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"The Dream of the Audience: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-1982)"
2002-12-06 until 2003-03-02
Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington
Seattle, WA, USA United States of America

She lived only three decades, but pioneering Korean artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha left a substantial and diverse body of work. Although Cha is best known for the book Dictée, which combines family history, autobiography, poetry, and images, she worked in a wide variety of mediums. For the first time ever, in this touring exhibition, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s exquisite artworks are exhibited together.

Cha’s conceptually rich work explores themes born of personal experience—language, memory, displacement and alienation.  The Henry Art Gallery presents the wide-ranging production of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha in the North Galleries from December 6, 2002 through March 2, 2003.

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s extremely varied work, ranging from performance art, works in film and video, ceramics, textiles, works on paper, and artist’s books, to stamp and mail art is distinguished by its richness of cultural references and use of multiple languages. A retrospective exhibition, The Dream of the Audience: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-1982) introduces viewers to the full range of Cha’s artistic production, which in many cases combines aspects of different media, creating hybrid art forms that blur the lines between such conventionally distinct divisions as book and poem, drawing and sculpture, sculpture and poem, or word and image.  The exhibition is accompanied by the first fully-illustrated monograph devoted to Cha’s work. 

“The main body of my work is with language,” Cha wrote,” before it is born on the tip of the tongue.” Although many of her contemporaries in New York and Europe based their Conceptual artwork on linguistic structure, Cha’s language draws on other, more personal sources. For many Koreans, the issue of language is emotional, since under the long Japanese occupation (1909-1945) they were not permitted to speak their native tongue. Cha literally takes apart language in her work, finding new meanings in her deconstructions and inventing new words. In her video Mouth to Mouth (1975), she stresses the very fundamentals of the Korean language as she silently mouths the eight vowel graphemes. Eventually, “snow”—or static—nearly obliterates the image, suggesting, as Whitney Museum of American Art Curator Lawrence Rinder observes, “a loss of language over time.”

Cha moved with her family from Korea to San Francisco in 1964. She received from the University of California, Berkeley, a B.A. in comparative literature (1973) and an M.F.A. in art practice (1978). She spent 1976 in Paris doing postgraduate work in filmmaking and theory with the renowned theorists Christian Metz, Raymond Bellour and Thierry Kuntzel. During the last two years of her life she lived in New York, where she created her final and best-known work, the book Dictée. An altogether original conception and remarkable in its scope for a young artist, Dictée combines family history, autobiography, stories of female martyrdom, poetry and images and touches on all the major themes of her work: memory, displacement, alienation, and the corporeal experience of language.

Cha was killed in 1982. In her short life and career, she made an important contribution to late twentieth-century American art, and the influences of her pioneering work in film and video, performance, mail art and artist books continues to grow. Coming of age in the San Francisco Bay Area as an artist in the 1970s, Cha was at the center of a series of influential artistic movements, including conceptual art, performance art and video. Her art stands out, even among the work of her most accomplished and celebrated of her contemporaries, for its formal inventiveness, theoretical rigor, and poetic depth. 

Organized by the Berkeley Art Museum, The Dream of the Audience: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-1982) has traveled from California to New York, Illinois and Seattle, and will conclude its tour June, 2004 in Seoul, Korea. The exhibition, in keeping with the commitment of Henry Art Gallery to explore new ways of presenting art, also features an extensive on-line presence and a computer terminal positioned near a case displaying pages from the artist’s book that will allow visitors to navigate the same work page by page on screen. An important extension of the exhibition at the Henry is the presentation of Cha’s classic installation of film and video, Exilée, a poetic fusion of media exploring the roots of exile through memory and language, both personal and universal. The staging of Exilée at Richard Hugo House, on Capitol Hill, is specially constructed for this presentation, based on Cha’s original design. Free screenings run twice daily, January 2 – 11 (except Monday). Please refer to the accompanying programming listings for more information on this and other programs and events scheduled in conjunction with the exhibition.

The Dream of the Audience: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha is organized by the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, and curated by Senior Curator for Exhibitions, Constance Lewallen. The exhibition is supported by grants from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts; the Peter Norton Family Foundation; the Korea Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts; The Judith Rothschild Foundation; an anonymous donor with a matching grant from the TRW Foundation; the Consortium for the Arts at UC Berkeley; and the Koret Foundation. The museum would also like to thank Mr. H. Jin Lee, President, Lee Company, Inc., El Segundo, CA; Mr. Kong Chil Kim, Chairman, and Mr. Dae Joong Kim of Dae Gong Development Company, Seoul, Korea, for their support. 

Organized for the Henry Art Gallery by Associate Curator Robin Held, The Dream of the Audience: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha is supported at the Henry by the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington, and co-sponsored by Wing Luke Asian Museum. In-kind support provided by the Grand Hyatt Seattle. The screening of Exilée is co-sponsored by Richard Hugo House and Wing Luke Asian Museum. 

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.
Untitled, 1980.
Glass jar with lid
containing 5 pieces of paper
with type-written text and black string.
3” X 2” X 2”.
Gift of the Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
Memorial Foundation
and Noelle O'Connor.

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