Theresa Hak Kyung Cha: Avant Dictee

Exhibit - Multimedia: Center for Korean Studies | January 31 – April 22, 2018 every Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday & Saturday |  Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

 Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha: Avant Dictee offers viewers an opportunity to experience the work of this prolific artist in a new way, through her best-known work, the artist’s book Dictee. Placing the book as a point of entry into her wider creative production, the exhibition explores resonances between Dictee’s ten thematic sections (nine of them named for the Greek muses) and artworks drawn from the Cha archive at BAMPFA.

Cha’s oeuvre was profoundly interconnected across works and media, and she returned again and again to certain key themes. Avant Dictee includes art and archival documents—artist’s books, photography, concrete poetry, video, performance documentation, mail art, sculpture, and works on paper—in conversation with the chapters in Dictee. Some works are clearly related, such as an image in the book that references the artist’s father’s original calligraphy, seen in the exhibition. Other relationships are less direct, such as a work’s connection to a statement or question posed in the book.

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951–1982) was born in Pusan, South Korea, and emigrated to the United States, settling in San Francisco with her family in 1964. She attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic high school where she learned and fell in love with the French language. Much of the work in the exhibition was created during Cha’s time as a student at UC Berkeley, where she earned four degrees (in comparative literature and art) between 1973 and 1978. Greatly inspired by her professors Jim Melchert, who introduced her to Conceptual and performance art, and Bertrand Augst, who launched her interest in film theory, Cha made a body of work that explores language, memory, time, history, and the spaces in between.

The exhibition takes a nonlinear form and is organized around diverse poetic themes that cut across time periods, media, styles, and artistic cultures, bringing together voices from a wide range of practices and representing diverse communities and sensibilities. Works by artists and filmmakers such as Bruce Baillie, Lutz Bacher, Joan Brown, Bruce Conner, Jay DeFeo, Enrique Chagoya, Richard Diebenkorn, Ernie Gehr, Sabura Hawagawa, Sargent Johnson, Joanne Leonard, Chiura Obata, Helen Clark Oldfield, Joe Overstreet, Alice Anne Parker Stevenson, Rosie Lee Tompkins, Carlos Villa, and many others are juxtaposed throughout the exhibition.

In contrast to a conventional historical survey, Way Bay is organized to suggest poetic currents and connections among works from disparate cultures and communities, highlighting transhistorical affinities among artists, filmmakers, authors, and other creative practitioners who have contributed to—and drawn inspiration from—the region’s distinctive character.

Continuous film screenings in the galleries showcase the Bay Area’s rich history as an incubator for avant-garde and experimental cinema, beginning with a silent film that captures life on the streets of San Francisco just days before the 1906 earthquake destroyed much of the city. The exhibition also includes highlights from BAMPFA’s extensive archive of video and audio recordings by artists working in the Bay Area, as well as an interactive post card project devoted to poetry by Bay Area writers. A series of lectures, performances, readings, and participatory workshops in the Fisher Family Art Lab extends Way Bay across diverse media and disciplines.

In addition to works from BAMPFA’s collection, including many recent acquisitions on display for the first time, Way Bay includes exceptional paintings, prints, photographs, and other works from UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library and Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology.