“Altar for the Surrogate”

Signals that Invoke 100 Years of Blue Milk, George Mason University Art & Design Gallery, Fairfax, VA, 2018

4 channel video, talismans tattooed onto oranges, dried fish, tray, chest, trinkets, incense burners, handmade incense, candlestick holders, candles, handmade talismans (turmeric dyed rice paper and cinnabar ink), vessels, floor cushions, beans, rice, talisman ash in vessel, cinnabar vases
Technical video: James Prince

My grandmother sends a pujok every Lunar New Year, which marks the new cycle and results in burning the paper talisman to release the energy. In most of my performances, I burn and drink the ashes of the pujok to consume and transfer the energy. Most of the symbols in a pujok are comprised of ancient Chinese (Korean language derived from the Chinese language), star charts, and glyphs. I started creating my own talismans from using an online sigil* generator to produce symbols from emails of my disownment from my parents.
These sigils are tattooed onto oranges on the wall of the altar, oranges are typically found on Eastern altars as sacrificial food, they are used for juicing, and are used by tattoo artists to practice on. These tattooed oranges mirror concepts of consumption/transference of energies from the abstraction of the talisman, the oranges bulbous like a breast, and the juice providing nutrition like breast milk, now becoming my surrogate mother.
Traditionally a pujok is written with cinnabar ink, extracted from a mineral found in volcanic activity or hot springs. It is commonly used for red pigments, medicinal healing (specifically as a sedative or for heart issues), and tattoo ink, but in high doses can be toxic due to the mercury content. These talismans are on rice paper hand dyed with turmeric (an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant medicinal root) and cinnabar ink, which suggests that the consumption of them are not only energetically healing but medicinally. These talismans symbolized a gift and medicine for me, an object representing someone’s love and care.
Crafting experimental incense is largely a part of my work in the cleansing of a space, consumption of the burned incense, and the measurement of time. Incense in Asia was historically used similar to a clock, with each stick or spiral measuring a certain increment of time. A form of an alarm clock, there was the dragon boat incense, which had incense sticks with a string and metal ball attached to the end. When the incense would burn the string, the metal ball would fall onto a metal plate and produce an abrupt sound. Alternatively, the poorest class in China would have someone in the household sleep with burning incense rope between their toes, awakening when the rope would burn their toes.
Adapting from the cause and effect method in measuring time, the videos in this altar is composed of a new structure to measure the start and end of a ritualized action. The altar itself suggests performative actions (kneeling, sitting, viewing, burning incense, meditating, etc.) The installation immortalizes and materializes the ephemera of the performance.

* Sigils are symbols that go through a process using a word or phrase, removing the duplicate letters, removing the vowels, and converting the leftover letters into numbers, which then plots lines onto a grid.