Woojae Kim combines his research on biology with somatic experiences. He is currently making Makgeolli to learn about microbiology, and the histories and relationships between living creatures and the land. Through words used in both scientific and cultural discussions, such as “colonization”, “culture” and “diversity”, he observes how we relate to each other and to non-human others. Kim received an MFA from Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College. He lives in Vancouver, on the unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ First Nations.
I Am Porous. And I Am Moved By You.
November 5–December 11, 2021
While Woojae Kim has been in residence at Artspeak over the past few weeks, he has been setting up the conditions to cultivate microorganisms to support the production of makgeolli (막걸리). Makgeolli is a Korean fermented rice wine that takes a minimum of 8 weeks to produce. Its taste and consistency are determined by the environmental conditions of its production. The process of making makgeolli reflects wider inquiries within Woojae’s artistic practice, and is analogous to the time and care that are required in the relationships we each maintain. These inquiries also extend to questioning the ways we use language. He notes that words such as colonization, biodiversity, diversity, and culture are all used in scientific contexts. These same words are also frequently used in wider socio-cultural contexts with very different interpretations. Querying our comprehension of these words and concepts, we are asked to unsettle and anchor these terms within specific material realities.
The full makgeolli making process requires methodical care and attention to cultivate and set the optimum conditions for the ‘good’ funghi to thrive. This process is detailed here*. The creation and establishment of the nuruk (누룩, fermentation starter) can take up to four weeks to cultivate fungi (desirable mold and yeast). Created from microorganisms of particular places, the nuruk in this installation contains bacteria from different areas: the neighbourhoods of Mt Pleasant, Pacific Spirit Park in Point Grey, and from in and around Artspeak. Set within a box to encourage mold cultivation, the nuruk requires specific conditions: resting on natural foliage foraged from a wooded area in and around Vancouver, within an ideal temperature of between 30-35 degrees Celsius. Once desirable mold colonies become settled, the nuruk is dried and mixed with rice to make makgeolli. This takes another 4 weeks as the nuruk breaks down the starch and proteins within the rice transforming it into makgeolli. The different batches are carefully labelled with dates and place, to monitor each step in the process.
The materials for the bricks and cups are also gathered and collected locally. The bricks, made from clay, sand, silt, and straw, are constructed in a way that holds, but from material that will easily disintegrate. The cups are made from clay gathered along the Fraser River, near Fort Langley. Like the bricks, their material composition also allows them to decompose naturally. These material decisions are guided by his own consideration of his position here as an uninvited settler to these lands on unceded territories.
Photographic prints that fade are images that refuse permanent capture. Using a chlorophyll printing process, the rate at which the series of photographic prints will fade is dependent upon their exposure to UV light. Making his own chlorophyll solution, Woojae extracts dark deep greens from particular plants. The material composition of the chlorophyll solution ensures that the visibility of the image only remains temporarily.
This temporal aspect of Chlorophyll Prints counteracts the function of photographic processes to capture and to fix. Building in the degradation of the image over time loss of clarity contests the formal document’s reliability to carry the true memories and stories surrounding the production of the image. The refusal of a permanent record only grants viewers a temporary glimpse. The prints are of the artist’s family. Their presence in the space is significant. Over the past couple of years Woojae has been regularly connecting with his Grandmother in Korea, with much of their time spent sharing recipes and cooking together. The images that hold steady regardless of material conditions are frequently the ones that refuse to fade from memory.
Over the course of his residency, Woojae has been recording sounds from the different stages of the process of making makgeolli. These recordings were sent to artist William Bradley, who created new compositions. Powered by a solar panel, the handheld device is weighted by a rock and plays compositional variations. The sound compositions allow us to become attuned to the activity of the microorganisms, and of their work in breaking down the starch and protein of the rice as it is transformed into makgeolli.
Listening in this way proposes thinking and observing at another scale. These compositions capture the emergent, recurring, repetitive process of production, on a path towards material transformation. Transformation occurs beyond words, beyond definition, at a different sensory scale of comprehension.
There’s a sense that the works in the space are inching towards the window, towards the sun. They require specific conditions to exist. They cannot be contained and isolated in the space. Nuruk needs the sun, warmth, and humidity to thrive; the sound composition device relies on the solar panel as a source of energy; and the Chlorophyll Prints are to be exposed to UV light to render their image temporary. Working with live organisms requires a close and careful negotiation of place. Their continually shifting needs and characteristics demands a nuanced understanding of how to achieve stability within specific environmental conditions. These negotiations reveal deeper time scales, layers of history and stories of place. They are a reminder that we are only passing through temporarily, sharing this place with other humans, non-humans, and the more than human.
Postscript 80: Sean Alward, Laiwan, and Marina Roy on Woojae Kim
I Am Porous. And I Am Moved By You: a tasting, and a reading
December 2–December 4, 2021
December 2, 6-8pm
December 4, 4-6pm
To attend please book via Eventbrite. Each event will be limited to 10 people, in order to maintain appropriate health and safety protocol.
Serving homemade drinks to guests is considered the highest form of hospitality in Korea. It was said that people could tell a family’s character by the taste of their liquor. Sharing drinks with each other is an important gesture of friendship in Korean culture. It is an invitation to participate in hospitality. I ask in whose hospitality do we share? Is it my hospitality, through which I laboured for weeks to create makgeolli for others? Is it Artspeak who hosts the event? Is it the microbes that magically turn rice into wine? Is it the land and water that support the organisms? Is it the people who have stewarded the land for a long time?