When Won Young Kim took part in Sync Korea, he was exploring a dilemma: that of needing to continue to practice law to meet the responsibility of supporting his family – but with his heart very much taken up with developing his artistic practice. Since that time, using a simple metaphor, he has managed to blend both ambitions, honouring both his values and his desire to make great artwork and challenge ideas and thinking around aesthetics in South Korea and beyond.
Sarah Pickthall talks with Won Young Kim
Meeting online in May, Won and I spoke of the impact of Covid in our respective cities, me in Brighton and Won in Seoul. This hadn’t been the first time we had met up together since running Sync in Korea in 2018, the last time being to work on a profile of Disability Arts in South Korea for Disability Arts International in 2018.
Won shared that there had been a lot of disabled activists challenging the government and some successful and significant movement in moving people out of institutions during the pandemic, ensuring disabled people had the right to be treated in hospitals alongside everyone else. This had felt like a huge achievement and a step forward politically in South Korea.
Law has been part of Won’s life for many years, but there has always been the underlying compulsion to make artwork, be that theatre, dance or live art. At the time of Sync in 2018, Won reminded me that I had just simply asked him one question: why? Why wasn’t he able to do both? What was stopping him? This simple question was the start of him finding a way to bring both interests into play, culminating in some acclaimed performances in Seoul in 2019.
“The artworks described a piece of fictitious law – ‘An Act of Love and Friendship,’” he told me, and as part of this performance he told the audience about this law. Alongside this, Won made a significant step to get out of his chair, something he had never done in public before. “I was worried at the time, that audiences would see me doing this as ‘a freak show.”
On the contrary the work was felt by many to be visceral and powerful but not in a patronising way. The ‘move’ was received well with people quite active across popular mainstream culture, lauding it and his work being nominated for an award.
Won went on to talk of the ‘big trousers’ that he has over many years worn, to assume a so-called ‘normal form.’ It seemed this was important for him to appear a certain way when out in the world from a very early age and through his legal career. An artistic colleague and friend drew his attention to the performance work of UK dance artist and performer, David Toole, someone who has used his physicality in bold and exciting ways in a career that has not shied away from the public gaze.
Won can now more easily see himself pursuing his performance work, with plans temporarily on hold, to do workshops with choreographer Adam Benjamin when restrictions are lifted and international travel is possible again. This fed into our conversation about the Sync metaphor he chose during the course in Seoul in 2018, which I had remembered as ‘The Game of Go.’ Won reminded me that it wasn’t the game itself but the simple ‘ordinary’ stone that was the metaphor.
As disabled people, when we are in the confines of our own spaces, away from the gaze of others, getting out of a chair or moving in a way that suits us isn’t something we necessarily think about. However, how we reveal ourselves in public can be a very different matter, as we bid to conform with what society deems acceptable.
This has now extended into how we show up in virtual spaces too, and the potential is there for us all to be a bit more flexible and relaxed in this respect. Here’s an article on the Softer Edges of Online-ness.