WORLD WEAVERS –– Soojin Chang
Soojin and I met 6 years ago in Brooklyn, cast together as opium smokers in a music video. Her grace and preternatural calm, like that of an actual opium smoker, drew me in and we became fast friends. Now based in Glasgow, Soojin makes artwork that's both otherworldly and highly relevant, delving into themes such as bodily trauma, diaspora and human/animal relations.
Born in San Francisco and growing up between Seoul and San Diego, an early experience of cultural wandering carries on in her work. After studying Film and English Lit at Berkeley, Soojin moved to New York and began her creative practice in film, performance, sound and installation. She's presented at such diverse venues as Meltasia Music Festival, Art Basel Miami, MoMA Ps1 and ICA London. In 2018, she relocated to the UK and got her MFA at The Glasgow School of Art. She's currently pursuing a PhD at Goldsmith's, University of London.
Soojin plays the central figure in many of her pieces, and her Asian American identity sometimes becomes part of the subject. In Hair Eggs for instance, Soojin explores the treatment of hair as a commodity, while reimagining feminine Asian narratives in a saturated horror palette. At other times, her identity becomes irrelevant and larger mythologies emerge. In video works like Ponytail Thief and Ghost Mussels, Soojin positions herself in sublime landscapes, her body in dialogue with the earth and sea in primordial and poetic exchanges.
At the moment, she's exploring multi-species surrogacy in a year long performance where she plays a hybrid creature learning different modes of reproduction in search of kin. Like most of her projects, it is self-shot and made with friends. After my own bout with alternative reproduction, this project really resonates with me, and I'm bracing myself for more of her potent imaginations.
How do you view our relationship with animals?
It’s complicated, isn’t it? Our relationship with animals is expansive. Animals of other species can be surrogates for human touch, intimacy, love, and care to some, while to others the relationship is avoidant, traumatic, sadistic, etc. They are a source of sustenance – not only as food but as the basis of economic livelihood for many communities. They are reminders of our animality and our place in the ongoingness of all life. My personal relationship with animals is very much an embodied one. I identify with them rather than anthropomorphizing them – though it’s not always a perfect endeavor. I approach with an embrace of differences rather than a denial of them – and find myself humbled to be entangled in so much common ground nevertheless. There are many ways in which I feel psychically and biologically connected to my dog, Ruby – not limited to the bacteria we share; our hormonal and reproductive histories having been shaped through politics and the economy rather than consent; the feeling of being an outsider-migrant in our respective diasporas, and desiring warmth and shelter together.
What is a nostalgic scent for you?
Jasmine. I do not remember too many things from my childhood, but I do remember my mother pointing out the smell of Jasmine in the first apartment complex we landed at in Chula Vista, CA after immigrating from South Korea. I only found out much later that Jasmine is a native plant in Korea and so my mother must have had a profound moment when she recognised the scent in such a different environment.
What is your favorite tale, fable or myth?
I have so many. I will tell two. The first on my mind, as I am writing from Scotland, is the Celtic and Norse myth of the Selkie, beings that are capable of therianthropy, changing from seal to human form by shedding skin. The second is The Nine Cloud Dream by Kim Man-Jung. It is a Korean tale set in 9th century Tang China, following a monk who succumbs to the temptations of eight fairy maidens and is then punished through reincarnation as the most materially, sensually “successful” man. What draws me to this tale the most is the queer erotics between his lovers, poetry, nature, the supernatural, dream, and myth that is opened up on a horizontal plane of graciousness rather than the supposed toxic indulgence that his punishment sought to correct.
Do you believe in fate?
I believe my fate is to create many environments to play with fate.