Event report: Kim Kulim and Jessica Hyunjin Kim at Cafe OTO

Sex on the Piano
Performance at Cafe OTO, Saturday 5 October 2019

Veteran avant-garde artist Kim Kulim has been going through a resurgence of interest in his work, with re-enactments of his early work having taken place in Korea over the past couple of years. This month saw a recreation of one of his controversial performances from 1970, in which he realised Nam June Paik’s Sex on the Piano, originally performed at Seoul International Contemporary Music Festival.

Jessica Hyunjin Kim with Kulim Kim at Cafe OTO
Jessica Hyunjin Kim with Kulim Kim at Cafe OTO, Saturday 5 October 2019

The evening started with two collaborations with his daughter, Jessica Hyunjin Kim, an artist currently based in London. In the first untitled collaboration, father beat time, regular as a ticking clock, with wooden laundry bats, as daughter vocalised rhythmically but tunelessly, sometimes seeming to tell a story, at other times simply enjoying the percussive sounds that can be made with lips, tongue, palette and lungs.

The second collaboration was more elaborate, involving a projection of father’s 2014 video work Rose Noire while daughter chanted from atop the piano concealed, ghost-like, under a sheet. Both of the first two performances had their origins, according to the Cafe OTO website, in a 1981 work by Kim Kulim entitled The Poet and Nail. Unfortunately no further information is available in English online, and it would be interesting to be able to understand better the genesis of this evening’s performance.

The finale was perhaps what many had come to see, but if they were expecting anything indecent they would have been disappointed. The two performers (both Londoners unrelated to the artists), who for the first part of the evening were seated in the audience with the rest of us, were modestly concealed behind thick black curtains, leaving only their feet and legs below the knee projecting out over the piano keyboard. Starting side by side, the two performers seemed to caress the keys as they engaged in gentle foreplay; and as first the male and then the female (appropriately enough, occupying the bass and soprano halves of the keyboard respectively) discarded an item of underwear the action became more energetic. The act itself was over all too briefly, presumably leaving the lady less than satisfied, but saving the piano keyboard from the pounding it was getting from the performers’ feet. The Yamaha survived unscathed, and the audience were happy to see a piece of art history recreated before their eyes.

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