Interview: Minouk Lim with Susan Gibb

The River Project, Cambeltown Arts Centre, Sydney

Susan Gibb: Could you briefly describe your personal relationship to the Han River?

Minouk Lim: My father, who was a soldier, always talked about the legend of the "Miracle of the Han River" when there was resistance against the Korean dictatorship. He refused to reveal the efforts behind the dark side of the Miracle. As for me, the Han River was the most popular site for suicide. So in my view, the Han River seems to be running in between those two separate perspectives.

Susan Gibb: Why did you choose this particular site for your performance work S.O.S – Adoptive Dissensus?

Minouk Lim: Four years ago, I moved near the riverside of the Han River. It was like a natural everyday life rhythm to promenade along the riverside. Then one day, the Han River Renaissance Project commenced, which was dubbed as the second Miracle of the Han River. It aimed to make money by developing tourist attractions. Soon the riverside turned into a carnival of excavators and my promenade was disrupted by construction fields. It made me question many things. Why does it spawn this sense of loss rather than prosperity? What is the relationship between human and nature? What is memory and reality's relationship? I grew up my whole childhood with construction sounds and scenes near me and it remains within me like an eternal disharmony. Am I supposed to be embracing this as a new kind of natural landscape? If I am a painter, should this be a post-futuristic or post-impressionistic painting? What am I looking for in this rapid movement and constant change? In questioning, I decided this site, the Han River was a polemic figure but which always has the potential right answer.

Susan Gibb: I am really interested in what you are saying about your relationship to the an River and the effects that the Han River Renaissance Project is having on this. From what I have read about the Han River Renaissance Project its aim is to make Seoul into an "attractive waterfront city" and open up the riverbank to more leisure activity. Interestingly, both Jewyo Rhii's work Lie on the Han River, which was made prior to the Renaissance Project, and your work reveal intimate stories about people use and encounters with this landscape which are not dictated by urban planning or structured activities. Could you speak about the feelings amongst residents of Seoul to the Han River Renaissance Project, and more generally to urbanization?

Minouk Lim: I am often very much frustrated by what we call the decision of “governmental authority” being frequently misunderstood as “public decision.” Of course, that is the irony of democracy to which we have become much accustomed. Yet I still don’t much care for the idea that citizens are just like consumers and want something grandiose like landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House or Eiffel Tower. Certainly urbanization has its own negative effects and many Seoulites have now begun to feel a strong sense of loss that something old and traditional disappeared without trace in the name of development and convenience. It seems, nowadays, even failed examples of urbanization become precious and should be kept intact as a witness which reminds that changes do not necessarily accompany the extinction of the old. In fact we need to reconsider the notion of oldness itself. Furthermore it’s always interesting to discover how stories survive, sometimes even in cement blocks. Many people I have met in Seoul tried to recall those things that disappeared permanently and create the landmarks of their own making. These are the type of people I trust. Both the subject and the object here are regarded as the third nature.

Susan Gibb: In your practice you often engage with communities and their stories. What motivates this decision?

Minouk Lim: My desire for a better world is related to revealing how people are living together. It's certainly not about technological progresses. People are so different but so similar too in certain ways. Finding out how they are so by communicating with them and listening to their living stories always stimulates me. Disharmony and uncertainties, among other things, are often leitmotifs of my work. How acts of trust become possible despite constant pressures of everyday life? People’s experiences and resistances on real scenes approach me in a more intense way than my imaginations which are stimulated at the intersection of the real and the fiction. My interest in movement arises from this and, to me, video work adapts well with contemporaneous mobility.

Susan Gibb: When talking about Adoptive Dissensus S.O.S. you refer to multiple performers ? the boat, the captain, the audience and those presenting stories on the river’s bank. Who was the audience on the boat and what were their responses to the performance?

Minouk Lim: The audience on the boat were tourists and spectators invited for this special tour in the occasion of festival BOM. One of my motives for having such mixed people was to treat all of them together more as actors than tourists or spectators. They created their own scenes, looking out for the outside scenes of theater, in the cruise moving very actively to locate performance places outside and their details. Confronting the real by simultaneous theatrical play inside and outside, they themselves became participators and their roles constantly converted. One of the most impressive moments was when they were directed by captain to see and listen to the darkness while passing through Chestnut Island. At that moment, all of us became one in silence and darkness, undergoing a maximum sensitive existence.

Susan Gibb: Also how did you cast the performers in the video? What was their relationship to the stories that they presented?

Minouk Lim: In the 1st performance place with mirrors reflecting searchlights, the performers were supposed to represent the young generation, reclaiming thousands of experiences and what they thought their own deprived history. They were shouting because they were desperately wanting to see, listen to and touch the nameless places and anonymous existences. Most of them were students from HAJA(meaning 'Let's do!' in Korean) Production School originally started as an alternative school for the education of teenagers refusing to follow regular school system. I have been maintaining special friendships with them since I taught there several years ago. The two lovers in the 2nd performance were separately cast as actors but afterwards we found that they used to be real lovers. What a coincidence.
The 3rd place with auto headlight signaling morse code performance was with Mr. Kang Yong Joo, who had served for 14 years as the youngest long term political prisoner. He had been accused by governmental authority as a spy from North Korea. He could be a free man if he was willing to say “yes, I’m a spy.” Of course he was not a spy, but the thing he was opposed to most was that the interrogators were infringing upon his freedom of thought which he thought was the last bastion of democracy. At last he won the trial and cleared himself of every charge of espionage. Once out of prison, he resumed his study and became a medical doctor. He is now engaging in medical practice with his own clinic but still under the constant security monitoring. I had met him 2 years ago and hardly understood what all this absurdity drama was about, who should be responsible for that, what is the ideology and what is the human being after all. He said he had no choice at that time. “Choose what? The truth is not there for choice.” All he wanted was to prove his belief is right and sincere and not to lose his decency as a human being, although being in the clutches of torture.