Jeamin Cha
Fog and Smoke

Fog and Smoke is the first video Jeamin Cha made after returning to Seoul from London where she studied and started as an investigation into the meaning of “otherness” in documentary filmmaking. The opening scene depicts an abandoned construction site that had once been part of the Songdo International Business District in Incheon, near Seoul. In the dark of the night, the sounds of a countdown and piano notes fill an empty apartment building and echoes far into the unknown corners and hollows of a newly built city. Delicate movements of the camera follow the last remaining fisherman in the old town as he drives toward the new town: once his waterfront workplace, the land is now filled in with soil and the debris of city development. Sequences of the fisherman’s journey into the cityscape are woven together with movements of the ghostly tap dancer continuing his frantic tapping in the empty streets at night. Nothing seems to ever happen as the camera follows patiently each individual as they retrace their daily routes and tell personal stories, representative of the artist’s methodology to let herself guided by encounters and unplanned conversations. The rapid socio-economic and political changes in the city appear slowed down, to the exception of the scene with the tap-dancer whose frantic tappings in the dark (as if possessed) become a metaphor for capitalism and echo the speed of gentrification driving these developments. If the video refers to the craze of urban construction in Korea and its halt due to the global financial crisis and economic recession after 2008, the depicted cityscape could belong to any location of hyper-capitalism in the world.

Jeamin Cha’s questions exist in the gyre between individual and social environment, stepping over conspicuous strands of relation between the two in favor of cultivating characters that dwell in the night, under-noticed or otherwise surplus figures outside of mainstream societal representation. She works primarily in video-based installations, which oftentimes are the result of years of interviews, research, and a meticulous editing process. Her films are indexes of reality in its minutiae, both regionally specific to her native South Korea, and also purposefully roaming, fragmented and nonlinear, able to touch almost any contemporary population in the world. The subjects Cha conjures expand fluidly beyond the limits of her work, giving depth to figures ranging from an electrician to a trio of ancient garbage collectors, their paths echoing off of the urban environment, engaged in a web of political, cultural, and social factors. Her films have increasingly consisted of nuanced, unblinking meditation on political issues and their echoes within urban existence. It would be wrong to describe these films as positivist, or documentarian. Rather, they strive to capture the viewer’s affective affinities with a critical edge.