Meeting with the artist
SAISON VIDEO 2019
Tuesday 2 april 2019 at 2:pm at ESA (Dunkerque/Tourcoing) – Hauts de France, 36 Bis rue des Ursulines
WESTERNIZED KOREANESS = HYBRIDIZATION, AND LOVE.
WESTERNIZED KOREANNESS = HYBRIDIZATION, AND LOVE develops a series of six tableaus presenting archetypal characters, actors in elementary ‘love stories’, where we find the ingredients of Korean dramas.
The narrative construction and the film genre vary from one tableau to the next. We thus pass through a varied sampling of typical genres, including:
-a closed session with dystopian overtones, where students in a classroom, guided by a cheerful teacher, decree and apply arbitrary rules in order to arrive at love at first sight;
-a thriller in which we follow a female spy looking for her vanished partner and lover;
-a romantic comedy against a backdrop of futuristic technology;
-a hybrid play in which a businessman struggles with an irrepressible love running counter to the values of the company he runs;
-a TV reality show which involves following a lieing woman looking for recognition;
-and last of all an historical fable summoning patriotic leaps and fantastic invaders.
The contingent nature of these love plots and the motif of the happy ending taking a sudden turn, are what these tableaus share in common. Faced with these narratives, we are prompted to wonder about the values and the consideration we grant to parameters of a narrative’s composition. What is more, we wonder what remains of the essence of the love feeling in the sphere of influence of a globalized culture offering models of ready-to-use categories.
This Chrystèle Nicot series was selected in 2018 in the Espace Séries d’Artistes at the Séries Mania Festival in Lille, as part of a partnership between Séries Mania, Saison Vidéo and Le Fresnoy.
Mo Gourmelon: how did the WESTERNIZED KOREANNESS = HYBRIDIZATION, AND LOVE project come into being?
Chrystèle Nicot: I was in Los Angeles a few years ago, in the Korean neighbourhood (called Koreatown). I knew nothing about Korean culture. But the plastic surgery temples, with their Graeco-Roman look, and the golfers outside who filled Western and Olympic Avenues, intrigued me. All that remained in a corner of my mind, until the moment when Netflix started to flood its catalogue with Korean dramas. I look at lots and lots of series, not in an assiduous way, but I really like knowing what’s out there.
Korean dramas haven’t escaped my furious click. But I didn’t understand anything about them. All the usual rules of western series, such as narrative continuity, and the use of a single genre, were done away with. That heightened my curiosity and I went there not really knowing what I might find. I discovered a deeply divided, tormented society, on the verge of schizophrenia. Their history was incredibly violent. People there change faces whenever they feel like it, using plastic surgery, trying to look like western models and drama stars, who are themselves inspired by other models. There was also a more than palpable social pressure: a pressure to succeed and be #1. And in all that muddle, an obsession with love shows through, or at least with what represents love. It was powerfully present. And in the end the desire to work on a project over there came to the fore, especially about that culture which is seemingly so ancient, but has been completely revamped by the West. After the North/South “ceasefire”, a certain hurry to win back history appeared, thereby introducing whiffs of nationalism. That society has managed to absorb a whole heap of references in order to re-construct itself, and from now on it is creating something stemming from the hybrid, not yet assumed, but nevertheless very present.
MG: Why do you use the term “tableau” instead of “episode”, which is commonly used to describe series?
CN: An episode leads to another episode, or at least to a continuity. In WKHL, there are of course crossovers, meaning recurrent characters and allusions between tableaus, but they remain static. In the very idea of the tableau, the story and what happens are perhaps less important that the components of that same tableau. And in the end this project questions composition. What is a genre composed of? What should an Historical Drama be made up of to be recognizable, easily assimilated, and so on?
MG: If viewers have at their disposal all the available tableaus, does this mean that they can opt for their own path, drawn there, I imagine, by such and such a title?
