Alex Martinis Roe (b. 1982, Melbourne) is concerned with the performative efficacy of art and facilitating feminist relations within the art encounter and its historicization. She completed her PhD in Fine Arts at Monash University Australia with the Silver Jubilee Scholarship in 2010. In 2006-7 she was a resident at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne, and since 2009 she has lived and worked at the Kunsthaus KuLe, Berlin.
Recent exhibitions include Genealogies; Frameworks for Exchange, Pallas Projects, Dublin (solo) (2011); Denkmalpflege, Heidelberger Kunstverein (2011); HaVE A LoOk! Have a Look! FormContent, London (2010); Encounters: Conversation in Practice, Limbus Europae, Berlin (solo) (2010); Opening Lines, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, (2010); Unseen Forces, ICAN, Sydney (2010); Discreet Objects, Utopian Slumps, Melbourne (2010); Affirmations, Light Projects, Melbourne (solo) (2010); Towards a Positive Politics of Difference, Monash University Faculty Gallery (solo) (2010).
Martinis Roe has been published in art magazines such as Art Papers (2011), Art & Australia (2009) and produced artist pages for Un Magazine issue 3.1 (2009) and recently documents from her project Encounters: Conversation in Practice in Lilo Nein (ed), The Present Author: Who is Speaking in Performance? In November 2011 she will present a solo project at Bibliothekswohung, Berlin, and then in February 2012 a solo exhibition at Artspace, Sydney.
an expanded documentary of women’s work for democracy in South Korea
This expanded documentary of collective politics in Korea focuses on the significant contribution women workers have made to the ongoing struggle for “democracy” and their use of aerial protests as a way to gain visibility, and the ways these have been remembered. Solo aerial protests are a clear vertical architecture of seeing and being seen, representing and being represented, and highlight the key tension in democratic collective politics between leadership and membership.
In attempting to redress the making of a representation, this project explores the politics of documentary. My ongoing interest in the ethics and politics of the documentation of events (stemming from my work with performance art and its documentation) has led me for the first time to attempt making what I call an expanded documentary of a history that I have had no authorial relation to previously. Normally I set up a situation in an art context and then the mode of its documentation becomes a part of the work. In this case, however, I wanted to occupy the position of a documentarian to test the limits of the artist’s ability to problematise, but nevertheless make a history. I wanted to examine the idea of “democracy” and its status as a universal value and qualify that with a specific history of its construction. In creating an expanded documentary, I have attempted to foreground the inherently specific nature of democracy – i.e. who is represented by whom. The enduring hegemony of aesthetic value in the general/the universal/the global has the potential to be challenged by documentary practices because they are grounded within a specific context. In addition to this, for some time now I have been working with the Milan Women’s Bookstore Collective’s concept of affidamento, the entrustment of one woman’s voice and power to another. This practice of affidamento works with the differences between women and creates a feminine economy of relation that is different to dominant regimes of power, which many feminists argue (including myself) are masculine. In terms of the future of feminist collective politics, I am interested in alliances between women across generations, industries and nationalities because of their differences. As a visitor to Korea, I wanted to entrust the meaning of my work here to a history of relations between women – in affidamento.
This project examines the nature of collective politics in Korea and the marked role of protests that demand great physical sacrifices on the part of individuals in the movement for democracy. In particular, the project explores the significant and leading contribution women workers made to this ongoing struggle and their use of aerial protests as a way to gain visibility and, quite simply, to be heard above the crowd. Solo aerial protests are a clear vertical architecture of seeing and being seen, representing and being represented, and highlight the key tension in democratic collective politics between leadership and membership. This tension comes from the importance of the individual to democratic collective politics (ie. the agency of the modern subject and a respect for the singularity of the subject) but also from the importance of the collective to which the individual must be responsible.
Ironically, I made most of my works here in reference to the horizontal space of the “democracy martyr’s graveyard” at Maseok (a town outside of Seoul). I became fascinated by the clear role that biography plays in collective history as evinced by what I call “a people’s museum” in the graveyard – since 1970 activists have placed items that would usually be inside a martyr’s grave in an acrylic glass box near the grave instead (including important books, photographs, clothing worn during protests, a photograph of the deceased and headbands with slogans on them). These boxes are intended as a kind of promise by fellow activists to continue the work for which the person died. I found this relationship between biography and collective politics (and democracy) to be a very pertinent history, especially as the boxes are in flux – people add items and are not prohibited from opening the boxes and looking through their contents. The “people’s museum” is actually a kind of library without a building containing it - subject to degradation from use and the weather.
