Dear future young artists who want to make queer diaspora art,
This is our love letter to you. Once upon a time there was LB City (2000-2003), a love story of a marginalized community that came together to support each other, which inspired our love letter to you. This passing of love has nothing to do with blood or kin. It has everything to do with the community we nurture together to continue passing on these love stories.
We write this as a collective of similar-hearted young Korean diaspora artists, formally called Hyperlink Press. We are inspired by South Korean online LGBTQ communities in the 2000s such as LB City. We archive, envision, and distribute these love stories to reimagine belonging.
LB City was an online lesbian forum founded by Lee Hae-Sol and other 25 lesbian organizers as an attempt to create a virtual “lesbian” utopia. LB City community members appropriated the term “lesbian (레즈비언)” as an alternate existence to Korean patriarchy and heteronormativity. Even before LB City and “lesbian” became popularized in Korea, there were still queer women communities and names despite the erasure: 이쪽 (e-jjok, “this side”), 이반 (e-ban, a pun on 일반 (il-ban) “normal” implying there is beyond normal), 바지씨 (baji ssi, “Mr./Ms.Pants”), and 치마씨(chi ma ssi, “Mr./Ms. Skirts”). LB City founder, Lee Hae-Sol, took inspiration from the butch taxi driver union (여운회) from the 70’s and 80’s which was a coalition that created family-like support for working queer women. Though Korean words for queer women existed prior to the adoption of the word “lesbian,” LB City members sought to redefine the label in their own terms through embodied, everyday experiences as queer women living in South Korea. Considering LB City’s inclusive in their spirit and lots of queer neologisms are fairly new, LB City’s founders intent showed a potential for nurturing dialogue that centered queer folks, trans women, and gender nonconforming people, offering LB City’s citizenship to those excluded from the immediate definition of lesbianism. The heart of LB City was the collective practice to build another kind of world that embraced and prioritized the voices and needs of queer women and minoritized people. This virtual city planning project continues to be a critical inspiration for Hyperlink’s mission as we aim to continue its spirit.
Hyperlink Press sources its aesthetic inspiration from the software interfaces of the early 2000’s in South Korea that followed its own distinctive path of development and growth with such programs and platforms as 아래아한글, 소리바다, 프리첼, 다음까페, 알집, and 싸이월드. For millennials, the 2000’s were our first encounters with early internet aesthetics and experience; it stood as a time of excitement for a decentralized and equitable world, departing from traditional forms of community building. We are drawn to this era when anyone could be anything and accepted for the stories they shared. The internet represented a radical shift in how dialogue existed and propagated, providing a framework for understanding our collective marginalized histories beyond state-mandated narratives which often centered on patriarchal, heteronormative, anti-communist, and imperialist paradigms.
Due to our diasporic childhoods, we sought absorption of Korean culture through the internet. The internet provided a fluid space without geographical borders which afforded us the possibility to encounter different narratives outside of the state-mandated definitions of what “Korean culture” was. However, when language and culture are exported and consumed this way by the English speaking diaspora, there’s a disconnect in how we use that information and present it to a Western audience. Because this kind of unilateral adoption of what Korean “culture” is through romanticized translations, it creates an easy route to bypass true dialogue between peninsular and diasporic Koreans, which is often compounded by generational divides.
We cannot have true dialogue without the love and the courage to trust in each other. This trust is what allows us to join in community and partnership in naming the world.
We become afraid to engage in true dialogue, because it goes against the grains of how we are socialized to center only ourselves as independent actors. True dialogue is rooted in love which is an act of courage, not fear. Love is a commitment to others, and an act of bravery which generates other acts of freedom. Instead, we default to romanticizing ancestral heritage or histories and participating in the contemporary art conveyor belt for the benefit of a Western audience. They wouldn’t know the difference. Here, we ask, who do we really want to make art for? We realize that maybe we want to actually make art about our family and for our family (chosen or otherwise) and have an honest dialogue with them. But what we don’t want to do is to sell an exotic story for curators and collectors to then sell to rich people who use it only to evade taxes and participate in the unchecked late-capitalist structure of the art market.
This is not to say that we haven’t been there ourselves. We’ve also made work about the extinct Korean tiger, about the ever-elusive Han(한), made appropriated mudang performances, and the list goes on. But looking back, if we hadn’t made that work based on our nostalgia, we couldn’t have started our own journey towards honest dialogue to understand identity not as a lack but rather articulating the new identities, ways of belonging, and being, birthed from migration and its specific contexts. Though we acknowledge the nostalgia which we can tangibly grasp and make art from, we know that this is not in dialogue with the dynamic culture and people from whence we came. In order to encounter true dialogue, there is a dire need to look beyond nostalgia and build upon legacy by understanding specificities of the present that are produced by the past. Only then, we can shape past learnings to intentionally create change and a vision for the future.
Just like a support system or network of care, we want to foster alternative communities for artists with a focus on intersectionality, queerness, transnational communities, digital technologies, and the internet. We will always advocate for underrepresented artists, histories, stories, and experiences irrespective of their place in contemporary art or geographic location.
From LB City to you, this love letter is a way to pass down these forms of dialogue through the generations across transnational communities.
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May you find the courage to inspire dialogue on the foundations of love,
Written by Taehee Whang, Minsoo Thigpen, Jeong Yoong Lee, Juwon Jun, and Sonia Choi.
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Postscript: Founded by Taehee Whang, Jeong Yoon Lee, and Minsoo Thigpen in 2018, Hyperlink Press.