Exhibition + Performance: Geumhyung Jeong’s Unperformed Objects + 7Ways (NSFW)

Geumhyung Jeong
Geumhyung Jeong. Photo: Tae Hwan Kim

It’s not often you go to an art event where, in retrospect, you might have expected an 18+ rating on the door. The only other time I seen a performance as risqué as Geunhyung Jeong’s at an art institution was when I allowed myself to be dragged along to an event at the ICA at which a sex therapist was demonstrating how to have a tantric climax. Unlike that overtly X-rated event at the ICA, Jeong’s performance at Tate Modern didn’t involve full nudity, but the mind was nevertheless gently boggling, and the attention was absolutely transfixed, for the full 70 minutes of her performance.

Geumhyung Jeong’s Unperformed Objects

You probably had half an idea what to expect from the Tate Modern performance if you had already paid a visit to the exhibition at the Delfina Foundation where she was holding a post-residency exhibition. Her practice is to collect everyday objects and then perform with them. Videos of previous performances were being shown, alongside the objects which still awaited their opportunity move on from their “unperformed” status. Many of the objects might be everyday, but others were more for private use in the comfort and privacy of one’s home, and only available over the internet or from adult shops. Even with objects that were not overtly adult in nature, the videos of past performances indicated that it’s not hard to get very hot and steamy with a dummy’s head.

At the Tate, Jeong sat quietly at the edge of the performance space inside one of the giant tanks as the audience filed in, gently limbering up and stretching her muscles. The space was littered with boxes containing objects whose nature would only become apparent during the course of the performance. On open display were various props including a female tailors dummy and a vacuum cleaner.

You could hear a pin drop as she slowly stripped to her underwear and then put on some shapeless black garments which somehow disguised the shape of her body. A sinister-looking mask was placed on her black stockinged foot, and suddenly a grotesque, malformed creature was born which slithered in an awkward but perfectly controlled gait across the floor. With minute movements of her ankle, Jeong breathed life into the mask, a tiny head at the end of Jeong’s leg which was like the long neck of a brontosaurus. The creature leered hungrily at the female tailor’s dummy. What followed was sexual, but nothing like as X-rated as the climax of the piece.

Geumhyung Jeong: 7ways
Photo credit: Wooshik Lee

The performance was entitled 7Ways – a series of seven linked acts involving everyday objects. Not all of the acts were sexual. One of them simply recreated a deep blue sea on which a wooden boat made its unsteady journey. The most remarkable section was the one featured in the publicity shot which depicts the start of the scene: Jeong lies seemingly exhausted, draped over a drum-style vacuum cleaner from behind which peers a grotesque, unkempt head. As the scene moves forward, it emerges that the head is at the end of the vacuum cleaner’s hose: again, we have a ghastly snaked-necked creature with a voracious sexual appetite. Here Jeong’s complete mastery over her body really came into its own: even though (obviously) it was she that was manipulating the vacuum cleaner, such was her skill that it seemed that she was the puppet, the manipulated, the victim, and the sinister animus of the machine was in control.

Geumhyung Jeong 7ways
Photo credit: Wooshik Lee

At times the evening’s performance was genuinely disturbing, and never less than enthralling. Not bad for show involving everyday objects.

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