I made three boxes like those at Maseok cemetery as part of my installation, attempting to bring the spatial quality of these miniature museums into the institution. One box is for Kang Jooyoung, who in 1930 climbed a tower in what was the first aerial protest in Korea. Her call for workers’ rights from the tower began a history of aerial protests, which I have attempted to make into a small museum inside another box. The history of aerial protests in Korea has relied upon often simultaneous mass rallies on the ground below. I have made another miniature museum for the history of mass protests by women on the ground – the two boxes are a complementary history of the horizontal and vertical relations among women in Korea’s collective labour movement.
This history of aerial protests is still in the making. Currently Kim Jinsuk, a trade unionist from the Busan branch of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union, has been atop a crane at Hanjin Heavy Industries shipbuilding yard for over 300 days demanding the reinstatement of hundreds of laid-off workers. My video is simply footage of her daily morning rituals – her protest, her work, is a domestic occupation, the visibility of which is the power behind her action. I see her as an author of an action and my authorship as that of a documentarian. I have not used any montage, subtitles or other narrative tools, because I felt that the title of the work acknowledging the origin of the footage was a balanced way to perform an affidamento between my authorship and Kim Jinsuk’s.
The final piece in the installation is a two channel sound piece, which includes a digital video of a power generator on a monitor and an audio CD with headphones of the chorus of a famous democracy song as it was amplified in the Maseok graveyard (by the generator) for the ceremony on the 49th day after the death of Lee So-sun “the Mother of Laborers” - the mother of Chun Tae-il, who was the first democracy martyr in Korea and is known as “the Father of Democracy”. I was struck by the circular relationship between the generator and the amplification of music in the graveyard as testimony to the marginal and transient nature of this women’s history, not to mention the very special time that it brackets – the time between two deaths and the movement for democracy that has occurred between them.
Transcript from a conversation outside Hanjin
Heavy Industries on 30/09/11
-Ok, so, he’s saying that - I was wrong - some of those people are cremated, some of them are buried whole, and some of them, he said, their bodies were actually stolen from the grave, and then we had to follow the people who have cremated them to pick up some ashes to put in the grave. But then, in Chun Taeil’s case, when he died –you know, they were poor, he was not well known –they could only get a really small box, so the smaller size of grave is a box. But for her case, because she’s well known now, because of Chun Tae-il and everything, she was able to have more acreage inside the graveyard, which is why in order to make use of the bigger acreage, they decided to make it round - traditionally Korean graves are round. Then, in terms of the day that they will make the box, he says that on the 49th day after her death they will make the box and put it there.
-They will make it from scratch? Or will they just place it there?
-No, they will put those things that were offered up in front of the statue (of Chun Taeil) in there. So the things that were offered up in front of the statue were like an orange struggle vest from the women workers –they were precarious women workers; they had a really hair-raising, terrible struggle against their employer. They were beaten so many times; they had their tents torn down –their protest tents; the company hired thugs who dragged them into the factory, locked the doors shut and basically humiliated and assaulted them -you know. But in the end they persevered - they went through a 90-day sit-in hunger strike, and then also an aerial strike like Kim Jinsuk and so finally they were able to win re-instatement.
Putting the vest there is like an offering, a promise that they will succeed in the trade union movement –in the labor movement and some of its goals. Also, for example, there was a white helmet, that was used by the Sanyang waterworkers when they were on their 77 day strike. The reason that they had to wear helmets during the strike was that the hired thugs were firing from little sling-shots. They were firing screws and pellets and things made of metal –so people who were hit by them were really injured and bruised, and so they had to wear helmets and avoid the slingshot stuff. Also, at the time, the riot police had completely surrounded their plant and were flying helicopters everyday over the plant and dropping chemicals on them - they were getting chemical burns; they cut off the food and water and so they couldn’t wash off the chemicals –they just kept burning deeper and deeper - so it was just a really horrible struggle. So actually there were some books of the photos from that struggle, and the actual helmet that was used in the struggle to protect the worker. Then - what else will go into the box? There is a struggle vest from the Chunju bus-workers’ strike; and then the banner that all the Hanjin workers signed with their hopes. But basically these objects are showing Lee So-sun our commitment to carry forward –it’s a promise to bring some kind of liberation to workers and rights and so on. So, after Chun Taeil died, you know, there were people who wanted to make sure he hadn’t died in vain, so that the reason for his death would be remembered - when other people were being killed or died in the movement for democracy, and for the labor movement, they thought it would be appropriate to bury these people in the same graveyard as Chun Taeil, or beside Chun Taeil theoretically. So that’s how it started.
And usually when there is a person who has died from the repression of the state or something in the struggle to realize these kinds of aspirations for freedom and democracy and workers’ rights, then people form a group. The people who knew the person’s meaning and significance, and why they died, and why they were fighting, and who felt that these things shouldn’t be forgotten - they organized themselves into a group for each person, and so her group then will put the things into the box.