Hopping the fence: an interview with David Khang

Tomas Jonsson

david khang

On Thursday I had the opportunity to have a discussion with David Khang. Our conversation began with reflection on Carmen Papalia‘s walking performance, and the panel discussion from the day before.

Tomas: I liked Carmen’s point that the group walk wasn’t an empathy building exercise. It was a chance to explore tactile sensory space, getting out of visual primacy.

David: Which is why I found curious his practice of hanging the pictures low [at the Guggenheim]. I think that particular project takes the viewer away from the notion of empathy or visual impairment.  Changing the body, shifting the body, closer to the ground alters our experience of viewing. I don’t know how long he’s been doing his group practice… it seems that there could be many ways in ways to push that project beyond… what may be perceived as a cliché – the cliché being, not the work, but the perception of the work as ‘visually impaired person doing performative walks with the audience’. That would be the dumbed down version. How do we keep stretching the envelope to do more – to make us realize “oh crap, I hadn’t seen it that way”.

Tomas: Otherwise it’s a binary, visual / non visual.  You brought up that point yesterday didn’t you?

David: Somebody brought that up, and I think a number of us chimed in. I was having a conversation afterwards with Olivia [Whetung] about how binaries themselves aren’t inherently bad. When we stop there, that’s the limiting part.  We can realize that there are more that we haven’t identified. And I think even a trinary, when we refer to what’s become a clichéd third space, to claim a third space is also limiting.  Unless a third space stands in for ‘nth’ number of spaces.

Tomas: There was some discussion of the definitive article, the ‘the’. David Garneau was talking about ‘the’ body. When we think about ‘the’ body, that’s a problem, but when we think of ‘a’ body, that opens up. Is this similar to ‘a’ third space?

David: I think so. As I mentioned during the panel, when I use my work in a performative work, my body is simultaneously a body, the body, and my body. I feel that this multiple mapping opens up reception of works of art.


On David’s decision to pursue a Law Degree at UBC.

David: The short version that I’m thinking through is realizing that as an artist, there is a ceiling for certain bodies, or certain artists. To be more specific about it: how far can you continue to do the Artist Run Centre circuit? Is there a next step or do you just go around the circle, and then go around again? That has been the ceiling for me. That may be an inherently okay thing, but for my creative practice I found that limiting, even if I do site specific performances abroad.

Secondly, I thought about the limitations of art as a discipline or art world as a subculture. The work that I’m doing that is increasingly political, and I wonder if whether I’ve reached the asymptote of diminishing returns. How far can I get close to zero or infinity, and I don’t want to keep going to zero. I think I want to hop the graph, hop the fence, and see if another graph, another hyperbole starts, in a different discipline. I want to carry out the same trajectory of work that I think I’m doing but shifting the discipline from art to law. I want to continue to do political work that could be framed as an art practice, but it would be within a professionalized legal framework.  I also want to satisfy my curiousity; finding out more about how our legal political society functions, to be perhaps a better advocate. Especially coming from the art world where we’re great critics, analysts, and… more often than not, that’s where we stop. We move on to the next project. We have to let that go.  After stimulating, after giving people whatever artists give people, that’s where we say ‘ok, off you go, with that idea or that movement”… that’s the itch that I want to scratch.

Tomas: Is it a responsibility, a different responsibility?

David: In part. I’ve thought through the idea of response versus responsibility.  In the milieu that I grew up in, North America, we don’t like the world responsibility too much. It’s too cumbersome sometimes, especially as artists. We want to be free to be truly experimental, we can’t be tied down with responsibilities. I like the word response. How do you respond to [the crisis of] missing and murdered indigenous women? Is that a responsibility? Is it a societal responsibility? Or how do you respond to it?  Do you just sign a petition, and then that’s it? How do you respond if your heart is really there, moved beyond a mouse click?

The responsibility also ties in with the family narrative that I’ve given up on shaking off, because I don’t think it can be shaken. It’s like an internal tattoo. A number of my uncles, aunts and grandparent’s generations have been really deeply involved in pro-democracy movements in Korea. Some of them ended up in prison in the 70s and 80s. Everyone knows the markers of Korea’s economic success: LG Samsung, Hyundai, what we see in front of us on the flat screen.  What came before that was all the repression, the military crackdowns, cracking down the union movement allowed that to happen.  That family narrative, what we shared and experienced still is kind of haunting, in a good way. It’s not a responsibility that I have to commit to. There are three cousins in my generation, I’m sure there are more, but three I know who are in the arts now, they are all putting that on hold, to ask this question that I’m asking now: what’s my response to this set of circumstances?

I am compelled to believe that I can’t continue to make art in the way I’m making at the moment. Something has to shift.  That’s why I am experimenting with law.

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