Everyone has a different response to life within a colonial system, effects felt not just in the mind, but in the body. Racialized and colonial trauma seeps into the flesh, trickling down through generations to affect children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren; this trauma is embodied and intergenerational. This is one of many threads in Jin-Me Yoon’s Untunnelling Vision and was the focus of the workshop Relation-Making in the Context of Racism and Settler Colonialism, facilitated by Jin-Sun Yoon. Yoon approached the exhibition with collaboration and healing in mind, over the course of three years working with the Cardinal and Dodginghorse family, Mountain Standard Time, and TRUCK, and with the workshop’s BIPOC participants.
I attended the workshop last summer and am approaching this reflection not only as a participant and performer but in terms of my own physical recovery. I suffered multiple concussions and back injuries in a two-year period and still live with the chronic effects of both. I am immensely grateful to Jin-Me for sharing her own story of concussion recovery, aspects of which appear in the following works. To her, I give my deepest thanks, for helping me embrace the new pathways and thinking processes I’ve been given and to recognize the potential within this new mindset.
The exhibition begins with Openings (Saekdong Seas), thirty minutes of kaleidoscopic visuals and bubbling soundscapes filmed inside a sensory deprivation tank. Openings replicates this experience, a settling of the body and mind to prepare the viewer for Untunnelling Vision. Almost immediately, post-concussion symptoms take effect, hallucinatory waves precipitated by hands and diamonds and pops of colour, dipping in and out of each other. This is an unconscious reaction, pressure weaving up around my skull, circling my left eye to pierce the bone beneath. I can barely speak or think, I cannot watch the whole film without further damage, but the floating sensation and untethered mind induced by what I did see continued for the rest of my visit.
In 2014 the Cardinal Dodginghorse family was forced off their familial land to make way for the Tsuut’ina portion of the Calgary Ring Road, a deal reached in 2013 after decades of back and forth. The bounds of the Tsuut’ina Reserve were delineated in 1883, but these lines and other Treaty rights have been chipped away and broken from the moment they were written. The northeast section of the reserve was leased to the Canadian Armed Forces from 1910 to 1998, and the land was returned buried with unexploded munitions. In 2007, a movie set for the WWI film Passchendaele was built and abandoned. This set reappears throughout Untunnelling Vision in its current state: graffitied and crumbling.
Architecture and infrastructure (more broadly the built environment) are continual colonizing tools used to displace and erase the natural land and the people who have made their homes on it. Yoon explores this idea through photography, using formal characteristics to mimic a ‘transcendental white subjectivity’ which describes and delineates its own bounds, simultaneously viewing itself as ‘objectivity’. Capture (Vista): Picture in Progress illustrates the process: a large inkjet print of the tunnel being built and the forest split in two. This is where Glenna Cardinal’s family lived for five generations, but you wouldn’t know it from the photograph; the landscape is uninhabited, an image captured from a disembodied lens. Directly across from this print hangs Untaken (Sky Exposure/Land Imprint), a triptych of the construction site and the wheels of a Dodge Ram 1500 under the night sky. In using photosensitive papers, Yoon has bypassed the supposedly objective lens, instead displaying an individual embodied approach to photography based on the physicality of the place and time.
Migration and immigration, war and colonial intervention, escape and refuge, are interrelated strands which have informed the experiences of the Yoon family in Korea and Canada. These entanglements appear in the stories of many families, passing between generations, resurfacing as forgotten and half-remembered pieces.
Beyond the first room, Rubble the Clown moves through the photographs lining the walls. A melding of Rodeo Clown and Korean folk dancer, Rubble could be a manifestation of the multicultural myth in Canada, a melding of the settler and an immigrant’s own culture. When paired with images of the Ring Road and desecrated land, there is a sense of complicity in the colonial project. But Rubble exists beyond this dichotomy. Her hair and pom-poms allude to saekdong, vibrating multi-colored stripes found in children’s clothes and shaman’s robes, evoking harmony, and abundance to ward off evil. In this acknowledgement of both aspects, of specificity and complicity, the clown is free to effect change and healing.
The titular video work returns to the unmoored dreamscapes of Openings, another settling of the body. A screaming fighter jet; waving grass folding into itself; a multitude of flickering images flitting from black and white to colour and back, narrative to documentary, never settling into one defined form. Accompanying this indeterminate nature is seth cardinal dodginghorse and Hanum Yoon-Henderson’s soundtrack, droning cymbals and drums alternately leading and following the movement on the screen. The pair walk through Heritage Park, a pioneer tourist attraction that exists to gloss over histories of colonial violence. Alternating grey and colourful painted rocks are passed between the workshop participants, they wander Passchendaele searching for instruments, before settling into a rhythm led by Yoon-Henderson and cardinal dodginghorse. Rubble the Clown appears intermittently in another world, listening and responding, perhaps guiding the actions on the other side. Here is where the saekdong, seen throughout the gallery, begin to take effect. Separate strips of colour vibrating together as one, to ‘untunnel’ your vision, speaking to resilience and potential futures, imagining new modes of solidarity, and understanding arising from collective healing practices. The value in Untunnelling Vision extends beyond the walls of the gallery, a journey undertaken not just for the art, but for time spent in search of awareness, community, and empathy.