Carving the Foundation

A study on collective trauma, transformation and collaboration through the lens of the plastic surgery phenomenon in South Korea. 

Performance in collaboration with Jean Rim inside a plastic surgery mega hospital in Gangnam, Seoul. July 2017.




Historical trauma, a term used by sociologists and psychologists, refers to the emotional and psychological wounding of an individual or an entire generation caused by a traumatic experience. In the latter case, a collective trauma can develop and stir up a social group or a whole nation's collective sentiment, often resulting in a shift in that society's culture and mass actions. In sociology, cases of collective trauma are used to examine group identity formation and self-destructive behavior in relation to their potential emotional triggers including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and anger.

For Carving the Foundation, the theme of collective trauma was examined through the lens of South Korea's plastic surgery phenomenon, a boom that has been continuing for the last several decades. For the last two decades, South Korea had the most plastic surgeries per capita on earth followed by the United States and Brazil. It is surprising considering the fact that no plastic surgery techniques were available in Korea in 1945, when Korea gained independence from Japan. In the 1950s, when the Korean War had a devastating impact on South Korea, Western doctors pioneered the field of plastic surgery in Korea and treated injured patients with war wounds and children with congenital disorders. Doctors remained concentrated on their duties of treating injured patients and were not able to assist in the development of aesthetic plastic surgery. 

Carving the Foundation performed in collaboration with New York-based artist Jean Rim, was a reflection on the act of collaboration as a hopeful possibility to overcome collective trauma and to achieve true transformation. The site-specific performance took place inside the Corner Art Space Gallery (Seoul, Korea) which is located on the first floor of a mega plastic surgery hospital in Gangnam. 


Text 1:

상처는 이미 오래 전 아무렀을 것이라고 믿어왔다 
우리는 서로에게 자신을 맡긴체 
조심스럽게 서로를 살핀 후 
말을 건낸다, 괜찮을거라고
얼굴을 덮고 있는 이 커다란 딱지, 그 뒤엔 무엇이 있을까
서로의 먼지를, 침묵을 제거해준다. 한 곂, 한 곂 벗겨낸다
글: 나탈리 믹 (- Natalie Mik)


Text 2:

We are in a building that makes symmetry on faces and bodies
We look at each other
We remove the first layer of ourselves
We support each other as we carve as many great hands before us
We seek approval from the other, concrete trust
We are something out of the ordinary
- Jean Rim



Photo: Hun Pascal Park