My body of work explores nationalism, identity, group ethics, culture, and the political effect on societies, initially, in the context of Northern China and North Korea how does the border limit cultural fluidity? Is nationality truly a part of identity? Ultimately, how do these factors divide tribal peoples into different nations?
I think of my work this year as auto-ethnography because it draws on my personal experience of living near the North Korean border. In order to approach this complex subject, I have created a situation in situ, in my hometown Ji Lin near north Korean border which I call “The Gallery”. This is a space I have set up for a period of one year in a community setting which is open to the public every day. In this space, I have placed four security cameras that feedback to my computer in the UK, plus items all relating to North Korea. For example, in the gallery are objects found in Ji Lin market such as military uniform and a fan fanning Kim Ill Sung’s portrait, digital illustrations of permitted hairstyles. I have also included my own photographs taken in Pyongyang, North Korea. The security camera footage shows people coming in and out of the gallery every day. I keep still images of the general public peeping through into the gallery and inside it. The other key piece I have made is a book of 50,000 words, illustrated with my own images of my travels in North Korea and conversations with “tour guides”, both of whom were girls of my own age. This is currently being translated into English.
My projects raise different questions, especially about the role of borders between cultures. Another important issue addressed emerges through the surveillance of the gallery, in that one culture is looking at another while that culture doesn’t know it’s being looked at. However, one of my aims in this piece is to demonstrate the constant surveillance of communist cultures, and my impulse is to push back. Another issue about two cultures living close to each other with a border between them, concerns the crossover between them. For example, certain food dishes can be the same but changed and in my work this represents what happens when people cross border lines from one culture to another. Complete transparency is therefore not possible when translating one culture (race, gender, nationality, ethnicity) into another culture. The leftovers that remain, small examples such as the dish Kimchi, are what I explore through my art. Such pieces can be upsetting, for example when I performed making Kimchi in front of a South Korean, this was taken as an aggressive act since South Korea has claimed that kimchi is their untouchable heritage. What I want the viewer to understand is that no one owns a certain culture, and that it is fundamentally impossible to translate without losing some integrity of the whole. Is it acceptable for us to lose something in translation and to not fully understand each other?