Mar, piedras y karaoke / Sea, stones and karaoke

De marzo a junio del 2018, participé de Gapado Artist in Residence, en la pequeña isla Gapado, Corea del Sur. Ese lugar donde no crecen árboles por el fuerte viento, habitado por mujeres buceadoras y recolectoras de algas (haenyeo), me ofreció un encuentro privilegiado con el silencio y la naturaleza. Ante mi ignorancia del idioma coreano, opté por primero entablar relación con las piedras volcánicas que rodean la isla, luego con el perro de las cejas azules, Choronguí, y finalmente, con las buceadoras. En Gapado cada año se celebra el crecimiento de la cebada y la aparición del erizo, la única escuela tiene once alumnos y todas las casas tienen karaoke.

Between March and June, 2018, I was part of Gapado Artist in Residence, in the small island Gapado, South Korea. That place, where trees don´t grow ´cause of the strong wind, inhabited by diving and seaweed harvesting women (haenyeo), offered me a privileged encounter with silence and nature. Facing my lack of Korean knowledge, I decided to relate first with the volcanic rocks that surround the island, then with the blue eyelashes dog, Choronguí and finally with the divers. In Gapado each year is celebrated the growth of the barley and the coming of the sea urchin, the only school has eleven students and every house has a karaoke machine.

Atrapando volcanes son dibujos hechos en frottage sobre las superficies de las piedras volcánicas que rodean Gapado, que me impactaron mucho desde que llegué. Como la isla es pequeña, diariamente la recorría mirando las piedras y recogiendo los deshechos que varaba el mar. Los frottage producían formas abstractas que me recordaban a los test de Roschard (que se usan en psicología para interpretar las asociaciones que las personas hacen de las imágenes). Así que decidí entrevistar a mujeres buceadoras, y mostrarles los dibujos como si fueran esos test. Por eso el video Mar, piedras y karaoke empieza con una de ellas diciendo que no sabe nada de imágenes, pero poco a poco va viendo en los dibujos el mar, una roca, cuevas etc.

Catching volcanoes are drawings made in frottage on the surfaces of the volcanic rocks surrounding Gapado, which stroke me strongly. Since the island is tiny, each day I would walked its contour observing the stones y picking up the debris that the sea brought. The frottage produced abstract forms that made me think of Roschard`s test (used in psychology to interpret the associations people made of the images). So, I decided to interview the divers and show them the drawings. Thus, the video Sea, stones and karaoke begins with one of them saying that she doesn´t know anything about images, but slowly starts to see in the drawings the sea, a rock, a cave…

Las imágenes del video son inversiones de los frottage, de modo que parecen vistas satelitales, fotografías marinas etc. A partir de las asociaciones que las buceadoras hacían, conversamos sobre su relación con el mar y con su trabajo. Ellas comentan que tienen una vida muy dura, pues es un trabajo muy demandante. Ellas vivieron de niñas la guerra en Corea, y sólo se alimentaban algas para sobrevivir. Con el paso de los años, han logrado enviar a sus hijos e hijas a la universidad, y ahora éstas no quieren seguir el oficio de sus madres, una tradición de siglos en la zona. Así que probablemente estas mujeres de entre 50 y 80 años, sean la última generación de mujeres buceadoras en la isla. En el video también cantan sobre lo difícil que es su vida y cómo sus esposos gastan lo que ellas ganan en alcohol. Y hablan de un lugar al que van a hacer ritos con shamanas para estar seguras en el mar.

The images in the video are the negative versions of the drawings, resembling satellite views, marine photographies, etc. From the associations that the divers made, we discussed their relation with the sea and their job. They said they have a very hard life, since the job is so demanding. They lived the war as children, and only had seaweed to survive. With the passing of the years, they could send their sons and daughters to university, and now the daughters don´t want to follow their mother´s job, a tradition with centuries in the area. Probably then, this women between 50 and 80 years old will be the last generation of diver women in the island. In the video they also sing about their tough life and how their husbands spend in alcohol the money they earn. And they speak about a place where they go to make rites with shamans to be safe in the sea.

En Corea del Sur las shamanas son mayoría en relación a los shamanes, así como hay más diosas que dioses. Por eso decidí crear, con la basura que iba recogiendo en la orilla, restos de actividades pesqueras, esas especies de collares gigantes, que para mi eran como ofrendas contemporáneas para las diosas. Así, las Ofrendas marinas de hoy fueron hechas para proteger a la isla y a las buceadoras.

