11th Gwangju Biennale
2. 9. – 6. 11. 2016



Jeamin Cha

In the dark of the night, the sound of tap dancing fills an empty apartment building and echoes far into the unknown corners and hollows of a newly built city. This is the opening scene of Jeamin Cha’s (b. 1986, Busan/Seoul) Fog and Smoke (2013), depicting an abandoned construction site that had once been part of the Songdo International Business District in Incheon, near Seoul. Delicate movements of the camera follow the last remaining fisherman in the old town as he drives toward the new town: once his waterfront workplace, the land is now filled in with soil and the debris of city development.

Sequences of the fisherman’s journey into the cityscape are woven together with movements of the ghostly tap dancer continuing his frantic tapping in the empty streets at night. The wild dancing is performed at the speed of gentrification driving these developments. While the film refers to the craze of urban construction in Korea and its halt due to the global financial crisis and economic recession in 2008, the generic building landscape could belong to any location of hyper-capitalism.

Jeamin Cha’s videos are primarily made through a process of interviews and field study, triggered by a news article or an anecdote from daily life. Yet, rather than using a didactic form of documentation, she delicately reconstructs images, using visual juxtapositions to address anxieties, outrages, or ambiguities hidden within the seemingly ordinary and flawless landscapes of everyday life. Questioning the premises of political action, she looks for ways that run through her position as an individual and bring about moments of intervention in the layers of social fabric. In her practice, intervention stands as a sensitive form of expression that provokes a process of questioning, an investigation into the ever-present contradictions of the contemporary society.

In Chroma-key and Labyrinth (2013), Cha employs the same tactic of questioning the ordinary; in this case, it is the concept of labor and what truths and values underlie the working conditions of manual laborers. The film juxtaposes two kinds of “hand work”: first, we see the hands of a cable worker fixing Internet and TV cables, then the hands of the worker mimicking the movements he would normally perform, but without the tools in hand and in front of a Chroma key background. Through this literary abstraction, the process of performing manual labor is removed from its context, value, and product. The project was initially commissioned as part of “Community and Urban Research” by the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture. However, before the research was started, it took on a different path, as Hope Solidarity Labor Union approached Cha and proposed that she document the dangerous working conditions of temporary cable workers and their activist endeavors. AM


Jaemin Cha was born in 1986 in Busan. She works as an artist during the week, and at a public library during weekends. Having felt frustrated about not being able to realize what art is why she went to the UK to study, but she bitterly regretted this. She spent most of the time roaming around squares. Having witnessed the social movement against the retrenchment policy and privatization, she volunteered to work as a video recorder at the artists group, Arts Against Cuts. For a long time, she observed people gather, march and disperse. After returning to Seoul, she created a number of video works. This time she wanted to film a square from a great distance. She wanted to talk about the eyes on the square and their silence. However, in this process, it seems only misunderstandings and questions arose. In this double bind, she might just need to react to them as diligently as she can for the time being. Although Cha still feels somewhat dissatisfied with art that is entirely directed to the future, she also believes that nothing else could make her life serious as art. She admires Harun Farocki.