[New Horizons] Swiss-Korean dance 'Alone Together' juxtaposes reality and cyberspace

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[New Horizons] Swiss-Korean dance 'Alone Together' juxtaposes reality and cyberspace

″Alone Together″ by Anna Anderegg, to be performed at Eunam Museum of Art in Gwangu from Feb. 26 to March 3, as part of the Swiss Pavilion at the 13th Gwangju Biennale. [NICOLE PFISTER]

″Alone Together″ by Anna Anderegg, to be performed at Eunam Museum of Art in Gwangu from Feb. 26 to March 3, as part of the Swiss Pavilion at the 13th Gwangju Biennale. [NICOLE PFISTER]

"Alone Together," the Swiss-Korean dance performance to be showcased for the first time at the 13th Gwangju Biennale, speaks of our experiences in the pandemic.
 
Four female performers, some holding up laptops, tablets or phones, will perform at Eunam Museum of Art in Gwangju from Feb. 26 to March 3, in Anna Anderegg’s “Alone Together."
 
The movements of the performers are visible in person and also in the screens of the devices they're holding. It's up to the audience to decide whether the movements together make up parts of a whole, or whether there are no intended connections.
 
“I see cyberspace as an extension of public space — a place where we meet, a place where we encounter each other, where we meet like-minded people,” said Anderegg, herself a choreographer and dancer from Switzerland, in presenting the concepts of her work at the Swiss Embassy in Korea on Feb. 9.
 
Anna Anderegg, Swiss choreographer and dancer, speaks with the Korea JoongAng Daily on Feb. 9. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Anna Anderegg, Swiss choreographer and dancer, speaks with the Korea JoongAng Daily on Feb. 9. [PARK SANG-MOON]

“So if we spend so much time being connected to people far away, what does it do to the people who are actually close? Are we disconnected to the people who are next to us? How do we interact with each other?”
 
These are the questions that Anderegg and her team of dancers, architects and sound designers from parts of Europe and Korea will try to answer through their five-hour performance of “Alone Together” at the Gwangju Biennale.
 
The Korea JoongAng Daily recently sat down with Anderegg and Francoise Gardies, senior cultural program officer at the Swiss Embassy in Korea. Gardies has been instrumental in bringing together Anderegg with Kunsthaus Pasquart, the Swiss organizer of the Swiss Pavilion at the Gwangju Biennale, and its counterpart Eunam Museum of Art. Gardies is also the spouse of Ambassador of Switzerland to Korea Linus von Castelmur.
 
The following are edited excerpts of the interview, during which Anderegg and Gardies relayed their journey of piecing together an artwork across oceans and explained how it was possible not only despite the pandemic but because of it.
 

It was weird to find ourselves with a concept that has become more meaningful because of what was happening around us all over the world. 

 
How did you conceive the ideas for “Alone Together”?
Anna Anderegg: It was in October 2019 when I heard from Francoise about the possibility of doing a project in Korea. I was interested in the digital aspect of physicality, in creating a concept of a body that melts into a digital body and having an ambiguity between these two textures. Then three months later, we found ourselves locked in [because of the pandemic]. It was weird to find ourselves with a concept that has become more meaningful because of what was happening around us all over the world.
 
There are several layers to the performances, the more visible of which being the performances in person contrasting with the recorded performances on the screens of the electronics that are incorporated into the act. How did you come to design these elements?
Anderegg: We are in a way challenging this aspect of staging myself in social media, or online, where we try to curate how our lives look to the outsiders. Not to give too much away about the performance, I will just mention that we tried to make the video-recorded movements on the screens very human and natural, while having the [in-person] physical movements over-aestheticized and almost digital and not human.
 

How were you able to manage putting together a performance with dancers from different parts of the world during the pandemic?
Anderegg: When we arrived in Korea, we were all quarantined separately. So we were doing 14-day Zoom rehearsals. This was very interesting as the project couldn’t have happened without technology, yet our project was about questioning our relationship with it. They were difficult conditions [to work in], but on the other hand the perfect set-up for this work, as it showed our dependence on technology and how we have created our lives around it.


