“Wouldn’t this mother tongue be a sort of second skin you wear on yourself, a mobile home? But also an immobile home since it moves about with us?”1)
The work of Min Ye-eun begins from the concept of “mixed-blood thought.” This concept may be interpreted as appropriating the postcolonial notion of “cultural mixed-blood/hybridization (métissage culturel).” Having parents who studied in France, MIN was exposed early to French language, which contextualizes her integration of postcolonial studies-a theoretical framework deeply embedded in French history and thought. Familial influence in absorbing a language is portrayed as absolute in MIN’s work. There is a particular sensitivity to the various conditions surrounding the individual in their linguistic environment. For MIN, one of the most peculiar and enriching experiences of her multilingual home was the retrospective realization that words which were thought to be Korean were actually French. The artist focuses particularly on the hybridization of thought that is apparent in the language of her master’s thesis, which has become the cornerstone of her work. One such expression of this hybridization (a method of the mixed-blood thought concept) is the artist’s use of the name ‘nosiam’ which is created by reversing the letters of the French term for house, ‘maison’. The mixed-blood thought concept presented by the artist, however, appears to be a concept analyzable multilaterally, and capable of being privately owned. There is firstly a need to be cautious about immediately reverting to this concept as the cornerstone of MIN’s work. The artist clearly experienced being bilingual unconsciously, realizing only after becoming an adult, how the linguistic environment is able to influence the mind of a young individual. Upon reflection, however, no language whatsoever is able to avoid outside interference, for which. There are many reasons for the interference. There was a time in the 1970s and 80s when a cartoon series produced in Japan, would air as if it were created domestically, concealing its national origin. It was the same for comic books. Nowadays, copyright issues are highly sensitive, (only after liberation). Even until now, Korean society has faced the socio-cultural phenomenon of endless invasions of foreign languages. The surge in studying abroad, which began in the 1990s, showed a tendency to place importance on a foreign language over the native tongue. After several decades of this tendency, the foreign language skill is seen as directly correlated to social status. Accordingly, the concept of mixed-blood thought in MIN’s work, rather than being a culturally critical postcolonial perspective, questions the horizontal status of the mother tongue and the foreign language. This is based on both the hybridizing relationship between Korean-French and French-Korean language acquisition. To be aware of this hybridization of cultural entities requires a type of ultra-nationalism that extends beyond race.
In truth, when traveling the world away from the motherland, it is difficult to ultimately define one’s identity. The subject of hybridization is either always expected to prove one’s international identity or designated as a contaminant of one’s nationalism. The political philosopher Hannah ARENDT (1906–1975) who left Germany, her birthplace, to settle in the United States once stated that only her native tongue makes it possible to recollect her roots. Jacques DERRIDA (1930–2004), through the thoughts of ARENDT, characterized the native tongue as a final home. According to DERRIDA, “language also in that aspect is the first and the last condition of belonging, and language is also the experience of expropriation, of an irreducible exappropriation.”2) DERRIDA consistently argued that language, which is acquired and internalized regardless of one’s will, should be deconstructed. The reason being that language is not self-generated but rather, governed by established customs in which the language of the father must be unconditionally followed. For this reason, he writes for flexibility in comprehension rather than being restrained by language. Accordingly, language to DERRIDA originates from oneself and is estranged from oneself, and thus believed that meeting and parting with language could be carried out wherever an individual exists. That is, mixed-blood thought may be interpreted as perhaps a universal experience rather than a specific experience. Of course, the interpretation of such experience is multivalent.
