Fur Elise Redux

Googling through the Korean art world, I made an unexpected discovery: I found a short clip on Youtube – one of the best pieces of video art I have ever seen, more than seven years ago in France:

(See the full version at Nate)

I was even more surprised when I found out who created this video. It was Koh Seung-wook (고승욱), or 고작가 (“artist Koh”), as I use to call him. From time to time we still receive letters for him at our place…

I still consider this video a grandiose comment on the “Korean situation”, including all its ambitions, post-colonial predicaments, social segregation and gender stereotyping. It is also one of the few documentations of a performance that work on video – and even add another layer by restricting the visible space.

Back in 2006, the video was part of a selection of art works from the Busan Biennale. They were shown at the Paris Cinema Festival, under the title “A Tale of Two Cities: A View of Young Korean Video Art” (see HanCinema for details).

At that time, I was eager to swallow anything related to Korea in any way – movies, books, art… On June 30th, 2006, I wrote in my diary:

“For Élise” (Koh Seung-wook) ist die packende Dokumentation einer Performance, bei der der Künstler per Halsband und unter Schmerzens(?)-Schreien eine Klavierspielerin durch den Raum zieht, während diese den Alptraum angehender Pianisten intoniert – die Musik gibt den Schreien eine dramatische Note. Im Hintergrund ein unvermeidliches Aquarium.

In English, this translates as:

“For Élise” by Koh Seung-wook is the haunting documentation of a performance that consists of the artist pulling a pianist across the room. Wearing a necklace, he exclaims loud cries of pain (?). Meanwhile, the pianist is performing the nightmare of every piano student. The music gives the artist’s cries a dramatic note. In the background the inevitable fish tank.

The video has been described by others as

“an astonishing concretization of the difference between occidental and oriental approaches to culture up to today.” (Festival international Signes de Nuit) and, on the occasion of group exhibition “The Hidden Cost of Prosperity” at the Korean Cultural Center London (see the e-catalogue), as “a performance showing the metaphor of disparity between the desired modernization and its stark reality.” (Anna Art Project, the organisers of the show)

Koh Seung-wook,

Koh Seung-wook, “For Elise”, video still.

Rewatching the video, I found it still haunts me – and I can only speculate in which ways it has influenced my perspective on Korea in all its facets. The choice of music is both strikingly obvious and interesting, fundamentally connected to everyday life in Korea. Whether door bells, subway gates, or the alarm of a forklift (hear this recording at the wonderful – though discontinued – blog Seoul Sounds), Mozart’s Beethoven’s bagatelle is omnipresent.

Every time I hear the didididididadidadaa I have to think of the lone pianist (student? master?) pulled painfully across an empty room, out of sight – out of mind?

Update: I just saw a 60-minutes version of “Für Elise” on Youtube, backed-up by an orchestra (well, I listened to a part of it). This must be the ultimate revenge of Big B.

– 30 June 2006 (金)

  • 고승욱, “엘리제를 위하여”, DV, 6분, 대한민국 2005년.
  • Koh Seung-wook, “For Elise”, DV, 6 Minutes, South Korea 2005.

About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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