Gallery displays name cards from the edge of society

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Gallery displays name cards from the edge of society

A person’s name is something more than just a thing they say in an introduction. For a pair of women artists at Sempio Space’s exhibition “Can I Imagine Myself?” it’s a way of defining one’s identity.
The project, held in a gallery that belongs to a local soy sauce manufacturer, explores the collective struggles of female factory workers trying to find their place in society.
“Souvenirs of Everyone,” by Bae Seong-mi and Choi Yeong-suk, is an installation made of 161 individual name cards designed for an equal number of female factory workers, each card framed and worked into the monumental sculpture.
To the side is a separate installation of self-designed name cards by the factory workers. Each card has a print of images or text that the artists asked the participants to provide to define themselves. Some mention their favorite moments in life, others, images stuck in their mind.
But each card is unique, whether it contains a biblical phrase or a comforting image found in a temple, a map indicating places in the world they’ve traveled to or stories that reflect personal issues in the women’s lives.
They were printed on the same style of name cards that were given to higher-ranking employees of the women’s company.
The exhibition explores the social identities of female factory workers and how their lives have been marginalized from mainstream society.
Of course, the show draws on historical references, as the images of factory workers force the audience to reflect on South Korea’s economic development, when women defined their roles with respect to marriage and motherhood while their roles at work in the nation’s factories also played a critical part in the country’s economic growth.
Adding to the mood of the show is the fact that the gallery is located in a factory on the outskirts of Seoul, a place that reveals how their lives have been marginalized not just socially but also geographically.
The artists play with the idea of space. They pasted phrases in Korean on the automatic sliding doors at the entrance of the gallery. The phrases quote the statements of factory workers who were interviewed for the project. The phrases read, “I can’t witness myself. I can’t observe myself. I can’t imagine myself,” a not-to-subtle nod at the participants’ lack of confidence.
Yet as the door opens, the words “I can’t” disappear into the grooves of the door, leaving the meaning of the phrase open.
The result is quite touching, as visitors find themselves facing the gallery as soon as the door opens, eyeballing the works the participants have created, hearing the mixed sounds of laughter and the voices of chatting women that the artists have recorded while the women were at work in a factory.


by Park Soo-mee

“Can I Imagine Myself” runs through Feb. 15 at Sempyo Space. For more information, call (031) 644-4615 or go to www.sempiospace.com.
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