The discourse on ‘home’ that MIN continuously features may be considered to have the same discursive value as ‘language’. The mixed-use and misuse, the intentional transposition of multinational languages may be considered a medium for connecting the world centered around oneself, and decidedly not a final home, to individual identity. MIN’s past works developed the mixed-blood concept through the assemblage of different cultures–among these works is Nosiam (2012) and Room (2013), which include questions around space and existence, public and private, universality and distinctiveness. The artist’s most recent work Lavihamahahyunchuchuhappyj33atomausepponssugizetteblackbyungddoukkeong···(2019) expands on the notion of hybridity even from its title. This incomprehensible, long, and endless title perhaps is a better representation of the fundamentals of the work than its physical assemblage of broken space, in which the boundary of the inside and outside is made ambiguous. Marcel DUCHAMP (1887–1968) is known for having transformed notions of function and aesthetics in artwork. MIN’s work, which is reminiscent of surrealist writing, is akin to DUCHAMP’s experiments in that they strategically transpose a given, stable context. MIN has lived amidst the mixed-use, misuse, and abuse of words since birth. Many of us do not use words with a clear comprehension of their meaning. This is in fact a key characteristic of language, and more so in the case of the native tongue. While learning a second language, we come to realize the meaning of our native tongue. If our native tongue is likened to an inside and the foreign language to an outside, could it be the two are not distinct but rather like two opposite mirror images facing each other? In fact, a language cannot be translated with exact symmetry. MIN’s Lavihamaha··· is a work of art that intends to invert the topology; the inside and the outside are turned inside out and upside down. The fragmented spaces which appear inappropriate as private spaces are reminiscent of a state in which two or more languages collide and cross compare their meanings with one another. Gaston BACHELARD (1884–1962) once stated: “The inside and the outside are both private. The two are always inverted with another and are prepared to exchange animosity. If there is a surface which may be a border between a certain inside and a certain outside, the borderland can be painful on both sides.”4) is an analogy for how the native tongue and the foreign language comprise themselves. The multiple languages, however, cannot be comprised as completely separated modules nor can they completely cease to exist. The “mixed-blood thought,” as the basis of this work, is in fact a phenomenon that is always present in the life of mankind. MIN focuses on the French word ‘entre-deux’, meaning “in-between,” as originated from a geographical concept. Between here and there–that is, a dual place which is both the bordering and connecting area–is also a sensitive cross-section where the inside and outside begins, and a line which divides the border. For example, when I reminisce about my childhood, I think back to how there were Japanese words that my grandmother and father particularly enjoyed using. I realized that these words, which have already become a part of my life, should not be used for fear of being regarded as anti-nationalist. Currently, these Japanese words are absent from public areas, but they still exist in the world of parole within subcultures and are still regenerated on an individual level. If historical and political ideology is applied to the privateness of inside and outside, the outside language entangled with the inside language may immediately become ‘otherness.’ It is time to ask why a kind of deliberate (formative) chaos is caused by removing borders and upsetting the inside and outside. From a visual perspective, a method of existing in a globalized era built on neoliberal ideology is presented through a paradoxical dialectic method of inside and outside. On the other hand, a discursive approach to native language appears to still be latent. Above all, we must ponder the complex dynamics of language inherent in the mixed-blood thought concept, how it is generated and how it ceases to exist.
1) Jacques DERRIDA, Of Hospitality, trans. NAM Sou In (Seoul: Dongmunseon, 2004), p.112.
2) DERRIDA, Op. cit., p.111.
3) Gaston BACHELARD, La Poétique de L’espace, trans. KWAK Kwangsou (Seoul: Dongmunseon, 2003), p.363.
4) DERRIDA, Op. cit., p.111.
JUNG Hyun obtained his Ph. D. degree from Pantheon-Sorbonne University in Paris with a dissertation on the “Relationships between the artist’s identity and the work”. He works as an art critic and independent curator. Through art criticism integrated with cultural research, he uses criticism as a means for learning, and considers curatorial practice a new method of knowledge production and a major research activity. His main publications include 《Global Art Market Critique》(Paju: Mimesis, 2016, co-authored),《Ready-Made Reality: Junebum Park’s Use of Videos》 (Seoul: Arts Council Korea, 2015), and 《Curatorial Discourse Practice》(Seoul: Hyunsil book, 2014, co-authored); curated the exhibition 《BODY MATTERS: Arts as Discourse, Performativity, Representation》 (Seoul Olympic Museum of Art, Seoul, 2016), and 《Time’s Underscore_The Republic of Korea’s 50 Years Seen Through the JoongAng Ilbo’s Images: 1965-2015》(Seoul Arts Center Hangaram Art Museum, Seoul, 2015). He is currently a professor in the Department of Fine Arts of the College of Art and Sports at Inha University.