In search of a new relation to the world, surrealists have dreamed of reinventing language and images. At the heart of this endeavor lies the liberation of things from their original context, like extracting single words from a greater body of work and combining them into spontaneous and abstract constellations. This is an attempt to understand both the inner meaning and the contextual meaning of things, comparable to the idea of semantics and pragmatics in linguistics. People who are far-removed from their homeland and build their lives in a foreign country can be seen as a manifestation of this idea of dislocation.
For her works presented in the exhibition Re move (a double meaning for both "to move again" and "to eliminate"), the Korean artist Chan Sook Choi has been working with comfort women (forced prostitutes in Japanese brothels during Second World War), as well as elderly Japanese women who migrated from Japan to Korea after marrying Korean laborers drafted after Japan’s colonial period.
The starting point of Choi’s work is her journey to Japan where she tried to find and document places that appeared in the photo albums of her grandmother, the only migrant in Choi’s family. While the series of works on display were brought about from the artist's interest in understanding her own identity as a woman in the grand scheme of things, they also contain elements that were “captured in a wide net” as she traced the footsteps of her grandmother's journey.
Choi left Berlin and moved to Yangji-ri, a so-called Minbuk Village, located north of the South Korean civilian access control line (CACL) near the demilitarized zone (DMZ). The village sits on flat land with a clear line-of-sight to and from North Korea and was originally built for strict control over civilian access in addition to its propagandistic effect. Designed after Israeli kibbutz communities, houses in the village are similar to terraced houses in which two families live in different units under the same roof. The homes were intentionally designed to appear as single houses to boast the superiority of South Korean rural villages against their North Korean counterparts.
What notably captured the artist’s attention in Yangji-ri was not modern propaganda but points of light from everyday objects such as street lights, welding machines, space heaters, crosses, or curtains. Choi refers to these as stars that act as coordinates to find herself. She searches for a language that does not yet exist and that expresses her experiences of language as inadequate signs. By tying together traces of the comfort women, Japanese immigrants, and the village of Yangji-ri, the exhibition moves far-removed narratives and eliminates the distance between them.
Text by Jaewon Choi