CN: Well the viewer is not that free, sadly (ha ha!). A pre-defined order is drawn up so as to underscore certain crossovers and balance all the videos which do not in the end all have the same intensity, if they were to be presented together at the same moment. TEENAGE DRAMA acts as something that opens up and introduces what will happen. In it we discover a classroom and a group of teens trying to define what they have felt, or rather what they haven’t felt. They start over again with references taken from Korean dramas, as if they were as significant as a Jean-Paul Sartre quote, or some other thinker. The teacher, who is as out of his depth as his students, positions himself on the same level as love-seeking confessions. They are lost, obsessed by a representation, by glints in the eye, and hope to have the famous butterflies. In a nutshell, after that opening, we find ourselves looking at a display, an array of love stories, which turns out to be the thread of this series of videos. The ending is systematically rushed towards a recourse to the happy ending, where everything fizzles out.
So the viewer’s freedom lies elsewhere, in the installation accompanying the videos, for example.
MG: So you’ve come up with a series designed more to be projected, in the form of an installation within a space, instead of an Internet series, for example, where the viewer faces a screen to trigger the tableaus, either in the order you’ve planned or in another order, making repetitions and accelerations easier…
CN: Series play on this desire to see the next episode. Netflix automatically encourages it, but you don’t have time to realize that you’ve just spent far too much time at it. Here it’s rather a bitter feeling that might be developed, because each video has an ending, and you don’t usually expect a series to end in ten minutes. These endings, incidentally, are systematically happy for their characters. There’s nothing else to hope for, no direct continuity. The group of six videos plays with the aesthetics of series and dramas, in this instance. It will be presented as an installation, where viewers can surf from one module to the next. They can discover other avenues, other links, than those given in the videos.
MG: How did you decide about this number of tableaus, six, and how did you go about putting them together?
CN: The decision about the number of tableaus was made on the basis of the places found and the time allotted. Then the writing really started from those places and their fictional power. Seoul is full of relatively strange things: a basketball pitch with a military airplane surrounded by large towers, the copy of an English university, a reconstruction of “petty France” France, granite statues borrowing the great themes of the Korean nation (family, homeland, work…), literally placed here, there and everywhere in the capital, like a memento addressing the populace. Lots of reconstructions, because the country (or Seoul at least) was more or less razed to the ground during the civil war, so the palaces from the Choson period have been mostly rebuilt. They are spanking new and in the end more like a Disneyland than an historical site. What’s more, you can see hordes of teenagers in them, dressed in so-called period costumes. They are in reality influenced by historical dramas and they fill their Instagram selfies and other platforms. These teenagers are not re-living History, but rather the history of these dramas, which is quite disturbing.
So, based on these places, objects representing a precise genre have been added, and concepts that I wanted to furtively mention. The whole thing was bound together by a story, a love story. Because 97% of Korean dramas are love stories, and I found that Korean vision of love fascinating, the central core just had to be that!
MG: How do you go about filming in South Korea? What kind of crew did you have? How do you get filming permits? Or do you get around all that?
CN: South Koreans are very attached to imagery, so there are very few, if any sound engineers and mixers. What’s more, for the dramas that whole part is usually processed/re-arranged in China. In the end it’s symptomatic of what happens over there. They pull out all the stops to visually wow people, but then?
To avoid a total disaster, the simplest solution seemed to be to bring in a French crew I already knew. There’d been quite a lot of misunderstandings with the actors about the very nature of the project and my identity. I’m an artist, not a director of dramas, and I had to minimize the damage with the technical crew! As far as filming permits are concerned, I was lucky enough to have a brilliant assistant on the spot; a little genius who spoke umpteen languages and had the soul of a producer. He was pretty good at pulling fast ones. In addition, we had help from institutions like The French Institute in Seoul, the Seoul Museum of Art, and the Song Eun Art Space. Getting around things like that was not really conceivable. I didn’t want to, and couldn’t, risk missing a day of shooting, because the timetable was extremely tight.