Of spectres or returns, Jane Jin Kaisen, 2020

Graphic design by Dokho Shin

Of spectres or returns – Jane Jin Kaisen, 2020

October 3rd, 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of German reunification. Germany is one of the countries, just like Korea, which has a history of division. To celebrate German reunification and hope for peace on the Korean Peninsula, the Korean Cultural Center of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea is hosting a solo exhibition of Jane Jin Kaisen from September 20th to November 21st in gallery damdam, with generous support from the Danish Arts Foundation. Jane Jin Kaisen, an artist born in Jeju Island, South Korea, and adopted into a Danish family in Denmark, will present two artworks that deal thematically with the division of Korea. Her artworks will offer the viewers an opportunity to encounter Korea and experience its story of division, with two distinct but parallel perspectives decades apart. Also, in this exhibition, viewers can multi-dimensionally experience memories and connections spanning geography and cultures throughout history, including World War II, the Cold War, and feminist historiography through Kaisen’s distinct modes of storytelling and unique point of view.

Jane Jin Kaisen focuses on themes such as migration, translation, and memory, as well as that of parting, diaspora, and gender. Her work amalgamates historical events, cultural traditions, and myths of Korea. She studied Interdisciplinary Studio Art at the University of California Los Angeles, and Art Theory and Media Art at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. She also participated in the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She was awarded the Montana ENTERPRIZE at Kunsthallen Brandts in Denmark in 2011. At the 58th Venice Biennale, Kaisen was selected as one of the three artists representing The Korean Pavilion with her project Community of Parting (2019), which engages female Korean shamans as ethics and aesthetics of memory and mutual recognition across time and space. Most recently, she has held a solo exhibition at Kunsthal Charlottenborg and was appointed professor of Media Art at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.

In this exhibition, Kaisen will present two installation pieces, “Apertures Specters Rifts (2016)” and “Of Specters or Returns (2020)”. Both artworks reflect upon two international women’s delegations’ trips to North Korea: the first by Kate Fleron in 1951 during the Korean War, and the second by Kaisen in 2015, seventy years after the division of Korea. Kate Fleron was a Danish journalist, women’s rights advocate, and a leading figure in the Danish resistance movement during World War II, who was interned in a concentration camp during Germany’s occupation of Denmark. “Apertures Specters Rifts (2016)” has the form of a triptych and consists of three horizontal light boxes presenting thirty-six black-and-white photographs from Fleron’s and Kaisen’s journeys to North Korea. Upon returning to Denmark, Kaisen found a book by Fleron, Fra Nordkorea. Indtryk fra en Rejse til Verdens Ende (From North Korea. Impressions from the End of the World) (1952), in the Danish National Library. She found that her own experience is analogously reflected in Fleron’s work, despite the span of almost seven decades between their respective trips. For this piece, Kaisen juxtaposes photographs from Fleron’s book, which were taken by the Women’s International Democratic Federation during an investigation into war crimes, as well as other photographs by the artist herself. Red acrylic sheets are placed in front of the photographs, and function as a viewing filter through which the photographs, which are illuminated from behind, can be viewed. Approaching these images, one becomes enmeshed in the red glow emanating from the light box. The color red is often used to signal warning and a heightened state of alert and in the context of Korea the color evokes multiple and complex associations to war and ideological bias, but also to blood ties, love, and longing.

For her new piece, “Of Specters or Returns (2020)”, Kaisen further engages into dialogue with Fleron, however, in a different way from the previous work. This piece consists of seven red acrylic light boxes with UV-printed writings by Fleron and Kaisen, who each reflect upon their journeys to North Korea and the Cold War sentiments that surrounded them. Inside each box are carefully-selected unique objects ranging from 13th-century antiques to contemporary objects, collected by the artist over the past decade from South Korea, North Korea, China, Denmark, and the United States. The objects include a mirror from the Koryo Dynasty, a Japanese lunchbox from the 1950s, a US army psychological warfare propaganda leaflet from the Korean War, and a blood-stained South Korean military police helmet from the 1980s. There are also several books including We accuse; Report of the Commission of the Women’s International Democratic Federation in Korea (1951), a North Korean book, 38th Parallel North (1995), and Fleron’s book, Fra Nordkorea. Indtryk fra en Rejse til Verdens Ende (1952). The selected objects, texts, and the red lighting build bridges that connect historical events that happened in different times and spaces, and further evoke memories and the trauma of war that transcend national boundaries.

Diverging from the film and video work she is well-known for, in this exhibition, Jane Jin Kaisen presents two installation pieces. These pieces, however, have similar approaches, gestures, and movements as her filmic works and create moments where viewers become parts of her piece. In a way, it could be observed that they are an extension of her films. For her, film is a profound mode of expression that resembles the structure of memory through multi-layered compositions and the use of various motions, translation, and juxtaposition. Film is a synesthetic medium that involves images, sounds, rhythms, narratives, and repetition. It also triggers viewers’ diverse receptive faculties, including affective levels, but also analytical, reflexive, and discursive dimensions. These pieces, which contain memories and traces of the past in the present day, create movements, associations and rhythms through a meticulous composition by Jane Jin Kaisen and bridge narratives from different places and generations. Viewers can experience and connect with the memories and histories of various countries, as well as the consequences of their storied past, as they make their way around the exhibition.