The Voice of Hyekyung Ham
Hyekyung Ham’s video works generally take the form of fictional monologues, but these fictions are actually based on her own personal experiences. By delegating her experiences to a third party, who then narrates them in a foreign language (e.g., English, Japanese, or Persian), the artist transforms her own life into fiction, while evoking a unique triangular relationship between the artist, narrator, and subject. From her debut work A Lonely Hearted Hunter (2003) through her more recent works, Ham has used reverse editing to superimpose her own story onto borrowed images (or vice versa). Stimulating subtle reflections on the time and words exchanged between the subject and the Other, her works enable us to float among a wide range of different circumstances and opportunities.
The narratives in Ham’s works are generally based on monologues derived from her own recollections of the past. Reminiscing about their lives and various relationships, Ham’s characters talk about love and separation, dreams and frustrations, loneliness and comfort. Hence, a crucial aspect of Ham’s works is the voice, through which the artist conjures the emotions and atmosphere inhabiting the place and time of the invisible narrator. Uniquely, her series Morning Has Broken (2016) includes no images at all. Instead, the works consist solely of the main character’s monologue, as well as her conversation with a man she met while walking around a city, looking at rainy streets and getting in someone’s car. Parts of the monologue are audible, while other parts must be read in the subtitles. While the title of this series suggests a temporal background, it also seems to be an ironic reference to a specific memory of the artist.
In Ham’s My First Love (2017) series, a male narrator reminisces about his first love, which ended on a beach against a backdrop of waves. When this work was first shown, the exhibition space was designed to resemble a motel room, wherein viewers were encouraged to lie down on a bed and watch TV. The room even included a photo of a beach in the U.S. that Ham had purchased online. In the video, the male protagonist’s lines are delivered in two distinct tones; in the latter part of the video, his voice sounds like it is coming through a long-distance phone call, as in a classic Hollywood movie. When he says, “Your voice is exactly the same as what I imagined when I was writing,” it sounds like the artist speaking to the main character. Significantly, the superimposition of the artist and narrator inversely reminds us of the superimposition of the artist’s private life and the cinematic moment, which then leads to the superimposition of a prototypical time that is latent in the viewer’s memory.
Ham’s series No Fun Running Away with No Bee (2018) traces the protagonist’s memory of a former role model, a promising architect who suddenly disappeared one day. In the work, the architect has the ability to summon the past into the present, something that the narrator cannot do. Featuring lines in Japanese, this work revolves around the city, with its buildings, cars, and people. The soundtrack is composed of synthesizer sounds that emphasize the urban noise and dramatic tension. Notably, it was first introduced at an exhibition on the theme of “eve,” meaning the day or period of time immediately before an event or occasion. In other words, the work refers to a time that has already transpired, exploring how the Other, represented by the architect, has come to inhabit part of the artist’s life.
Why does Hyekyung Ham repeatedly using clichéd, boring lines and subjects? Although the artist adamantly denies that she is a romance writer, works like Mystery Man (2013), My Lying Lover (2014), and A Man from Afar (2015) invariably feature lines that seem to have been taken from black-and-white French films of the distant past. I would like to suggest that these lines are self-deprecating, referring not to the characters’ distrust or love-hate relationship, but rather postulating a complex romantic relationship between the audience and the artist.
from “The Voice of a Man in Ham’s Video: What Happened to the Audience Who Has Been Rejected and Confused?” by Dong-Yeon Koh (Art Historian)
We now encounter numerous stories in our daily lives, in the form of movies, music, novels, entertainment shows, and dramas. Among these, Hyekyung Ham’s works begin with a single word or sentence that has become embedded in her memory. Undergoing repeated processes that resemble cell division and proliferation, these fragments are reconstructed through the prism of the artist, eventually being recreated as a complete new story. Using a flat narrative as a frame, Ham combines translation, recording, subtitling, found footage, and royalty-free music to reconstitute the story in three dimensions. Looking at the closing credits of her works, we can see that they are primarily produced by one person. Beyond whatever practical reasons she may have for not hiring an outside editor or cameraperson, sticking to this distinct analog system ensures that Ham’s works are completely permeated by her own unique sensibility.
from Voice Off (2017) by Jungyoon Choi (Curator)