You Are the Sole Carrier of Your Own Memory

Michael Arzt, Direktor HALLE 14 e.V. Leipzig Frank Motz,
Direktor ACC Galerie Weimar e.V.

The idea of the divine, the absolute, to accept the existence of a transcendent, personified, good creator and of human ambition to achieve harmony with a higher power (and then to solidify this with an image of God in order to find solace and happiness by worshipping collectively) is as old as humankind. We live in a world that is profoundly influenced by ideas and beliefs on the divine - and this is invariably accompanied by questions of theodicy and doubt concerning the concept of god. For if there is a God, how can He or She be simultaneously benevolent and yet allow so much suffering? Why is God silent? And what has happened to faith, the embodiment of the relationship between (wo)man and God, and what of the relationship between humankind as questioner and God as the respondent? In her search for answers (and inspired by the "higher power and universal complaint to god" by the prophet Habakuk in the Old Testament as well as the unique literary classic on the process of mourning 'A Grief Observed' by deeply religious literary historian, Oxford and Cambridge professor and author C.S. Lewis on the afflictions of his cancer suffering wife) Chan Sook Choi poses the age old and recurring question of doubt as it pertains to faith, a question that moves her, anew. Chan Sook Choi, 2012 Kunstraum HALLE 14 grant recipient, undertook fieldwork to investigate and research the contemporary status of God, belief, religion and spirituality by meeting with six women from a Leipzig parish. All were aged between 60 and 90, all were from Leipzig, and all held unwaveringly onto their faith during the GDR regime (1949 - 1989) which oppressed religious freedom. This was the beginning of Chan Sook Choi's artistic as well as personally intensive long term research and meeting project 'FOR GOTT EN'.

Chan Sook Choi approached these women over a period of several months, guiding them to engage with their interests, willingness, patience and even a desire to reflect
on their lives. She listened to them and asked them about their feelings; about grief, doubt and the-feeling-of-being-forgotten-by-God (in difficult, tragic or seemingly hopeless moments, in circumstances of personal suffering or injustice, or after the loss of someone close). She also asked them about their own forgotten relationships to God, addressing loneliness and the feeling of being left alone. And afterwards, she asked how it feels to be forgotten at the end of one's life (at the same time as wishing to be remembered) whilst forgetting so much oneself. In forgetting God, according to Choi, the disappearing roles of the church, faith, religion and Christianity in secular countries resonates, whilst at the same time "interest in religion as social cement, moral fundament and a means to providing life with meaning, remains". Based on these interviews it becomes clear that Choi dedicated a part biographical, part associative film to each of these women (and not to a wider audience). At the same time she created and constructed a movable location, a collapsible open-shut film cinema set consisting of a type of home cinema equipment, a kind of light display mini theatre with video projection screen for one, including seats and projector mount. With this set up she was able to project these very personal films for each of her protagonists in their respective apartments. Not a particularly simple procedure. Choi's mobile vehicle, a kind of wheeled suitcase, that she herself compared to a litter or sedan chair, was emblazoned with the title "Your eye is a window to your body/soul". Her choice of each litter (a historic wooden plinth originally conceived as a smooth, comfortable ride for transporting dignitaries) symbolises Choi's appreciation of her artwork's protagonists, who were concurrently her audience. It was here that the women sat, on a chair from their own homes (only with this was the arrangement complete), to encounter their own words and images from the past, an invitation to a journey through time and back, a trip that takes place in the personal memories of their lives as they are carried from the past into the present. Choi's camera documented the process of memory; the women's faces and their reactions to the film they were shown. Calmly, in a chamber, the film frame (the litter), person and camera meet inside this trestle, as do the person and screen/projection. The wooden structure unifies both known and unknown spaces with the meeting space.

Sequences are saturated with indescribable emotional energy. The women tell stories of war and flight, of concentration camps and communism, of the separation of German from German and of the Peaceful Revolution. For Chan Sook Choi the faces of old people (re-filmed here) are like a physiognomic landscape etched by life evermore, they are true face savers, according to Choi, "the older a person is, the more idiosyncratic their face becomes (...) impressions burrow into the breathing skin's surface or emerge from within. Past and present melt over this surface. Through the video recordings they become a living image, a portrait, formally composed; they narrate in a way that language alone is incapable of, telling of what remains unspoken" - Choi. Our body chronicles all; it records everything that befalls us. The face is key to 'reading' a person. These women experience something of what is written on their faces, what is reflected from them. Yet the artist herself and other viewers of the art works were able to read the women's faces, they could observe and be told their stories, learn from their lives and, as is always the case with Chan Sook Choi's work, experience the invisible energy of a human soul consciously, visibly, via the book flanking the mixed media installation which documents the progress of the project, enhancing it with further perspectives and rendering it tactile. Chan Sook Choi created a mobile system, a small world allowing the old to unfold inside its frame, where they could look inward without the artist's assistance (she was not standing behind the camera during filming). The artist's personal address and her repeated visits to the women, her assistance and pastoral care, her dedication and appreciation allowed distance and inhibitions to melt, and all this radiating from an initially foreign and foreign seeming Korean, whose appearance is from another land, who speaks German with an accent and whose background is far removed from the East German region of Saxony. A mirror image is formed from the women's recorded emotions and reactions alongside their simultaneously projected personal histories, a parallel portrait of each individual interview partner as a time based document of the (re)activation of memories that were able to return suddenly despite the women's dwindling strength and increasing loneliness. Being alone, either because of sickness, the loss of partners and friends, coupled with the grief of saying goodbye and remaining behind or the isolation of careers and work, becomes more present in old age, limiting one's operating range. The undiscussed becomes dubious, unasked questions remain unanswered, perhaps certain things first become really clear if one "...finally gets what it's all about..." (Ludwig Hirsch). There is something acutely perceptive, devotional and ceremonious about these filmic portraits. Choi condenses the women's fates spatially, lending them a trans-temporal air or something universal, thus allowing mimicry, the furrows of their faces, and grey hair to speak in place of anecdotes. Each observation is a further ode to ageing, to coming to terms with life and to the questions the young ask of the older generation. Full of recognition, respect and admiration: How did you do it? How did you endure all the suffering and strain? The distress of your lives is etched upon your faces, you pause for thought and silence emanates from within you. How did you maintain your unshakeable belief, your faith in God as the fountain of life in order to overcome difficult situations, to forge your own life's path and not simply abandon it? After intensive observation, additional maxims and insights come from those telling their stories (the reactors) that are at once revealing, rousing and salubrious declarations: "God suffers with and inside us", "How would there be limitations if God didn't allow suffering", "Suffering is a consequence of freedom", "What one has learned when singing or praying can never be taken away. It's always present". "You are the sole carrier of your own memory". "I've experienced heaven on earth. A wonderfully festive church service, a beautiful concert, a lovely speech, yes you can experience a piece of heaven on earth", through to the profane and the existential "It's a pity not to have questioned things". Chan Sook Choi's artistic credentials touch a nerve; one senses a fundamentally decent concern behind her observations. Her selfreflection is revealed through her observation of others, as is the warm heartedness and closeness, seriousness and directness, humility and thoughtfulness and the personality and intensity of her artistic palette.

Michael Arzt, Director of HALLE 14 (Association), Leipzig Frank Motz, Director of ACC Galerie Weimar (Association)