|July/August 2005 , Vol. 10, No. 7/8|
KimSu Theiler: Let Me Introduce Myself
White Dot Studio
137 Rivington Street
New York, NY 10002
May 8 – 27, 2005
By Aaron Yassin
Let Me Introduce Myself
The White Dot Studio is a small out of the way place in the Lower East Side. It has none of the pretensions that are so common in Chelsea galleries these days – no giant foreboding door or intimidating oversized reception desk – there's just a small staircase leading to the gallery door. As I walked up each step I could hear the children playing in the park across the street and when I crossed the threshold of the open gallery door I knew it was the first line of KimSu Theiler's poetic installation.
Let Me Introduce Myself is the second line of an email Theiler received earlier this year from someone claiming to be her younger half-brother in South Korea that she never knew she had. It is the first in a series of five email messages that the installation is generated from.
On a single wall of the gallery we see his emails faintly emerge from sheets of paper. Each of his messages has been carefully and laboriously pinpricked into a single sheet; one prick at a time has been made until each letter and word is made visible. Paired with each of these emails is Theiler's response simply scrolling across the screens of portable, wall-mounted DVD players. A fresnel lens in front of each screen magnifies the text but also slightly distorts it, particularly at the edges.
At one end of the room there is a video projection with sound. It shows a hand with a finger pointing across a Korean text. The voiceover translates this text into English and we understand that it is an article from the Kyung-Hyang daily newspaper about Theiler's 1993 film called “Great Girl” that tells the story of her trip to South Korea in search of her mother. The article explains that Theiler was born in South Korea and sent to an orphanage when she was four, where she was adopted by an American couple.
The first email message from Theiler's half-brother explains that his aunt had seen the article a few years earlier and told him then about his older sister. But it is only now after several years have passed that he has the courage to contact her. The resulting exchange provides a glimpse into Theiler's unknown family, her mother and her memories of her four-year-old life that was left in South Korea.
The overall effect of the installation is deeply emotional, transfixing, painful, tragic, touching and even uplifting – qualities that are a result of the metaphoric relationship between the formal properties of the presentation and the story they tell. For example, the process of pinpricking a piece of paper thousands of times to create words that remain difficult to read reminds us of the pain of loss and the careful attention it requires to overcome. This text, which is almost illegible form a few feet away, requires a close, intimate viewing distance to be able to read. Each pierced hole opens up a small space of darkness, perhaps the darkness of the past 30 years of Theiler's unknown home, family and mother. Yet, paradoxically, these many holes of darkness combine to give light to the words of a half-brother, and in the fourth pinpricked letter the words of Theiler's mother herself, which Theiler reads for the first time in shock.
In contrast, Theiler's own emails are seen as scrolling videotext. In an endless cycle, each word appears letter by letter until the small screen fills, and the text vanishes. Although the text moves slowly it is difficult to comprehend the whole message on the first pass. It is too fleeting. The words must be held in one's memory and then carried to the next message to complete the story. This cognitive game symbolically connects the viewer's experience with Theiler's memory of her first four years in South Korea that she has kept in her mind for so long.The complexity of time is expressed in every word and every sentence that unfolds in these ten email messages. Although they were instantly transmitted halfway around the globe, they speak beyond the three decades of Theiler's absence from her homeland. They speak beyond individual transmigration, so common at this moment in human history. They provide, rather, a simple poetic meditation on the most basic questions of existence – questions about identity, personal history, family and most of all one's love for their mother.
|all content © 2006 Aaron Yassin|