During her brief career, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951–1982) worked across media exploring how a sense of self is shaped by experiences of exile and displacement. Cha’s interests are distilled in Mouth to Mouth (1975) and Permutations (1976), on view in the Video Project Room. Mouth to Mouth shows the artist’s lips mouthing eight Korean vowels. Through this repetitive exercise, linguistic meaning is never achieved and the sense of blocked expression is underscored by the video static that obscures the image. In Permutations, an image of a woman (Cha’s sister) has a precarious presence, flickering in and out of visibility for the duration of the work.
Themes in Cha’s work stem from her biography. She left her native South Korea at age eleven when her family was displaced by the Korean War. They immigrated to America in 1962, spending a year in Hawaii before settling in San Francisco. Cha remained in the Bay Area throughout the 1970s, where she was influenced by her studies at the University of California, Berkeley; screenings of avant-garde experimental films at the Pacific Film Archive; and artists and filmmakers who shared her interest in rethinking standard forms of narrative expression. In 1980 Cha moved to New York where she lived until her death in 1982. Her book Dictée, published posthumously, integrates the narratives of real and fictional women who are portrayed through a collage-like array of texts and images. Throughout Cha’s work in video, film, writing, performance, and installation, techniques of interruption and fragmentation, disparate cultural references, and shifting perspectives often dislocate the viewer or reader, creating a parallel to what Cha described as “the imprint, the inscription etched” from her own migration.
Mouth to Mouth, 1975
Black and white video, sound; 8 min.
Black and white, 16 mm film on video, silent; 10 min.
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's films, including Permutations, were intended to be projected using a film projector. This work is a digital transfer from 16mm film and therefore deviates from the artist's original vision.
Courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.