Upon seeing her you know how it was for her. You know how it might have been. You recline, you lapse, you fall, you see before you what you have seen before. Repeated, without your even knowing it. It is you standing there. It is you waiting outside in the summer day.
– Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee, 1982
Jeju Island is located fifty miles to the south of the Korean Peninsula. Its lava rock coast was formed more than a million years ago by an underwater volcanic eruption. The past is a foreign country, as the saying goes, yet the spectres of Japanese colonisation and subsequent American military occupation, state violence, and massacre cast their long shadows over Jeju Island, which finds itself once again at the crosscurrents of ongoing processes of militarisation, land dispossession, and environmental degradation.
In her debut UK solo exhibition ‘Halmang’, at esea contemporary, internationally acclaimed artist Jane Jin Kaisen unveils her visually striking, polyphonic moving-image works which stem from extensive interdisciplinary research. Presented in the historic Market Buildings – once the Victorian fish market of Smithfield – the exhibition intricately connects its location with Kaisen's ancestral ties to Jeju Island, where her mother and grandmother made a living as haenyeo, the island’s women sea divers who harvest seafood from the ocean. By weaving together oceanic cosmology and landscape, the exhibition becomes a vessel for narrations, pushing against the erosion of remembrance in the course of modernisation.
Themes of memory, migration, borders, and translation have long been the cornerstones of Kaisen’s artistic practice. Through the rhythms that emanate from songs performed by minority communities and the sound of crashing waves, works in the exhibition evoke Jeju Island as both a cartographically situated place and as a movingly spiritual one, wherein politics and gendered social norms are reproduced far beyond the island's shores. The exhibition’s title ‘Halmang’ is borrowed from the eponymous central piece in the show. In Jeju, halmang refers to the island’s many shamanic goddesses as well as grandmothers, but it is also a respectful form of address for women; the exhibition is an inquiry into multiple perspectives on displacement and gendered histories. Born on Jeju Island, Kaisen was transnationally adopted to Denmark at three-month-old. Returning to Jeju in her adult life, Kaisen engaged with the island’s genocidal Cold War history, its natural environment and enduring spiritual culture from a multi-layered, transnational feminist lens.
This exhibition is conceived by Xiaowen Zhu and curated by Dot Zhihan Jia, with generous support from Arts Council England, GMCA, and the Danish Arts Foundation. The public programme is in partnership with the School of Digital Art (SODA), Manchester Metropolitan University. Artist Assistant: Pauline Koffi Vandet.
Jane Jin Kaisen (born 1980 in Jeju Island, lives in Copenhagen) is a visual artist, filmmaker, and Professor of the School of Media Arts, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.
Spanning the mediums of video installation, narrative experimental film, photographic installation, performance, and text, Kaisen’s artistic practice is informed by extensive interdisciplinary research and engagement with diverse communities. She is known for her visually striking, multilayered, performative, poetic, and multi-voiced feminist works through which past and present are brought into relation. Engaging topics such as memory, migration, borders, and translation, she activates the field where lived experience and embodied knowledge intersect with larger political histories. Through multi-year projects and collaborations, she has engaged topics such as transnational adoption, the Korean War and division, the Jeju April Third Massacre, and Cold War legacies. Another recurring focus revolves around nature and island spaces, cosmologies, feminist re-framings of myths, and engagement with ritual and spiritual practices. Working from the thresholds of mediums and forms, disciplines and sensibilities, her works negotiate and mediate the means of representation, resistance, and recognition, thus contouring alternative genealogies and sites of collective emergence.
Kaisen is a recipient of the New Carlsberg Foundation Artist Grant (2023) and a 3-year work grant from the Danish Arts Foundation (2022). She represented Korea at the 58th Venice Biennale with the film installation Community of Parting (2019) in the exhibition History Has Failed Us, but No Matter curated by Hyunjin Kim. She was awarded “Exhibition of the Year 2020” by AICA - International Association of Art Critics, Denmark for the exhibition Community of Parting at Kunsthal Charlottenborg. Kaisen has participated in the biennials of Liverpool, Gwangju, Anren, Jeju, among others. Recent solo exhibitions include ‘Jane Jin Kaisen: Braiding and Mending’ at The Image Centre (2023), ‘Of Specters or Returns’ at Le Bicolore (2023), ‘Currents’ at Fotografisk Center (2023), ‘Parallax Conjunctures’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (2021), ‘Community of Parting’ at Art Sonje Center (2021) and Kunsthal Charlottenborg (2020). Other recent exhibitions and screenings include: ‘Dislocation Blues: Jane Jin Kaisen’, Tate Modern (2023), ‘Ceremony (Burial of an Undead World)’, Haus der Kulturen der Welt (2022), ‘Checkpoint: Border Views from Korea’, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg (2022), ‘Unmoored Adrift Ashore’, Or Gallery Vancouver (2022).
She holds a PhD in artistic research from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Art and Cultural Studies, an MFA in Interdisciplinary Studio Art from the University of California Los Angeles, an MA in Art Theory and Media Art from The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, and she participated in the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program.
Other exhibition and screening venues include: Kunsthal Århus, Nikolaj Contemporary Art Center, The National Museum of Photography (DK), Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlinale, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Times Art Center, Museum Ludwig, Videonale (DE), Asian Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, Gana Art New York, DePaul Art Museum (USA), ARKO Art Center, Seoul Museum of Art, Incheon Art Platform, Seoul New Media Art Festival, Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, Asia Culture Center, Coreana Museum of Art, DMZ International Documentary Film Festival (KR), Silencio Club, Palais de Tokyo, Foundation Fiminco (FR), Malmö Konstmuseum, Malmö Konsthall, Inter Arts Center, Kalmar Art Museum (SE), Sørlandet Art Museum and Oslo Kunstforening (NO), Finnish Museum of Photography (FN), ParaSite (HK), Kyoto Arts Center, Kyoto Museum of Art, Fukuoka Museum of Art, Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, (JP), Times Museum Guangzhou, Beijing 798 Art Zone (CN), Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Art, Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival (TW), Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (PH), The National Gallery (Indonesia), and Townhouse Gallery (EG).