say-my-name-say-my-name_Olivia Hyunsin Kim_©peter-van-heesen
“Say My Name, Say My Name”, Olivia Hyunsin Kim / ddanddarakim © Peter van Heesen

No Names, Just Numbers

In “Say My Name, Say My Name”, by Olivia Hyunsin Kim / ddanddarakim and premiering at the Sophiensaele, an immersive world of futuristic designs is created through which Kim attempts to hold a mirror up to the past. 

From the moment I entered, the theatre was overflowing with information and stimulation. Two men in black greeted every audience member by waving sound devices over our ears. The stage was filled with objects in diverse shapes and texturesThe air was filled with sound and video was projected onto the walls. The tech-fancy performance was set within a meticulous DIY aesthetic. Shiny, talking robots rolled around the stage. Props, videos, and music all transformed themselves as we watched. A web of symbols vaguely referenced one another, creating possibilities of fragmented meanings, a sea of information, a world in-between. It was as if I had stepped into the world of the internet, where there is so much information that it ends up obliterating itself.

Today at 2:36 a.m., I received a text from a friend. She was reporting back on someone she had met through a dating app. A part of the message read: “I feel this whole thing is a bit desolate in some way. Maybe I should have gone home earlier.” 

Before entering the show, I too felt like I’d already ‘met’ some people. But who? In the online description, I met Donna Haraway, who predicted that cyborgs would overcome sexism and racism. In the programme, I met Womxn, the past leaders of computer science, The Korean Women’s Group, who fought for the rights of Korean nurses in the 1960s and 1970s, and Semra Ertan, who set herself on fire in Hamburg in protest against hostility to foreigners.  When I got to my seat, Theresa Ha Kyung Cha was waiting for me with her quote that addressed us “a chosen queer kin”. Having been introduced to so many, seemingly captivating figures, I sat intrigued, awaiting to meet them again in a more personal way. But contrary to my expectations, I did not meet them again. Instead, I had a string of encounters with brand new characters: Gumiho, a figure from Korean myth who turns into a nine-tailed creature at night. An artist, who turned herself into a cyborg after suffering from endometriosis. Farinelli, the famed 18th century castrato. Princess Bari, a seventh daughter who was abandoned by her father for being yet another female offspring. I also met the two performers, Kim and Zwoisy Mears-Clarke, who performed with a distant and futuristic air, exhibiting hints of all the aforementioned characters at varying moments. I’d never immersed myself in the world of online dating, but perhaps, I thought, this was how it felt: people passing by like snippets of information. Was I allowed to want more? I left the theatre feeling confused and somewhat desperate. Even though I had been sitting in the theatre for an hour, the experience was already evaporating with an almost painful lightness. As I cycled home, it occurred to me that maybe this was exactly what I was supposed to feel. 

Was this how the women who were “called with no names, but just by numbers, or by their male owners” (as a robot narrates) felt? The Korean nurses and Semra Ertan may have lived in this in-between world as foreign workers who were considered as nothing more than objects with an economic purpose. A drift of white bubbles on the stage melted slowly away — and here I was, caught in-between, feeling helpless. Is this the feeling of imprisonment in one’s own body that the artist with endometriosis spoke about? How she was “expected to quietly vanish” like the bubbles slowly disappearing, failing to solidify into meaning, and therefore also into remembering?

When the cold face of a fact fails to become private, it also fails to look me in the eyes and demand my earnest attention. I questioned how emotionless information might become personal, and even political. When does the moment of honing-in arrive, the refining of that information with a pointed edge that stirs and moves? Last night, I was amused by a skilled mosquito in my flat. It kept leaving small bites on my body without once being seen or heard. However, when it bit my face, the situation turned into something personal, and I was ready to kill. During the performance, however, I felt no such fatal bite. Only bubbles.