How can I live in your world? Empathic strategies in contemporary Asian art

This essay takes its title from the way in which Korean artist Lim Minouk once described the central question driving her practice. It was in the context of her work around the year 2010, which was difficult to pigeon‑hole in that it took the form of collective performances of real depth and meaning, documented in beautifully executed videos. What Lim was trying to do at the time was to unify fragmented personalities in song, and to martial them against the forces that would divide them again. It was a decidedly feminine resistance, quite distinct from the macho posturing and sloganeering that alienates so many from collective struggle. A resistance without preconditions, International Calling Frequency (2011) was a melody, written as a duet so that it had to be performed with another, without lyrics allowing it to be applicable to any situation. Weight of Hands (2010) registered the force of implacable environmental destruction with the lone, melancholy voice of a karaoke singer, borne aloft by the combined strength of a coachload of protestors. Lim’s strivings toward unifying actions have followed ever more striking and ambitious trajectories over the past decade. For the moment, though, her question of how to live in another’s world and her clear articulation of shared experience as a mode of resistance offer interesting starting points for considering the kind of roles that empathy might play in contemporary Asian art.

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