Elucidating the interior self
Bongsu Park’s explorations of dreams offer immersions into cerebral worlds
by Anna Harsanyi
In the broadest sense, dreams are commonly understood as representations of our innermost thoughts and feelings, symbols of ourselves. In artist Bongsu Park’s work, a richly textured understanding into this internality unfolds through projects that are shaped by interactions with audiences, offering perspectives on the layered nature of the subconscious. Through immersive installations, participatory experiences, and performances, Park shares a vast visual space through which to navigate this cerebral realm.
Many of Park’s works inform one another and expand upon details to make up a thematic whole. One such overarching project, the ongoing Dream Auction, is an umbrella for a series of works exploring the Korean practice of buying and selling dreams. A casual part of everyday life which is rooted in centuries of historical dream interpretation, friends or relatives might buy or sell one another’s dreams based on their symbolic characteristics. Though such transactions are informal and friendly, they hold mutual affective value rooted in the sharing of one’s personal, internal contemplations. It is a transfer of energy in good faith, an act of friendly generosity rooted in reverie. Echoing these relational habits, Park offers her audience similarly profound moments for experiencing dreams, using sensory visuals to embellish our perception of the subconscious.
In Dream Auction, the artist collects dreams from participants in workshops, as well as through her website. These dreams are logged and reintroduced in various visual elements for installations, or as prompts for discussion. For Dream Ritual, staged in 2019 at The Coronet Theatre in London, Park collaborated with dancer and movement artist Jinyeob Cha to construct a series of multimedia performances which interlaced dance, live electronic music and visual projections. The immersive performance channeled sleep and the dream state, with Cha’s rhythmic gestures echoed and punctuated by musician haihm’s electronic pulses, all of which was enveloped in an ethereal projected environment. The projections evolved to display words and phrases from Park’s collection of dreams, adding a more literal layer to the abstract presentation. It also served as a ritual to prepare for the Dream Auction, a setting of the stage for symbolic trading of dreams. Part of what informed this ritual was the artist’s research into SamgukSagi (History of the Three Kingdoms), the oldest official Korean historical narrative, which describes the divergent fates of two royal sisters who sold dreams to each other. This historical narrative wraps up the future of kingdoms and leaders in the act of buying and selling dreams.
Dream Auction is also comprised of participatory experiences that extend Park’s practice into other disciplines and contexts outside of art. Park leads workshops which offer dream interpretations through processes of storytelling and reflection. The artist facilitates these conversations and encourages participants to not only share their dreams but also delve into the cognitive and emotional resonance they hold. Some workshops include collaborations with writers or other practitioners, and she often shares cultural interpretations that include both Korean and European historical frameworks in workshop discussions. She has presented these workshops at Korean Cultural Centre in London and institutions such as the Wellcome Collection and the Tavistock Institute, which take a much more empirical approach to dreams. During these workshops, collective sharing is an important way to build a temporary community for talking about dreams and our intimate thoughts. In a group conversation, dreamscapes might come together to reveal commonalities or shared experiences beyond an individual person’s consciousness or cultural background.
Further explorations into the social sciences can also be envisioned in selections of Park’s video works, especially those produced as part of the Dream Ritual performances. Capturing Cha’s movements on a reflective surface, the images of her body’s contortions are replicated to form kaleidoscopic visuals that dissolve body into pattern. As these shapes shift and re-reflect new configurations, the visibility of hands, feet, clothing mutate in and out of legibility as well. Such hypnotic patterns are reminiscent of readings of Rorschach imagery, where abstract forms are interpreted to evoke meaning and feeling.
As Park collects dreams from workshops and online, she will enact the buying and selling tradition by performatively staging auctions. Such a performance transfers the buying and selling of dreams to a temporary marketplace, making visible the complexity of actually assigning physical value to such an immaterial notion as a dream. The auction will also serve as a way of formalizing an informal practice, playing with subjective value structures that are enacted when assigning a monetary price to dreams. When a person buys a dream from their friend, its symbolic importance is actually not represented in the price one pays, and the transaction is less about currency than about the actual act of exchange. The Dream Auction then, is not a commodification of such a transaction, rather it calls attention to how the practice of buying and selling dreams exists beyond and outside of the material realm. Its power remains in the social, in the personal, the intimate – it signifies an interpersonal exchange of value that is negotiated, accepted, and cared for based on personal perception as opposed to formal economic structures.
In another project which also accesses the personal and the performative, Internal Library was staged at The Print Room in London in 2017. A labyrinth of translucent cloth hung in a maze-like configuration, with words from submitted personal reflections projected against the walls and passageways. In this project, Park did not specifically solicit dreams, but the audience’s innermost thoughts. The participating audiences’ statements and fragments of thoughts portrayed, more often than not, feelings of intimacy and longing. In turn, the dimly lit space channeled a sense of melancholy that often accompanies personal self-reflection. Various sections of the maze were occasionally lit from slowly flashing bulbs, which illuminated a desk space set up with a typewriter. Here, visitors to the space could join the floating chorus of text surrounding them by sitting down at the desk and contributing their own interior monologue. The artist then transposed the newly collected words and fed them into the installation, to join the ever-shifting corridors of personal feelings floating in space.
While our innermost thoughts and feelings – whether dreams, indirect emotions, or personal narratives – are often assumed to be solitary or singular, Park encourages an opening of these private attentions. Her work serves as a platform through which to see oneself against a backdrop of other internal spaces. The artist’s projects tease out what we may be feeling all the time, but have difficulty expressing – her work asks us to consider the how our personal thoughts have collective relevance, how the subconscious is brought to light.