Review: Seo Hyun-suk

Originally published in Art in Culture, October 2011 (reprinted here with permission)

The Divine Prostitution of the Soul, by Seo Hyun-Suk

Rosemary Wedding Hall, September 18 and 25, 2011


Having experienced Seo Hyun-suk’s work Heterotopia I knew that The Divine Prostitution of the Soul would be an interactive performance, choreographed with seamless care for both his ideas and his audience. Seo, like a wizard behind the curtain, once again provided a framework of critical interventions, without needless explanations, showing his gifted skill in sited and performance practices. Without knowing if he will restage this work, I hesitate to convey too many details, because here the details are everything, and unless you experienced it, a catalog of its events will fall far short of its intelligent content, theatrical intentions and cinematic impact.


Even before entering the Rosemary Wedding Hall, the arc of this performance began to reveal itself in this starting point. On the threshold, participants were escorted one by one into a bride’s receiving room on the side of Rose Hall, one of the several rooms inside the Rosemary Wedding Hall. While waiting in the lobby, other guests who had already entered could be seen exiting the Rose Hall’s main entrance, walking hand in hand out onto the street, with unsmiling, willowy figures dressed in black. These somber pairs gave off the feeling of a funeral rather than a wedding, and prepared participants for the despair, and unceremonious narrative that was to follow.


After taking a seat inside, one of the black clad escorts soon came to sit next to me and softly tell me a story. We didn’t make eye contact, and although I could hear what she said, I already had the feeling of being dissociated from her. All the while a piano tuner loudly played the same key over and over, monotonously drumming out the fey messenger at my side. The distance created by her anonymity was later replaced by earplugs, which deafened both her voice and the sounds of the street. Regardless of how close she came, from the start she talked, but never really to me, her voice projected out onto an empty space. Later as the sun was setting, moving through the winding network of paths, I felt I was in a dream, following, then chasing, this figure who like a ghost or a butterfly, led and directed, but also changed and then disappeared.


Through the three stations of the performance the butterfly ghosts, however ethereal, drag the participants, isolated by earplugs, then earphones, across a grubby surface away from the comforts of that most glossy and scripted of event sites into a world predicated on luck and hard choices; cheap spaces and ugly encounters. There desires that will not and cannot be realized are replaced by the necessity and the sorrow. Her voice and your fate become a dreamed voix acousmatique [1] one that cannot be captured for even as it was recorded, it was erased and replaced by another’s, as her story was repeated over and over. Like the bachelors of Duchamp’s Large Glass the participants never reach her, even when we could hear her, we remained ignorant of her, as her words fell away.


Because The Divine Prostitution of the Soul can be understood as contrasts between the new and the old, the self-conscious and the unconscious, distances and imminences, the very spirit of each participant is the site of this performance, not merely the disconnection between the blind values of the modern wedding hall and the alienating life of the streets shadowed behind it. Seo’s site-specific, participatory performance in this way stretches out across the subjective experience of the collective participants. In situ, our voyeurism of these spiritual crimes is annexed making us complicit, if only for our refined ignorance, but certainly for our pretense of interest in such matters. Still, Seo does this all so quietly that these encounters seem done so with the aid of magic. Is what Seo does magic? At the very least, his works are magical, even when they expose us so.

[1] A term describing the disembodied or invisible voice coined by in Michel Chion in his book Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen (Columbia University Press, New York, 1994).