Residency Unlimited

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Article | Aug 2011

In Conversation with Mary Song

By Judith Souriau

In Conversation with Mary Song

Mary Song is a Korean artist who works essentially with performance, questionning cultural connections and possible exchange via food and cooking for instance. Her “cooking performance” has already been shown in Ireland, Korea, Turkey, Finland, Estonia... An artist in perpetual move who actually made this moving a component of her work, she answers my questions.

  1. When we met in November 2010 in Istanbul and I asked you where you are based, you could not answer. What would you answer now ?

I still cannot answer this. I am based nowhere. It is quite an interesting idea that people ask where you are ‘based’. A lot of artists or curators, including me, put where they live and work now, and many people ask where we are based. However, I know some curators who are based online, which shows a virtual exhibition before it happens in a real space. Or artists who make programs online as a virtual avatar which can create another world for their identity. These kinds of art activities are not explained by ‘where we are based’. I am still moving around, wherever I can do my projects.


  1. You do cook in various places where you stay in residency. Your work consist in cooking “live” : exotic meals with local ingredients, i.e cooking Korean food in Ireland with Irish ingredients, and vice versa....

I try to introduce a distant culture to local people through an absurd performance which is very normal 'eating free food'. For example, the one in Ireland was very plain Korean food, Bibimbap. The funny thing is that I got all ingredients locally. Same at the Antakya Biennale : I was cooking for local people with local ingredient I found there. Now I am trying to find similar ingredients to Irish food, here in Jeju (Korea). Jeju is actually the island that looks the most similar to Ireland.


  1. How did you conceive these pieces ? What was the process, and where does that come from ?

I have been interested in similarities between cultures. Many focus on difference when we talk about different nationalities, tribes, languages, etc. Yet I loved whenever I have found the most similar elements between any cultures. To enlighten people through this similarity in my project could show a little bit of understanding between different cultures and calm the furious fights we have in the world. I am not saving the world : I am just trying to show as it is how similar we are as human beings.


  1. So internationality has a lot to do in your practice. How do you proceed? Are you invited to create your work in residence? I understood that you only perform “live”, connected a way or another to the place where you stay.

It’s more powerful when you are on site. Of course, it’s amazing when you see things virtually online, however, since my performance involves smell, taste, and emotional reaction, I love to do it ‘live’. Most of the time, I am invited to perform and to create my work whether it’s a biennale, residency or exhibition opening.


  1. This conversation cycle for Residency Unlimited deals with performance and internationality. Nowadays the art scene became intrisically international, and artists cannot avoid being shown abroad. How specific is this for artists who work with performance ? Does this internationality necessarily affect or influence the content of your practice ?

Well, internationality should not be necesarily involved in performance or artwork. It can also be totally local. However, this precise performance makes sense when it is about dislocation. It aims to interrogate different cultures, and to show the common notions we share intirinsically, above cultural differenciation. In many cases, I emphasize that we are not at all different from one another.


  1. You also work as a curator, but using a different name and a different website. How performative is this activity of curating? What role does this double identity play in your work?

In my personal history, I have three names. Two Korean names, Jonghee my previous one, Hyunhee my current name/home name (name called only in family till 2006), and Mary my passport name. I have been thinking about my self identity a lot because of my names. These gave me such an idea of double identities, or multi-identities; not just about being an artist or a curator, but also about art critic or historian.

I do use different names for different reasons and functions. Curating itself is also such a performative activity! Performance also asks you much performative characteristics. Sometimes I overlap these two when I find some similar points of their characteristics in them.




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