″Alone Together″ by Anna Anderegg, to be performed at the Eunam Museum of Art in Gwangu from Feb. 26 to March 3, as part of the Swiss Pavilion at the 13th Gwangju Biennale. [NICOLE PFISTER]

″Alone Together″ by Anna Anderegg, to be performed at the Eunam Museum of Art in Gwangu from Feb. 26 to March 3, as part of the Swiss Pavilion at the 13th Gwangju Biennale. [NICOLE PFISTER]

I thought it would be interesting to approach architecture from the very specific angle of dance.

What led you to think of Anderegg when the embassy was planning a Swiss-Korea collaboration for the Swiss Pavilion at the Gwangju Biennale?
Françoise Gardies: It was in Seoul that I first saw the work by Anna, at the Seoul Street Art Festival in 2017. Called “Tape Riot,” it was an impressive appropriation of human space by two dancers. The work struck me because of the strong emotion and strength it radiated. Set in the center of Seoul, two female dancers, fragile-looking yet extremely strong at the same time, were dancing against these walls, where tapes were being placed and displaced constantly. It seemed like they were fighting against the borders both invisible and visible, and it said a lot about power of women.
Later, in January 2020, I discovered Anna’s special relationship with Korean architects and artists, through her participation in Sara Kim’s project, “Designed by Another Architect.” The cultural policy at the Embassy of Switzerland has defined thematic priorities: Architecture in a sustainable environment is among them.
Anna’s work questions the presence of the human body in light, space, volume, movement — these are the ways in which she apprehends the human body in its habitat and environment. I thought it would be interesting to approach architecture from the very specific angle of dance and to share with the Korean audience the aesthetic and radical experience of a choreography by Anna.
The framework for the work was found when I met Kim Sun-jung, president of the Gwangju Biennale Foundation, when she presented the Pavilion Project to me. The project is the ideal setting because it gives complete artistic and organizational freedom.
 
Tell us more about the architectural setting of the performance. Like “Tape Riot,” will “Alone Together” also give freedom to the artists to create and recreate boundaries for their performances?
Anderegg: We needed to come up with the setting that can be set up very quickly anywhere, that is also light and compact for traveling, but also able to create a sense of volume when set up. So it was very clever of Sara Kim to be able to come up with this structure that is aluminum and light and can work with different lightings to fill a space differently. It also has a modular system that we can assemble differently depending on the given space. The audience will feel this in the performance: The setting was designed so that it helps blur the boundary between the performers and the audience, it could be quite unclear who is performing and who is watching.
 

Five hours of constant performing sounds like it could be a challenge for the dancers. Can you walk us through how that was designed?
Anderegg: The artistic material was designed so that you can survive five hours without having severe physical struggles. But in discussion with the other artists, I found that what was actually most challenging [for us] was to stay accurate and concentrated because the material changes drastically in each scene and you have to make a very quick transition on the spot. And a lot of our movements involve isolation, where one body part is doing something completely different from another. So it requires a lot of concentration.
 
″Alone Together″ by Anna Anderegg, to be performed at the Eunam Museum of Art in Gwangu from Feb. 26 to March 3, as part of the Swiss Pavilion at the 13th Gwangju Biennale. [NICOLE PFISTER]

″Alone Together″ by Anna Anderegg, to be performed at the Eunam Museum of Art in Gwangu from Feb. 26 to March 3, as part of the Swiss Pavilion at the 13th Gwangju Biennale. [NICOLE PFISTER]

Is there a reason why all performers are women?
Anderegg: We were interested in the idea of so-called “doing gender,” that the idea of what is male is socially constructed, rather than biologically. If there are attributes that I can learn as a woman to be like a man, I thought that they could be something I can appropriate [for the performance]. Initially we thought of images of what we think are ideally men, and we started taking apart these ideas from different cultural viewpoints. For instance, what is maleness in the field of K-pop, what does manhood look like in images related to wars or heroism, and so on. And this has really given a texture, a kind of layer that brings together everything in the performance. Because we don’t tell the audience that our movements are intended to look androgynous, but they would be able to tell that there is something common that is pulling the piece in together.
Gardies: I think the universal language of art is to raise questions, and to do so in a very subtle way, rather than to give answers or lessons. Because more often than not, there are no clear answers. This performance was put together by Anna and artists from different cultural backgrounds, and I think that would enable it to be understood and resonate with audiences from different parts of the world.
 

