History of Emotion / Emotion of History

Old Work between 2009-2014

History of Emotion/Emotions of Histories 
Participatory Project

Photos by Sandra Derr (top), HyunSook Kim (middle), and SooMyung Yang (bottom)

History of Emotions / Emotions of Histories is a performance, documentation, and communication project involving smell. I attempt to include more than visual information to invite various perspectives. In this project I borrow an individual’s memory as an archival site for the performance, more particularly as a site for smell to stay. At the same time, I try to record individuals’ experiences through their senses by having them write their memories. The collective records that would include individual experiences rather than mere information of happening may expand the ways of experiencing the events.

History of Emotions is the performance part. The performance conveys my personal, and cultural dialogues through traditional Korean elements such as a source of the smell, an Earthware pot, and my posture; I carry the Korean pot Onggi, which is usually used for fermented food, on the top of my head, slowly walking down public spaces for 30 minutes. The pot is open and fully filled up with odorous fermented sauces, which are culturally, and personally available to me, such as soy-sauce, and vinegar; the liquid spills over my face and body while I walk, which makes me unable to see. Tears keep coming out of my eyes automatically to wash my eyeballs. During the performance, the smell soaks in my body and reaches to the audience. 

Emotions of Histories is the documentation part: Following the performance, an assistant passes out a pre-stamped postcard to each audience member who witnesses the performance. I ask ‘… could you share your experiences of the performance with my family in S. Korea?’ through the postcard. In this way, the audience is able to document their views, feeling and parts of their memories related to the event. Each response reveals personal experiences as well as uncertainty about what one knows or experiences. 
After the event, my family members received the postcards from the audience and saw several photo documentations of my performance through a social media. I asked them to respond to what they saw and read to convey the invisible contents they learned through the audience’s postcards.

As a result, my mother promised to Columbus, O.H. and cook for me. My mother noticed that many people talked about ‘the smell’ of my performance, and their personal memories merging with the smell when she read their postcards. As she encountered the foreign language, English, written in the postcards and the foreign country seen in photographs, she recalled a TV show she watched before. In the show, there was a Korean international adoptee looking for her biological parents. What touched my mother was that even though the person was unable to speak Korean and remember her parents, she remembered smells and tastes of foods she ate right before separated from her biological parents. My mother was connected to such the moment. She said that there would be no words to describe what it was like for those parents to cook for and feed their child who was about to be apart from them forever. She thought that since I have been apart from my mother for a long time I might have missed ‘mom’s food’. She wanted to feed me: cooking was the best thing she thought she could do for me now.