In South Korea the women shaman are majority in relation to the men, as well as there are more goddesses than gods. That´s why I made, with the garbage I picked from the shore, some kind of giant necklaces, that for me were like contemporary offerings for the goddesses. Thus, Today´s marine offerings were made to protect the island and their diver women.

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Curatorial text by Juwon Choi, assistant curator at Gapado Artist in Residence:

Without a doubt, the Gapado Island provides artists with a range of inspirations. A primary inspiration, among many, is an image of the “Haenyeo”: female divers who pick shells and such off of the ocean. During her three-month stay on the island, Eliana Otta must have found a profound narrative from the Haenyeos—splashing their webbed feet under the early morning sky, carrying a mountain-like weight of the harvested hijiki seaweed, and pushing their baby carriages through rainstorms and sea fogs.

Otta was concerned with the issue of appropriation when Otta decided to make her project on the Haenyeos. Jacques Rancière had once argued how all process that is particular to that of artistic order is, in fact, art in itself and how anything can be subjected as a form of art. Otta was wary of objectifying the Haneyos as the distinction between expressions appropriate for representation and those that are not disappears. Such process would have left only a superficial image that is warped by the foreign eye. I had therefore believed that subjecting the life of a Haenyeo should be considered carefully and not allow the exploitation of the Haenyeos as an image. I couldn’t allow myself to look over such ethical problem, a recurring problem in contemporary art, to continue on this island.

But Otta suggested an interesting approach that didn’t center on producing appropriated images of the Haenyeos. She aimed to suspend the subject matter through abstraction, which would provide a point of access for the audience to draw their own meanings out of its context—a work that provides abstract concepts to itself. Beyond my concerns, the significance of her work would lie on communicating with the Haenyeos on their lives and their aspirations and becoming their neighbors. It was undoubtedly earnest to find out that Otta wanted a deeper human connection with the Haenyeos that she passed by constantly. Her suggestion stemmed out of her daily experience of finding interest in the residents of the island. For the next few months Otta spent time with these women, talking about their day-to-day routines to their dramatic stories reflecting on the past. They were unique in that they didn’t care to aestheticize themselves and would speak rather crassly about the reality of their work. However, while listening to their lives under the roaring waves, Otta noticed their dreams and abstract ideals in them. She started her work for that abstract ideal—their values and convictions rather than their everyday reality–within the Haenyeos.

As a beginning, Otta made rubbings of different stones on the Gapado Island using charcoal on paper. The frottage, as developed by Max Ernst, is a process of abstracting the Haenyeo in its unconscious nature as a layer. Her conversations with the Hanyeos, while they looked at the frottage together, became archives of the meaning of abstraction through questions about dreams and faith in life. These accumulations of layers are then exhibited as a multi-channel video, which depicts the artist’s hands and the recorded voices of the Haenyeos. Such intersection of time-based image and sound suggests the audience something more than what it hottad been.

Consequently, Otta’s intentions are clearly portrayed through her attitude and process, allowing the natural procedure of the work to become a form of abstraction. The women Otta interviewed were intrigued by the abstract ideals that they carried with a genuine interest in the artist herself. One of the Haenyeos said that she never dreams of the sea but would sometimes remember the abalone that she had missed to pick before she falls asleep. She remembered everything about the abalone too clearly, from its depth to location underwater. And one night, she dreamt of picking an abalone that was the size of a human head. Her story illustrates the passion and conviction she has for her occupation. She wasn’t aware of the kind of abstract concepts, and she would not have been if it weren’t for the conversation with the artist; she discovered herself as a free-minded being. This was the moment of realizing self-actualization under the image of the Haenyeo, which is physical demanding and requires a rigid lifestyle. The self-discovery a meaningful process that the Haenyos could also enjoy, like a warm breeze to their hearts. It is difficult to find an artist like Otta who can bring such warmth into the community. Her questions such as “Have you ever dreamt of the sea?” harvests an honest intention that influences the Haenyeos and the audience. As the video reaches its end, our lives and the Haenyeos’ fades away into the sea fogs of the Gapado Island, leaving us with the abstractions of life.