The immersive and non-verbal performance Unspeakable Community (2022) by artist Grace Euna Kim invites performers and audience to come together in a park without knowing what exactly will transpire. This unpredictable experiment aims to challenge the format itself, the limits of language and our perception of conflict.
You call your performance immersive, a term which has gained interest in recent years. What kind of critical considerations cross your mind in regards to the agency of the audience?
Immersion is ethically and politically risky, as it has an intimate potential to call social imaginaries into question. Through reality-fiction, immersion can create authentically lived and not just observed experiences. However, immersive performances often present an illusion of emancipation through "activating" the audience, which actually brings about the opposite effect. My work attempts to probe the politics of perception in how the performances destabilize normalities, inviting the audience to interpret unwritten codes and "be" as they choose (whether passive or active).
What do members of the audience experience when participating? What would you like to introduce them to?
I invite people to experience their own imagination, which is linked to their concepts of what is real and how they participate in its reproduction. I am interested in how anticipation reproduces symbolic violence. Charged with memory, history, desire, and ideology, anticipation leads us to unthinkingly perform these charges back into existence. As we've seen from many cycles of conflict and oppression, we often manifest a perception of change that is only the past painted in a different color. I hope to be able to deconstruct and subvert anticipation in the most ethical way possible. I wish to raise questions around unconscious processes of individual and collective meaning production and I hope people would find beauty and radical truth in that, especially if it happens to be uncomfortable.
You develop methodologies that could lead to transformation outside of the art context – what kind of resistant actions do you rehearse and how?
Acid Bodies (ongoing since 2019) is a participatory research framework that probes psycho-spatial articulations of ideology, desire, power, and the ways in which social fictions are negotiated, normalized, and weaponized—which I find are very similar to an acid trip. At its heart is the question of individual agency and accountability, asking how we can activate our body as a site of resistance, reinventing its social and political consciousness.
In dealing with dissent, conflict and exchange: In which ways are you attempting to create bridges where communication seems to fail? What kind of limits do you see, and in which societies?
As social beings, we are colonized into societies' constructed systems of meaning (what I consider broadly as language). Other parts of us, which cannot be expressed through language, symbolically “die”. Who we are and who we "perform" are often not the same. I am interested in how deconstructive performance methods can unpack the “real” that is hidden behind language, and therefore offer possibilities to reinvent social and political imaginaries. Often, we take each others’ “performances” so seriously that it causes irresolvable conflict, when actually, we are driven by similar fears, desires, and needs. As language prescribes a limited menu of fictions to live through, Unspeakable Community raises questions about how language particularly fails in times of crisis. When what is "knowable" – thus, what we can apprehend through the meaning systems in which we are embedded – is destabilized through crisis and becomes unbearable, we often externalize these feelings onto objects outside ourselves, thereby leading to harmful forms of implicit and explicit violence.
Can you share about your own discomfort when producing works like Unspeakable Community?
Discomfort is somehow an antidote to alienation. I trust it as a measure for how close I may be to something “real” and truthful. If the work feels comfortable, which is different from instinctive, I know that something is wrong. I understand the symbolic violence behind how “normality” is (re)produced, and how anything can become normal if it is consensualized and/or repeated. The only way to know whether I am challenging my own colonization, and therefore limits, is if I feel the discomfort that comes from risk and the unknown.
Grace Euna Kim is a Berlin-based Korean-American performance and visual artist, choreographer, and researcher who devises immersive encounters through a lens of psychoanalytic and critical theory.
Banner: Video Intervention at Brandenburger Tor, August 2022. (c) Grace Euna Kim