There are no longer any absolute directions in Space.

by Dr.Britta Schmit
Head curator of the National Gallery at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum in Berlin, Germany

Chan Sook Choi moves between performance, installation, video and photography in her work, at times employing specific combinations to create something like a definitive document or the outcome of an action. Her interdisciplinary projects merge music and sound, dance and movement, time and space, inviting the viewer to retrieve lost memories and reopen fragile spaces that appeared to have vanished. She sets the scene for a worldview where available and unavailable images dance in a round, gaining their power via moments of uncertainty and mystery. In Private Collection from 2007, large scale projections of faces grace a stage; etched with the lines of the lives they have lived, their stories remain forever concealed. Large air filled plastic bags ring the faces forming a second skin, protecting them like a delicate veil from too much intimacy, cloistering their personal secrets to a certain extent. She thus confronts the viewer with their own stories and memories that surface then disappear. The dancers react slowly and appear to communicate with the projections opposite them. They create a dreamlike, floating atmosphere, whose meditative calm provides a stark contrast to the caresses and movements of the projection screens' fabric that distorts the images, mutating them into ghost-like apparitions, which appear and then sink, as in a dream. Images emerge from a world that for a few seconds lost its centre, and Chan Sook Choi proves to be an artist who is both a perfectionist and emotionally fascinated by her search for the moment in which rational availability extinguishes the image. Yet she is never concerned with dreamy sentimentality or vagueness. On the contrary: all the works distinguish themselves through the exactness of their content and their almost scrupulous precision. In her performances Chan Sook Choi always creates a sense of place, an experiential site in which the viewer partakes in a productive exchange. She creates places and visual situations in which multiple living spaces become visual from a new perspective and thus the viewer becomes an investigator, an 'explorer' learning to understand the individual's relationship to the world we live in from the perspective of the collective. Yet with her work, the artist bestows a powerful sense of affirmation to the unique power of images and their ability to reveal the unseen by means of the visible.

The emotional plea for a visual world of the extraordinary, the unforeseeable, is clearly revealed in the three channel video projection from 2010, Parallel Portrait. Space, time and their coordination have lost their verisimilitude. The carefully composed, almost surreal cosmos depicts three people in varying space and time continuums connected by both imagination and soundtrack. The basic and deliberately calculated premise of the work is to create a sense of atmospheric wooziness, and an undefined atmosphere. The sentences, written by the artist, highlight the fine line between the deliberateness of the imagery and the irreality of the set. Our perception, based on normality and linear trajectories, is shattered, and it is through this process that we experience what German philosopher Martin Buber described as the between; that is, that which becomes significant in order to connect objects and to link spaces to situations, and situations to topics. The topic of the memory processes of the individual and the role they play in the construction of identity is implemented in an impressive manner in the important work 1218 (2008). The numerical code of the title was deeply embedded in the artist's consciousness for many years. The artist allowed herself to use the pivotal experience of her mother's death in a work thirteen years after its occurrence. In Korea the month is placed before the day in a date and thus for her the 18th of December has become a memorable day each year since 1990. In 1218 death takes on the meaning of relationships. The relationship between my mother and myself. The dead and the living. 1218 is an effort to understand this relationship. These are Chan Sook Choi's own words in the prologue to the work. The considerable changes in her life were locked within her like an enormous secret and only later could the concealed images be translated into a visual and corporeal language. Her visual imagination is realised in collaboration with dancers, choreographers, composers and costume designers, amongst others. All of the elements in the piece relate to the numerals 1218 and connect to this specific duration: the basis for the entire work. The video's length is 12 minutes and 18 seconds. In addition, the exposures of the photographic works are restricted by this timeframe. With its experimental process, 1218 connects relationships, memory and intervention, exploring their inherent meanings. The still current Korean mourning ritual in which shamans carry out specific ceremonies to smooth the way for the journeys of the dead and make contact with those left behind, is the primary experiential moment of the work. In this piece, not only are the varying art forms presented in relation to each other; cultures, genres and epochs are consolidated to form a whole. One of the strengths of this work is its emotional plea for a world of images that are at once extraordinary and unforeseeable. It is as if the images leap into the open, into the recesses of memory, and thus this complex work becomes pictorial in a cultural sense.

The work FOR GOTT EN, 2012, a five channel video projection, can also be viewed in this context. It was created in Leipzig as part of a research project on the topic of forgetting. For this, the artist visited and filmed women between the ages of 70 and 90 who had lived in the former East Germany. On the whole they are jovial, friendly people who cannot remember the simplest things such as counting or song lyrics. Upon viewing the video work, questions that are unrelated to the women's statements begin to arise. For example, the question: What does it mean to be unable to remember anything anymore? How does it feel when things disappear, when things can no longer be named because the names have detached themselves from you? People who lose their world in this manner are seldom able to report on it. We don't know how this feels. They forget words and objects differently to us. We know what we have forgotten and we can fill in the gaps. These people have no identity because they have lost the where and the when and current events cannot be integrated into any existing patterns. Personal memories constitute our identity. They allow us to understand what and who we are. This self-assurance is disturbed when memory loss occurs. With FOR GOTT EN, Chan Sook Choi has created a work representing the uncanniness and uncertainty of the modern individual who is suddenly unable to appear in public as a stable person. By focussing our attention on the individual she has created a space for the forgotten, enabling us to contemplate the location of the self in reality.

Britta Schmitz

Dr. Britta Schmitz is head curator of the National Gallery at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart contemporary art museum. She is responsible for 'Art after 1960' with an emphasis on international and global concepts. She is an experienced curator, has created numerous exhibitions and is the author and publisher of many of their associated publications. A selection of artists and topics she has curated: Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Pipilotti Rist, Stefan Balkenhol, Cy Twombly, Lucian Freud, Parastou Farouhar, Dayanita Singh, Ayse Erkmen, Face Up, young Australian artists, Shirin Neshat, Atlas Group/Walid Raad, Paul Pfeiffer, Who Knows Tomorrow, African artists, Walton Ford, Martin Kippenberger, Tomas Saraceno, Gottfried Lindauer. She continues to be an active member of numerous international panels and juries.