Last night (Friday) I went to the first performance of Sung Hwan Kim’s In the Room 3, a mix of improvised storytelling, live drawing, music, ephemeral chalk drawings, looped video and prerecorded performances. Topics and themes ranged from scary stories about misshapen dogs and foxes, to narratives about family relations and cultural displacement. If I were to give you a play-by-play of everything that happened in the performance, you probably wouldn’t believe me, but the mishmash of off-the-wall topics, hand rendered imagery and strangely distorted but haunting music is remarkably effective. I realized halfway through Kim’s performance that, while I love Daniel Barrow and Shary Boyle’s work, I’ve become very accustomed to linear, narrative approaches to live drawing and storytelling that seem much quieter and calmer in the face of Kim’s cacophony and circular narratives. His approach was refreshingly direct and the all-encompassing atmosphere of the completely darkened, silent gallery space felt like it borrowed much more from theatre or dance traditions than visual arts, inviting the audience into a state of suspended disbelief and quiet anxiety.
While Friday night’s performance was packed (many pass holders didn’t make it in, such were the lineups, though an all-star cast of Toronto video and film folksÃ¢â‚¬â€œ-including AGYU director Philip Monk, Power Plant curator Helena Reckitt, OCAD Professional Gallery curator Charles Reeve, independent curator Pamela Meredith, most of the Images staff and fellow blogger Andy Paterson–did find seats inside) and Saturday’s promises to be equally popular, there is still a chance to catch Kim’s work. “In the Room,” the exhibition inspired by his performance work, continues at Gallery TPW until May 2nd and on Sunday, April 5, Kim is participating in the public Q & A session Talk to the Pie 3 along with his collaborator dogr (aka David Michael DiGregorio) at the Gladstone Hotel.
In the meantime, I caught up with TPW curator Kim Simon about her thoughts on Kim’s performance, its translation into an exhibition and working in the (literal) dark.
Gabby Moser: At the first performance of In the Room 3 last night, the setup of the gallery space was quite unusual and there were several parameters put in place for viewers: like turning off our cell phones, not creating any light to disturb the presentation, not speaking or leaving the gallery, being careful not to disturb chalk drawings on the wall, etc. Can you describe what the setup process was like for the gallery and how these parameters contribute to the experience of the performance?
Kim Simon: The set up was developed over the course of two weeks. One week was for preparations on the gallery’s part — painting, building the underlying pieces of the set, prepping tech as much as possible. The next week was for Sung [Hwan Kim], David [Michael DiGregorio] and Byungjun [Kwon] to work in the space together, which allowed Sung to develop the components for what will remain as the exhibition and also the three of them doing as much rehearsing of the performance as they could squeeze in in that time. This means that the installation was developed at the same time as conceiving of how the audience would move through and sit in the space for the performance. Of course, it seems like there are a lot of rules and some confusion when you first enter the space for the performance — the light is very dim, you have to duck under pieces of the installation, you can’t lean on the walls and then people have to sit on the floor face to face with the artists already sitting very nearby on stage. Ultimately I think once people settle and have a moment to take in the environment this adds to their experience of the performance.
GM: We discussed earlier how our seats in the audience determined our individual points of view of the performance: the way some positions give a “global” view and others a “fragmented” one, and how several people stood up at different points to try and get a more complete look at the performance. How do you think that physical experience relates to Kim’s performance and approach to his work?
KS: There’s no doubt that the performance is an incredibly layered work that can be entered at many levels. My view from the audience was certainly partially obstructed by the crowd but there was an amazing energy sitting close together on the floor and I know that physical relationship between people in the room is important to Sung. What makes the work remain intact as a whole even if your vision is obstructed is that, in large part, In the Room 3 is a concert and the use of sound and music is extremely rich in of of itself. That said, I hope I have the chance to sit in a different spot tonight to see it in a new way.
GM: The theme of TPW’s event programming this year is “You had to be there,” which examines the relationship between liveness and images through a series of one time or ephemeral events. How will Kim’s performance of “In the Room” be translated into a month-long exhibition? Do you think viewers will have “had to be there” for the performance in order to fully understand or experience the exhibition?
KS: The exhibition will have elements of the performance staging left intact as well as all of the installation components in the space. The primary video from the performance will be on view as well as another single channel video not seen in the performance. So it’s well worth coming to the gallery over the course of April, even if you did get to see the performance already. While the installation alludes to something else having happened there (that you may have missed) I think this plays off of a kind of desire and mythologizing that functions well with the content of the work. Further, Sung Hwan Kim’s single channel work still embodies aspects of his performance work and some sense of his close collaboration with musician David Michael DiGregorio, so you should have a pretty rich experience with the exhibition. But indeed, the actual performance is one of kind, for that unique experience you have to be there.