Swiss, Korean elements come together at embassy  

 
At the Swiss Embassy in Korea, it is hard to define where the Swiss and Korean elements begin and end.
 
Completed in 2019, the new abode of the Swiss diplomatic mission in Korea takes after the basic typology of a traditional Korean house, with structures nestled around a courtyard.  

 

But once indoors, the high wooden ceilings and walls absorbing the sunlight stirs the memory of a lodging in the Alps. Not to mention the simplicity and compact design of the interior, the added Swiss features in the forms of masterpieces by Claudia Compte, Andreas Christen, David Hominal and Renée Levi — part of the Swiss Federal Art Collection — welcome the visitors.
 

Though not immediately visible, the house is also equipped with solar panels on the roof and geothermal energy pumps underground.
 

The “Swiss home” is symbolic of what the Swiss mission has been striving to achieve in Korea since 1963, when the two nations established diplomatic relations.
  
“We are always trying to connect with Korea on subjects that are common in our interests, and sustainability in architecture is one of them,” said Francoise Gardies, senior cultural program officer at the Swiss Embassy in Korea.
  
“Switzerland is a very welcoming country, and I think we have to show it well when we are abroad as well as when we are home. Being open to these collaborations and different ideas is one such example.”
  
Francoise Gardies, senior cultural program officer at the Swiss Embassy in Korea, at the openingof the Swiss Contemporary Jewelry Design Exhibition “Bijoux en jeu | Jewels in Play” in Seoul in November 2019. [EMBASSY OF SWITZERLAND IN KOREA]

Francoise Gardies, senior cultural program officer at the Swiss Embassy in Korea, at the openingof the Swiss Contemporary Jewelry Design Exhibition “Bijoux en jeu | Jewels in Play” in Seoul in November 2019. [EMBASSY OF SWITZERLAND IN KOREA]

The Swiss Embassy was the first embassy in Korea to take features of hanok, or traditional Korean houses, and apply them in its renovations.
  
Throughout her five years of tenure in Korea, Gardies has organized and witnessed dozens of projects and collaborations that cross the cultures of people across seas, and there are a special few that stand out in her memory as being symbolic of the bilateral ties.
  
“We had a celebration on the courtyard for the opening of the new embassy,” she said. “To make things a little different, we prepared an activity for the guests.”
  
One of the artists invited to the event, Chun Kyung-woo, challenged the guests to each pair up with a stranger. They were then asked to tie one of their hands together so that they would have to get the approval of the other person to move around in the venue, mingle with different groups of people or even help each other with eating.
  
“Some of the people who met through this activity remain in touch to this day,” Gardies said.  
 
Opening reception of the renovated Swiss Embassy in Korea in central Seoul in May 2019. [EMBASSY OF SWITZERLAND IN KOREA]

Opening reception of the renovated Swiss Embassy in Korea in central Seoul in May 2019. [EMBASSY OF SWITZERLAND IN KOREA]

That activity speaks a lot about what the Swiss diplomatic mission is here to do in Korea.

  
To continue its mission, the cultural department at the Swiss Embassy in Korea will be helping organize conversations and collaborations in the fields of architecture, film and performing arts throughout 2021.
  
Starting with Anna Anderegg’s “Alone Together,” a dance to be showcased at the Swiss Pavilion of the 13th Gwangju Biennale from Feb. 26 to March 3, the Swiss embassy has also prepared a lecture on health and urban development by Michael Jakob, professor of theory and landscape history at Geneva School of Engineering, Architecture and Landscape, at the Seoul Hall of Urbanism and Architecture in April as part of the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism; special film screenings of award-winning films at the Locarno Film Festival at the embassy and the Seoul Art Cinema in May; and an online workshop with choreographer Yan Marussich in the autumn.  
 
Queries for reservation for "Alone Together" should be directed to Eunam Museum of Art, at eunam.org
 
BY ESTHER CHUNG   [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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