A world without words
by Lee, ChiaYu
When SPAC contacted me and invited me to be one of the speakers for the forum, I felt very surprised and flattered. As an person who worked mostly in visual art, I knew very little about dance and performance. The collaborative project I did with UbinDance is my very first time to work together with dancers. It's my pleasure to share the experience.
Let's have the conclusion in advance: It's wonderful. One of my best experience ever.
It started from an unexpected beginning. I didn't expect to work with dancers before coming to Korea. Instead, I had my own plan to proceed. So, when Hongeun art space proposed this collaborative project at that time, I was not that sure actually. Not only because I had no similar experience, also because I was not prepared at all. I didn't bring any suitable gear not even a proper lens to shoot dancers. But I still agreed to give a try. After all, it's something I probably won't have a chance nor an intention to do in the future.
Then, I was introduced to Ms. Lee Na Hyun, the beautiful dancer and leader of UbinDance. She was kind enough to invite me to her solo performance. This was probably the first time I seriously watched a whole piece of solo dance. It amazed me very much. The beauty, the dynamics, the balance, the energy, the freedom and constrain of body...many details filled my mind and blew my mind. They triggered many feelings within me. And, those mind-blowing elements are "in-explainable". This is the most important point for me and I'll talk about it later.
So we started the project. The plan was to take photographs of dancers performing in every Seoul Art Space(11 places). It's obvious that two elements were involved: the space and the human. Mostly I decided the space part and Ms. Lee arranged the human part. The basic work flow is that I went to each art space for survey at least once before actual shooting with dancers. I walked around, looked around and talked to the crew in each place trying to feel the genuine atmosphere of that place and then took some survey pictures of certain spots I felt interesting. Then I showed these pictures to Ms. Lee with marks on the prints indicating my opinions why they're interesting. She picked some spots she was also interested and started to figure what dancers should do at those spots. Once she and other dancers were ready, we went to the spaces to do actual shooting. After shooting, I did the post retouching for the images and showed them to Ms. Lee to confirm if she was happy with them. This stage was very important to me and took me a lot of time. Because post-retouching could dramatically change an image. As the photographer, I needed to contribute my skills and my taste at this stage. This was a process of my own. Dancers are not involved. That's why it's very important to me. At last, we had some images under mutual satisfaction which are now showing to you.
During the process, I learned a lot of this city. It's very natural and inevitable since I traveled to those places to survey for multiple times. Sometimes it's like an little adventure for me to discover interesting spots in the art center and nearby area especially when I visited those places by myself. (staff from Hongeun accompanied me at the first time going to each place) I felt like I'm having a privilege or righteous excuse, which I actually didn't have, to go somewhere ordinary people do not go or not interested in. For example, the scene of numerous empty offices in Garden 5 was one of my favorite during the exploration. Normal people don't go there. The traditional market at Sindang, the small factories/workshops around Mullae Art Space were also very attractive to me. It's a pity that I couldn't have them all shot because of certain reasons like security concern, tight schedule...etc. But going to those places to do survey work actually led me to more places of this city. As I walked around the art centers, I walked to countless places which showed me the true face of Seoul and I didn't even know their name.
About the performance at the spots, it's not an easy task at all. I admire and adore UbinDance a lot. The dancers are all energetic, creative and beautiful. They suffered from the cold weather performing outdoor with not much clothes and they endured my "inhuman" instructions when shooting because I didn't really know how difficult they made that specific move/pose, I just kept asking them to do again and again or to hold still longer and longer. On the contrary, Ms. Lee. instructed the dancers to perform in a very specific and accurate way in my opinion. She and the dancers communicated briefly and the dancers started to perform. They kept adjusting the movements/poses by themselves and simultaneously listening to the instructions from Ms. Lee. Some moments later an "answer" emerged. The "answer" means the best pose or move at that specific spot. This is something related to the "in-explainable" things I'd like to talk about. I had a feeling that dancers think with their body. It's very different from my field. As a photographer, I'm very used to think and to find meanings or explanations because we're trained to do so. Especially in contemporary art/photography, thinking is the most valued part of works. The images that an artist presents are only a tool to speak. They are relatively not important. What is important is a story, an idea, an issue or an explanation of our world. Thus, artists speak a lot, write a lot, literally. If you take a look at my previous works you'll see what I mean. Most of my works are with minimal visual expression but with many ideas to say. "Think until you have some ideas in your mind and then do something to support those ideas." This is my method to do creation and thus I use all kinds of media including photography, painting, installation...etc as long as they support my ideas. The medium itself is not important to me. Under this logic, every time I look at other artist's works, I try to understand what he/she is thinking, what ideas he/she presents, what he/she is saying. It's a delightful process because idea has its own beauty within. But in other words, I don't really see the beauty of the media.
However watching dancers gives me a different kind of experience. It's a world without words, a world without reasons, a world without explanations. When watching Ms. Lee's solo piece, some complicated emotions were aroused and I couldn't explain in words. The feeling was very pure and direct. I didn't have a clear explanation for it yet I didn't feel I need one. It was an instinctive response. I didn't need to understand/explain because I already felt/knew. Through the collaborative project, I got close to dance and dancers. I watched UbinDance and other dance groups' rehearsals. I watched them perform on the stages. And I worked with them together. I had a strong feeling that dancers find the answer through the practice of body movements. This feeling was especially clear when watching the improvisation practice. The bodies moved continually in the space and the movements led to other movements. Series of movements brought specific feelings. Those feelings are pre-conceptions before words so they don't require words to carry. Furthermore, words are not capable to carry such feelings. That's why dancers have to dance, instead of talk. This realization is probably my most valuable reward from the residency program. It inspires me "don't try to speak". Ms. Lee once told me her dance was criticized as "vague". I think, on the contrary, the vagueness is the beauty of dance. After all if we could explain everything clearly in words, we don't need any other kind of media except words. That's not true. We need something beyond the limitation of words. I admire dancers that are capable to deliver those in-explainable emotions through body movements and I feel very lucky to meet these people who inspire/stimulate me in a different way from my original field.
During residency, I traveled with UbinDance to a small town in south end of Korea. It's a wonderful trip. We drove 5 hours to that place. They performed there. Then we had dinner and had a lot of drink that nigh before we all got drunk. We talked a lot, laughed a lot. It's the moment I had a chance to know these dancers as "human". It's wonderful and I felt amazing how they "transform" to other things when dancing. There's a skinny girl in UbinDance. Skinny, always looked a bit sleepy and had a smile kind of silly and cute. Anyway she's a just like any other skinny girl, harmless! But when she closed her eyes and started to dance, she changed totally. She became something powerful, serious and stunningly beautiful. I'm fascinated by this transformation. It's the moment they ascend to another world, the world without words.