Mikhail Karikis: SeaWomen of Jejudo at The Wapping Project

The story and harsh livelihood of Jeju-do’s famous diving women have always captivated artists and documentary-makers who have come across them. From Kyung-sook Schoenman’s photo spread in National Geographic a decade or so ago, via Barbara Hammer’s documentary film “Diving Women of Jeju-do” and Brenda Paik Sunwoo’s more recent photobook “Moon Tides: Jeju Island Grannies of the Sea“, there have been plenty of artistic responses.

The latest comes from Mikhail Karikis, a Greek-born and London-based artist. Karikis’s inter-disciplinary practice includes video installation, performance art, photography, painting and music. His work is equally at home in the art gallery and the concert hall.

SeaWomen by Mikhail Karikis

The Wapping Project, 26 May – 7 July 2012
Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, Wapping Wall, London E1W 3SG. 020 7680 2080.
Transport: Wapping Overground / Shadwell DLR / Buses: D3 & 100
Monday – Saturday, noon till 10:30pm, Sunday noon till 5:30pm
Admission free.

Photo Credit - Mikhail Karikis, SeaWomen, 2012
Photo Credit - Mikhail Karikis, SeaWomen, 2012

SeaWomen is a sound and film installation by Mikhail Karikis focusing on a community of female sea workers living on the North Pacific island of Jeju – a volcanic rock between South Korea, Japan and China. Operating outside the currents of modernisation, this old and fast diminishing community consists of 50-90 year-old women who dive to great depths with no oxygen supply to catch sea-food, collect seaweed and find pearls. This ancient female profession, now on the verge of disappearance, became the dominant economic force by the 1970s, establishing a matriarchal system in an otherwise male-dominated Confucian society.

The sound installation creates an immersive experience with recordings of work-songs, communal activities and the striking noises of the divers’ traditional breathing technique (sumbisori). At once alarming and joyous, the sumbisori punctuates each dive like a spontaneous vocal firework with a high-pitched breathy shriek, and a series of wheezing, whistling and gasping calls. Often mistaken for noises produced by dolphins, this unique
breathing technique is a transgenerational skill transmitted from mother to daughter when a new haenyeo begins her training at the age of eight.

Photo Credit - Mikhail Karikis, SeaWomen, 2012
Photo Credit - Mikhail Karikis, SeaWomen, 2012

In addition, the project includes watercolours, completed while Karikis held his breath. They verge on liquefaction, at once portraying the diving women’s elemental connection with water and the precariousness of their work and fragile community.

SeaWomen witnesses the women’s work and their insistence on sustainable practices operating outside the trend of industrialization. It observes the reversal of traditional gender-roles, the women’s deep sense of community and egalitarianism, their collective economics, and sense of professional identity and purpose in later age.

Mikhail Karikis’s work emerges from his long-standing investigation of the human voice as a sculptural material and a conceptual compass, which he employs to explore notions of community and difference, relationality and impossibility, professional identity and human rights. Karikis’s interdisciplinary approach embraces visual art, performance and sound, often generating collaborative projects which engage other art practitioners or specific communities positioned outside the mainstream. His work ranges from the poetic to the theatrical, and activates the potential for ruptures both in perception and ethical concerns.

There is an artist’s talk on 28 June at 7:30pm, when Mikhail Karikis will be in conversation with David Toop and Cherry Smyth. Talk tickets £5. Booking is essential – via shop@thewappingproject.com

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(automatically generated) Read LKL’s review of this event here.

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