So it is finally here, after 3 months of being in South Korea, 6 of plunging into Korean culture that I go back to Montreal. I go back to familiar but not boring, to loving, to comforting. The energy that was used to deal with the unfamiliar now will be displaced and used to finish the art I started here and to keep creating new pieces.
The art residency was a great experience. But don't be fooled, great doesn't mean all went right or that it was all easy. It was actually pretty hard. Three months in a place where you don't know the language and most people don't speak English or French. Everything is new, food, manners, all the little things we usually take for granted or do without thinking twice. Well I had to think twice or even more to figure out.
I was really invested and committed in understanding Korean culture, their essence (Han), their historical perspective on gender. even with years of experience in gender studies I was always very conscious that I could only go so far. It became obvious to me that the dancers that I would collaborate with would have to me more than interpreters.
I was extremely lucky to find Sejin, an incredibly generous contact improv and Qi Gong guide. She connected me with dancers and movement artists that where incredibly complex characters with a very developed discourse about their work and about gender. It was not always something intellectual, but there was a deep understanding of movement and what it's language meant.
Kyong-Sun, Sang Hun, A-Reum, Jungmin, Sabina, Hyelim & Shin, these performers where able to articulate perfectly thought their movements their impressions of specific questions about topics related to gender. The images are not just images, they are actually conversations that have been structured as visual poems.
These conversations, the moment of shooting the images often didn't need spoken words, we were beyond Korean or English. That made for the purest of connections and for great friendships.
I had a few friends that helped me out with the project and I cannot finish this entry without their name being mentioned. Haein, and incredible sweet and generous film student that solved so many of my practical issues with some of my shoots. CK Ryu who introduced me to the first gay couple to be "married" in South Korea. Gwangsoo and Dave, a brave couple conformed by a film director and an activist and producer who decided to defy the Korean government by holding a public wedding.
Dave and Gwangsoo reminded me that love takes courage, and when you are gay in a country like South Korea, Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Mexico (and the list goes on) it takes so much more than a simple act of falling in love.
The work I produced here was not without controversy. Not everybody reacted well to the images and to the research I conducted. As respectful as I tried to be it is not easy to hear from a foreigner the short-fallings of Korean gender politics and inequality. I thought the work would actually not be controversial and it would be popular amongst the generality of women with which I had contact. Nonetheless it was not the case and it made some of them uncomfortable. I think this was not always for the right reasons, but still they were entitled to their perspective. My collaborators where actually incredibly supportive and aware that these issues would not pass unnoticed.
This issue gave me pause and made me think about how my work is perceived. I felt like all this years when I though I could shy away from controversy it was actually a futile attempt to create harmony and consensus. This doesn't mean that I won't keep trying, but this time I won't shy away from saying what needs to be say. And the first thing I can say is that my work is braver than I am.
So there's a lot of I take from this. It was an incredible journey of personal growth. I was able to reflect, contextualize and learn from each experience as it happened, which made the learning so rich and save me so much money on therapy! I confronted many fears: rejection and not pleasing people, being in the unknown, loosing my footing constantly. I am still alive and I'm still happy.
I finished my stay in the best way possible: with a great photoshoot. My favourite location with two of my favourite people: Korean male art-model Jungmin and my dear friend Phylactère (who was visiting for a few days). The shoot was inspired by Jungmin's words (whom I quote loosely) referring to a previous shoot: I felt like there was no male and female only human and then I felt small by acknowledging the presence of nature around me.
So we finished with a sweet embrace of East and West, feminine and masculine, becoming one and becoming all.