esea contemporary kicks off the year with a new exhibition by Jane Jin Kaisen exploring erosion of culture, local identity and memory.
Halmang is both the name of the display and of the artist’s brand new film (2023), recorded in the hometown of Kaisen’s grandparents by the black lava rock coast of Jeju Island, off the coast of the Korean Peninsula. The artist herself was born on Jeju Island and moved to Denmark in infancy. She returned to the island in her adult life and delved into the local history as well as its ecosystems and spirituality, thoroughly researching the area which in turn informed her art practice. Explored from a transnational feminist lens, Kaisen reveals the results of her research from the last decade.
The exhibition pays particular attention to the women living on the island – the word halmang in Jeju means ‘grandmother’ but is also used to refer to shamanic goddesses, such as Yongdeung Halmang, the wind goddess. Shamans in Korea are often female and Shamanism itself in the area predates other religions prevalent today, such as Buddhism and Christianity.
The artist highlights the link between women and spirituality by working with Jeju haenyeo – sea diving women in their 70s and 80s (and the means by which the artist’s mother and grandmother made a living.) The film features them sitting on volcanic rock, meticulously folding and connecting sochang, a white, long cotton cloth symbolising the spiral movement of spirituality and the cycle of life and death. The visuals are set to the sounds of crashing waves and haenyeo’s songs, adding to the piece’s emotional resonance. The exhibition connects the show’s location, Manchester’s former Victorian fish market, and the artist’s history with Jeju island.
Alongside Halmang, the display features books and reference material as well as Kaisen’s older works Of the Sea (2013) and The Woman, The Orphan, and The Tiger (2010). Of the Sea (2013) features a performance of the artist retracing her mother and grandmother’s steps along the shore while carrying a book written by her grandfather, former Head of the Commemoration Committee for Jeju Haenyeo’s Anti-Colonial Resistance Movement. The Woman, The Orphan, and The Tiger (2010) examines generational trauma.
Jane Jin Kaisen artworks are both visually striking and informed by extensive interdisciplinary research, so the the show is most likely to leave you feeling enlightened and moved.