The multimedia works of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha— poet, filmmaker, artist, and writer—portray the experimental quality of language that engages multiple senses. The theme of dislocation is central to the way audiences experience Cha's cross-genre work. Her writings, film, and visual art connect individual and collective memory and history. By offering varying degrees of accessibility to readers and viewers of her work, Cha extends an invitation to revise her words. As she writes in her preface to Apparatus (1980), "machinery . . . creates the impression of reality whose function . . . is to conceal from its spectator the relationship of the viewer/subject to the work being viewed" (n.p.). Thus Cha encouraged the active participation of the viewer and reader, thereby "making visible his/her position in the apparatus." Like Sappho and Marguerite Yourcenar, Cha adapts the first-person perspective. Her lyric voice follows and subverts the traditions of Greek poetry, feminist experimental writing, and the American long poem inherited from such poets as Ezra pound, William Carlos WILLIAMS, and Charles olson (see long and SERIAL POETRY).
Born in Pusan, Korea, Cha and her family moved to Hawaii and then settled in San Francisco in 1964. After attending the all-girl Convent of the Sacred Heart Catholic School, Cha briefly studied at the University of San Francisco and transferred to the university of California, Berkeley. At Berkeley, she met Jim Melchert, her ceramics instructor, who encouraged her work in performance, and Bertrand Augst, a professor of comparative literature who introduced her to French film theory, while she obtained a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and two master's degrees in comparative literature and fine arts in performance. She became closely involved with other artists, such as Yong Soon Min and Reese Williams, who published Cha's Apparatus and Dictée (1982). In 1976 Cha spent a year in Paris doing postgraduate work in film and theory She imbued her works with Catholicism, Korean history, French and English languages and cultures, and the Greco-Roman classics. In 1980 Cha moved to New York to work as a writer and a video/filmmaker. She received a National Endowment of the Arts grant and a postdoctoral fellowship to Korea in 1981. She then worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Dictée, a work that laces together different genres and crosses cultures, was first published at a time when there was an emphasis on cultural nationalism and the politics of identity. Scholars and critics place Dictée in critical interpretations that highlight gender, the nation, and postmodernism. Cha's work reimagines the Korean national history of colonialism and displacement through the bodily representations of women: Korean revolutionary Yu Guan Soon, Joan of Arc, and Cha's mother. In a double movement, the prose both effaces and recalls the multiple voices of such characters: "Dead words. Dead tongue. From disuse. Buried in Time's memory. . . . Restore memory." Believing in culture as the site of exchange, Cha also challenged the conventions of storytelling, particularly the linear form of the epic, by drawing upon many nar rative forms: second-language exercises, ideograms, prayers, dreams, and historical documents.
On November 5, 1982, seven days after the publication of Dictée, Cha, who made art out of politics, was mysteriously murdered in New York City. Her case remains unsolved.
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