(In)visible, Performance, 2017
Live performance (1h 15' 10')'
Collective Arts Incubator, Los Angeles
Text by Audrey Min
It is easy to speak of the meeting between East and West, when expressed through art forms, as a synthesis, or even a fusion. However, what happens when aesthetic encounters between cultures manifest with the urgency or the violence of personal experience? The performance (in)visible, which I was privileged to witness in spring of 2017, provides an answer to as well as an example of the problems posed by this question. (in)visible, created and actualized by artist Natalie Mik, positions the performer’s body as an index of social and cultural contingencies. The artist began by bowing on a mat and repeating phrases in Korean, English, and German. Interestingly, the mat was made out of postal shipping boxes. Ideas of border-crossing and bureaucracy were present in the performance from its start. As she bowed, Mik ate sesame seeds one-by-one from the floor. These gestures constituted the first part of the performance, which this essay will discuss. With (in)visible, Mik engaged in a narrative of imprisonment in the hyper-specificities of one’s identity, as manifested in the body; paradoxically however, she mobilized that same body to perform efforts at transcending this struggle. The performance reminded viewers of the inescapability, the literal corporeality, of one’s identity.
Watching (in)visible, I was reminded of a question that often plagues my personal and academic practice: Who are we, as diasporic individuals; or more accurately, as indices, as products, of diaspora? The answer, which I found obliquely through a foreign language during Mik’s performance, is as follows: “ich bin der Körper, der überquert.” “I am the body that crosses over.” The spoken-word aspects of the performance were said in English, Korean, and German, referencing Mik’s tripartite cultural background. It is a sad paradox that those who arise from the crossroads of cultures end up existing in their interstices. The modern porosity of cultural and national borders leaves behind a complex matrix of contexts and intersections for which it is apparent that traditional notions of identity and belonging are becoming increasingly inadequate and even meaningless.
By bowing repeatedly as a form of respect and self-discipline derived from traditional Korean Buddhist convention, a motion that became increasingly frenzied as the performance went on, the artist invoked notions of tradition and spirituality. As she bowed, Mik ate sesame seeds. Her act of eating sesame seeds from the mat on which she bowed was an act of asserting her connection to not only the earth but specifically to Koreanness, as sesame seeds are an important part of Korean culture and cuisine. She recited the phrase, “Ich esse die Erde und die Erde bekommt meinen Körper;” ”I eat the earth and the earth receives my body.” Here, “die Erde” (the earth) is conflated with Korea. The phrase functions as an inversion of the Western Christian Eucharist, and yet is also reminiscent of the expression “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”--Ultimately, what remains for all of us is the earth, whose physicality and conceptual solidarity grounds such agony over identity and cultural belonging in the ineffability of nature, its existence which undergirds all and to which human concepts such as identity and national borders lose their significance.
Video Stills. Video documentation by Teresa T. Pleman.