Eva Hessa once said, “Life doesn’t last; art doesn’t last.” While her sculptural materials were somewhat ephemeral and her life tragically ended in 1970 at age 34 due to a brain tumor, both her life and art have endured and remain as vibrant as ever. The life of artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha has many parallels to that of Hesse. While Hesse was born into a world of instability as a Jew in Nazi Germany in 1938, Cha was born during the Korean War in 1951. Both women emigrated to the States to pursue their art, and like Hesse, Cha’s life was prematurely snuffed out. Cha was murdered in New York City in 1982 at age 31. Cha’s artistic output was also equally difficult to pinhole as she was a multidisciplinary artist working with text, performances, and photography.
Scientists have proven the existence and awesome power of black holes not through direct observations, but rather on their effects on surrounding stars and planetary systems. In this regard, curator Bea de Sousa has taken a similar approach in presenting the work of Cha along with that of contemporary artists inspired by Cha’s life and works.
Korean born Sujin Lee currently resides in New York where she is engaged as a multimedia artist focusing on video, performance, and text. She has been working on her Theresa Hak Kyung Cha Project for several years and presents it as a work in progress. Lee states that she explores several themes that occur in Cha’s works such as the “translation/use of multiple languages, time, mother, national identity, and sound (in echo). These are discussed in relation to language through interviews and readings of Cha’s text.” Like the cosmic black hole, Cha’s work is elusive and provides a powerful draw to those who come in contact with it; ambiguous translations along with human emotions which are both familiar and foreign at the same time leave Cha an enigma to those who feel her gravitational pull. One of the interviewees in Lee’s piece, Professor Elaine H. Kim of Berkeley talks about having to master a book before being able to teach it in a class, however she reveals, “Dictee is a book that tells you that there might not be any such a thing as mastery and call into question the idea of mastering something.”
UK based performance artist Ruth Barker presents Demeter Song which is a piece with a poetic text recited from memory as an incantation by the artist. The piece is a compulsive search for a lost daughter who will always return, only to be given away. The piece balances personal intimacy with public myth, exploring individual human frailty against enduring humanity. A dramatic bespoke costume made from 20 metres of black denim, was provided by Glasgow-based fashion designer Lesley Hepburn.
London based artist Jefford Horrigan presented a piece based on the myth of Persephone and the similar cast of characters and threads of violence that existed in both Cha’s personal life and writings. He conveyed these themes by the silent and deliberate displacement of furniture, a tablecloth, a vase, both real and artificial cut flowers, and a malleable lump of clay.
Bada Song was born in South Korea and has been living in the UK for the past ten years. Song’s work Yeonji is a triptych inspired by Cha’s work Dictee which was published a week before her death. The photograph, sculpture with sound, and performance are meant to reference the elusive and dynamic nature of Cha’s life and works which included the human body, text, and a conflicted cultural identity. Yeonji references Dictee’s imagery of red circles, marriage, exile, politics, longing, and ambiguous translations.
A Portrait in Fragments: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha 1951- 1982
2013 September 24 – October 26 at Korean Cultural Centre London (KCCUK)