Miss Kim(s) on The Moldy Marble Field, 2013-14
Ink, watercolor and graphite on paper (Left bottom), lithograph stone fragment, postcard rack, archival inkjet print chine-collé and blind emboss on mildewed paper (a portfolio of 8 prints) in plastic sleeves. leather strip, faux vintage postcards, tape, frame, and spitbite-aquatint with chine-collé on watercolored paper (Right top), and adhesive faux marble floor
My Initial inspiration was some ‘beautifully’ handcolored old souvenir postcards that I found while strolling an old town in South Korea which brought me to start investigating the hidden paradox underneath of the deceptive beauty of commoditized images and the complexity of identities in the colonial era. The format of the prints I made directly mimics the shape of newly introduced commodity object, bookmark with the ‘pop star’ photo, that was sold domestically and internationally in the same era.
As for the paradox of the Miss Kim as both synonym of colonial women versus the westernized modern women, I borrowed the idea of Leplanche’s notion of “reflexivity” from his masochism statement, “turning around of an instinct upon its subject” which implies “not only the internalization, or introjections of a suffering object that used to be external, but also the existence of a psychic reality that is neither active (as in “seeing”) nor passive (as in “being seen”) but reflexive. (seeing oneself). Which I also found interesting similarity of the emotional self-pitied manner of the protagonist of Yu Dafu’s “Sinking” from the Rey Chow’ text, the moment he desirefully looking at the Japanese girls while he couldn’t approach to them due to his own shame of being ‘Chinaman’ ;
The intense gaze at the other as a sex object therefore end as a gaze that is directed instead against himself as an object of self-curse. This intricate psychic process in then played out externally, as the external object of his gaze, impatient at his tongue-tiedness, asks fateful question: “Where are you from?” With this question, the external object recedes from the picture and what comes fully to the fore, from this point on until the end of the story, is that other, real object his gaze – himself and his national identity. (144, Chow)
Same as the ‘identificatory’ moment when Wang Yaming, the protagonist of “Hands” by Xiao Hong’ (also from Rey Chow’s), found herself from the borrowed book and related herself to a fictional character, not as fiction nor simply comparing, but as a reality she could recognize by transitioning that returns the figure thought to herself, which revealed for the first time this identification with suffering, rejected herself. It is not surprising that the girls in the colonial era had experienced collapse of national and individual identities via seeing massive social transformation and forced modernization, when the name of Miss Kim has become a personification of Modern Women.
Miss Kims stare at us from a small souvenir bookmark with her elegant smile, silky dress and a hint of vanity. Those girls were seen in the magazines as celebrities of the colonial era in Korea, and also from souvenir postcard that produced by Japanese colonial policy to advertise their upbringing of their colony. Also those were who got chosen to be the first generation of the 'Miss Korea'. Whose idols were those Miss Kims?
When there were only chaos and starvation, the culturally immature vulnerable egos were floating between forced social reformation and nationalism. In this time, whom would the colonial girls could reflect themselves on and where would their identities were projected on? Regardless of the reality of colonial girls identity crisis, Miss Kims in the souvenir photos seem proudly adapting themselves as ‘modern women’ without any practical concerns, with the guise of a confident smile. When propagated foreign culture seeped like mold through the haggard society due to overnight reformation and rapid cultural invasion, Miss Kims in colonized country were asked to make too many decisions; would you keep the national heritage against to the colonist or give up the identity pride in order to get powdered- milk to feed their family once more? Miss Kims were confused.
Miss Kim was sitting on top of the history that was written on marble while molds were growing up and filled inside. Miss Kim was set to encounter the boundaries of obscure cultural complex and propagated foreign images of themselves without any yardstick for a judgment,
It is always too early and too immature for us to critically adopt other cultures so that we often reflect current status of ourselves pathetically with inferiority complex, especially when we reflect us on the propagated foreign images, which often provided by the third party. Miss Kims in the colony were deceived by the images of Modern Miss Kims in the commoditized photos, whom seemed blessed with the abundant happiness of new era, unlike their filthy reality of the era of chaos and the wars.