has a narrative based video combined with the virtual reality experience of the charcoal drawings of the setting in the animation. Time and history have both continuity and indexicality. They are not a dialectal thing of either past or present. Each individual exists in a different timeline. My choice of medium is to demonstrate how the reality is altered and disembodied in repetitions of the history.
To learn more about Sook Jung, please visit her website.
To inquire about The Theatre Centre’s exhibition programming in the Library Gallery and Objectorium, please contact us at email@example.com.