Magazine article Artforum International

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha: Bronx Museum of the Arts. (Reviews: New York)

Magazine article Artforum International

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha: Bronx Museum of the Arts. (Reviews: New York)

Article excerpt

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha died in 1982 at age thirty-one, but "The Dream of the Audience," curated by Constance M. Lewallen and originating at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (where Cha's own is housed), was the first major retrospective of her work. Cha's reputation has battened in the interim on her posthumously published experimental novel Dictee (1982), a fringe classic for students of women's studies, book arts, and poetry. For loyalists, access to the exhibition's works on paper, performances, sound pieces, and films came as a blessing long overdue.

The show didn't look that terrific at its stop in New York. The single-channel videos and Super-8 and 16 mm films appeared dingy and grainy when transferred to DVD, and both they and the sound elements had been awkwardly installed so that their strategically attenuated pacing felt more grueling than seductive. The artist's books and prints were presented mostly in vitrines--unavoidably, perhaps, but not optimally, since both Cha's puns and her emphasis on evocative silences depend in part on the diachronic/synchronic interchange of turning pages, and the gaps in which the reader's/viewer's mind wanders or interjects. Still, Cha's wit and subtlety will make its mark on anyone who gives her work time to filter in, and "The Dream of the Audience" was an important show, effectively reinserting into contemporary awareness the work of an artist who refused distinctions between image and language, who combined an idiosyncratic lyricism and a fascination with structuralist principles.

Cha's brand of Conceptualism is philosophically and formally rigorous but also playful, wistful, allusive, and profoundly female (which means what? More on this later). From Korea she emigrated to San Francisco with her family at age thirteen, earned degrees in studio art and comparative literature from UC Berkeley, and worked at the Pacific Film Archive in that city and the Centre d'Etudes Americain du Cinema in Paris. She spoke Korean, English, and French fluently. Her work returns continually to the experience of language as cause and cure for exile-exile from the interlocking systems of nationality, religion, family, and syntax and therefore from the self. …

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