Peace Light (2018)

Peace Light by Sueyeun Juliette Lee with collaborative performance by Jungwoong Kim was commissioned by Asian Arts Initiative as part of their 25th Anniversary project, (ex)CHANGE: History, Place, Presence. Major support for (ex)CHANGE: History, Place, Presence was provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Motivated by urgent issues of Korea’s well being and a desire to bridge what happens on the Korean Peninsula and our lives here, this installation featured a large-scale installation of lanterns designed by Kai Wei Hsu that I covered in poetry. A large weather balloon floated overhead, serving as the projection surface for a video piece dedicated to crossing impossible spaces, connection, and peace. In collaboration with local choreographer/dancer Jungwoong Kim with music by Ben Bennett, the installation was incorporated into a site-specific performance piece presented on May 3-4, 2018 in Philadelphia.

I gave a podcast interview to Artblog Radio about this work that you can listen to.

This installation was reviewed by Alexandra Chang for the Asian American Literature Review.

The poetry that I composed over the lanterns was made possible with contributions by fellow Korean Americans Leo Hwang, Erinrose Mager, Asialee Drews, Chiwan Choi, Janice Lee, Seonyeong Shin, Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Bekhyon Yim, Lee Herrick, and Miliann Kang. I sent them a short survey, culling from their responses and my own original writing.

The following images courtesy of Phil Cho and Asian Arts Initiative.

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Below is the video piece that I created for the installation and projected on the weather balloon.

From my initial artist statement for Peace Light: 

Peace Light is an installation, video projection, and live performance dedicated to a unified vision for global peace. The installation is comprised of a white weather balloon floating over 8 handmade paper lanterns, lined up so as to create a performance space beneath the balloon. The lanterns, co-designed and manufactured by designer and builder Kai Wei Hsu, will be covered in hand-written poetry and messages for peace. A video piece will project on the surface of the balloon, and the installation will include two live performances presented with dancer Jungwoong Kim.

Audience members are invited to stand beneath the balloon and in the center of the lanterns’ light. The lantern light will be infused with poetic messages, which will bathe visitors’ bodies and join their own wishes for peace—these collected visions and dreams imaginatively rise up into the balloon. The video projection will include images of contested landscapes—as well as my movement work with Jungwoong Kim, informed by the traditional Korean salp’uri dance, which is a dance of healing. Some of the language on the lanterns and recited in the video projection will invite audience members to imagine the balloon rising beyond the installation space and far into the sky, drifting over the entire earth. The balloon’s ability to leave the ground figuratively represents how the unified vision for peace invites us to transcend socio-political boundaries and enter a truly free state of being; the boundless sky.

I was inspired by reports that North Korea had launched balloons filled with cigarette butts into South Korea as retaliation for propaganda that South Korea had been sending over the DMZ. What we know as the nation-state of Korea has a long history of using the sky as a medium for transmitting messages related to its boundaries and cultural identity; in the 17th century, General Yi famously used kites to relay tactical messages to his turtle ships, which held off a Japanese invasion. Peace Light asks us to reimagine our relationship to this boundary-less element of air and see how its freedom and boundlessness invites us to cast free the borders we set between ourselves and in our hearts.

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