Critical Trilogy

a critic's millennial journey

Mina Cheon’s “Shamanism & Cyberspace”

Mina Cheon reading from her newly published book, "Shamanism and Cyberspace"; 19 May, HP Garcia Gallery

The notice we got was that Mina Cheon would read from her new book, Shamanism and Cyberspace.  Yet, as the chart above reveals, it was a triumphant appearance (Moon conjunct Mars in Leo on the Midheaven) of a bright new star to the New York avant-garde, a star who comes with some heavy credentials: new media artist, surrogate sister to the “Father of Video Art” and full time professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).  Shamanism and Cyberspace is adapted from her PHD dissertation: “The Shaman in Cyberspace: Dilemmas of Reproduction.”

Fluxus members Larry Miller, Alison Knowles and Geoffrey Hendricks participating in Mina Cheon's readings from "Shamanism and Cyberspace" at HP Garcia Gallery

Carl Jung warned that intellectuals would be the last to recognize a new archetype; the reason for this is that, like a fish in a tank, the ego cannot conceive of what surrounds it.  Although entrenched in the academy, Dr. Cheon achieved the shamanic feat of crossing the academic boundaries (deconstructionist postcolonialist  vs. performance theory ) to arrive at a newly emerging holistic archetype.  She did it by an honest exploration of her roots; she is a Korean whose parents gave Nam June Paik support at the time he made the leap to International star with the rise of MTV.

When you have the Obamas in the White House, do you need art to pinpoint the rise of a new archetype in the collective consciousness? Perhaps not, but Cheon brings this icon into both academia and art  through a powerful image: Shaman Kim “dancing on blades” while channeling the male warrior spirit.  This contemporary icon delivers the long repressed energy of the divine feminine into the global culture, yet the book details how she is an outcast at home.  Her patriarchal society has no role for the woman empowered from within who refuses to fulfill the traditional female roles.  In her isolation, she must be both female to perform as Shaman and male to run her business.

And yet, we must recognize that such a woman is also an outcast in the supposedly liberated western culture, which makes Cheon’s research and analysis all the more pertinent for a time in which we need to embrace this archetype in order to remake the global culture.

Shaman and Cyberspace enters the international avant-garde as an actual art-i-fact of a shamanic passage across academic boundaries to create a new dialectic in the gray zone (of its six year passage) between close of one era (postmodernism) and beginning of another unnamed era.  Ph.D. requirements being what they are, the postmodern language is shepherded into the book’s Afterward, thereby revealing how dead is that language and how fresh is the terrain claimed by the icon of the 21st century explored in the rest of the text.

As marginalized as the female shamans are in Korea for the healing powers emitting from this cross-gender deity, they are celebrated in performance for their tourist revenue.  Cheon calls into question shamanistic performances transmitted through the Internet, as constricted by the limitations of a medium which confuses technological with transformational.

This probing between flesh and code ignited a new dialectic at HP Garcia.  Larry Miller, who did his own mourning performance for Nam June Paik, reflected on the media-infused culture in which stars are not permitted to die (whereas stars in the sky have a natural birth and death cycle!) and pointed out that Cheon is getting at something that doesn’t yet have a name.  Unplanned, but highly effective, the discussion ended with a Korean audience member/participant relating, with Cheon as translator, his healing experience with Shaman Kim.  This testimony reinforced the crucial importance that mirroring plays in the transformational process. Can Cyberspace Avators compete on this level with flesh and blood?  Hardly!

Fluxus artists Larry Miller and Alison Knowles shared their memories of Nam June Paik, whose ambition to find the “way through” to global stardom resulted in his developing the “star” pesona that Cheon deconstructs in her book.  It is all so fitting to analyze the star of  star maker medium (MTV in the 1980’s)  in terms of the artificiality of Cyberspace, where individual personas are so easily borrowed and stolen — we wonder why no one ever did it before!  But then, other writers have not had the intimacy with “the father of video” and access to knowledge as Cheon, who told her audience/participants: “Nam June single-handly made my mother into a scholar — of himself.”

HP Garcia (standing) and Richard Humann at Mina Cheon's Salon, HP Garcia Gallery

The book couldn’t appear at a better time.  At a Guggenheim Museum symposium preceding her Seven Easy Pieces, Marina Abramovic presented her arguments for repetition of iconic performances; she declared it as a way of preserving them in the annals of art history, yet seemed incensed that Chris Burden refused to give her permission to repeat his crucifixion on a Volkswagen.  A recent AICA sponsored panel on New Media at the New Museum addressed the issue through wrapping up a discussion of the Second Life repetition via avatars through the pointing out of Marina doing so in the (naked) flesh at the Museum of Modern Art.  Is the artist’s agreement the only thing that stands in the way between borrowing and theft?  What has happened to the supremacy of originality in art ??  Or have we simply lost the facilities, in this age of technology, to recognize authenticity when we are confronted with it?

As we mourn the demise of a movement — postmodernism — which had borrowing as a given, the issue repetition at the core of Cheon’s book brings up the matter of the spiritual and the authentic.  How do we meet the new paradigm requirements of continual evolution and cyclical motion within the confines of the slick demands of the marketplace and confines of the institution?  How is it that Duchamp’s 1913 Armory Show firecraeker,  Nude Descending a Staircase, established a form for the 20th century challenge:  to deliver movement into the museum object.  How did we arrive the first real decade of the 21st century to have an international performance artist make an immobile museum piece of herself as she sits like a celebrated corpse for the duration of her exhibit, while live bodies go through the motion of repeating her past performances?

My personal resolution of the conflict regarding the inauthenticity of performance repeated through the click in Cyberspace and static presence of art in the institution is simple: in illo tempore.  It appears as a mandala of what you see at the beginning of this post.  The astrology chart reveals a singular moment in time and space.  This moment can never be repeated.   Eliade addressed this in The Myth of Eternal Return. What is done for the first time by the gods (the planets) can only be repeated by humans, but never experienced in illo tempore again.

Thus, every performance must, by necessity, be new, i.e. revealing the energies of that particular moment in time).  For Marina’s performances to be repeated, it isn’t clear at all WHAT they are re-enacting.  Without the conscious understanding of the cosmic connection provided by the astrology chart, what was the goal?

Here we have the hole trying to fill in the gap between movements and doing so ineffectively.  Or perhaps all too effectively.  By elevating Marina Abramovic into a new breed of “immobile” celebrity with a line of people paying homage and a V.I.P. list to boot, it is negating, her history of repetition intended to wear down and defeat the ego.  At least that is how I understood the meaning of her performance when I interviewed and wrote about her role as teacher to a new generation of performers back in 2004.

Cheon’s book concludes with a specific marriage between performance and cyberspace revealing how repetition can resurrect from the thievery of postmodernism to the evolutionary requirements of a new paradigm.  Shaman Kim’s 2006 mourning the death of Nam June Paik, as a repetition of the Korean artist’s earlier performance mourning for his buddy Joseph Beuys.  Utilizing the artifacts to invoke hie firned, Paik became a female shaman to connect with the spirited of the departed.

With this e-motional repetition serving as both homage and evolution of an art form, we have come to a novel exchange across time.  This condition evokes a new paradigm in which one sex is exchanged for another to achieve a sacred marriage of opposites, where identity of shaman and artist are interchangeable — and ultimately — one and the same.

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May 25, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. […] standard for performance art, which Mina Cheon’s Shamanism and Cyberspace brings into a dialectic notably missing from The Artist is […]

    Pingback by Abramovic, Hatry & the New Birth « Critical Trilogy | June 2, 2010 | Reply


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