On the occasion of her solo exhibition "A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation", Kay Yoon has written – in co-authorship with Zakirah Rabaney – a personal essay on existence and exits.
I. Individual Freedom and Possessing Language
Having grown up in a highly disciplined family and society, I was always eager to escape. But I was unsure what escape meant and where to locate my place of capture. What am I seeking liberation from and where would I be escaping to? This evokes a physical notion of freedom—of standing free without walls—my movement unrestricted by barriers. Yet I wondered whether I was afraid of the ideas of ‘outer space,’ ‘exterior’ or what I considered ‘Otherness.’ What would happen after I was free to move outside structures of oppression—outside of violence inflicted under the disguise of manners and tradition? Being instructed to act a certain way because it has been practiced that way for ages is absurd to me. As every wall in this space of public and private control suffocates me, I murmur “I do not survive but shall continue to remain existing.”
The diasporic experience of learning and adopting a new language and culture comes with excruciating stress. It demands that I bear the shame of my abnormal ignorance in the face of a new culture’s overwhelming normalcy, while the knowledge I have accumulated becomes estranged or unknown in a different cultural context. Their surplus of knowledge and education seems to warrant their rudeness towards Others. Still, I educate myself in different languages, but people barely endure my undereducated use of their language. But is it not odd to add a possessive adjective in front of the word ‘language?’ No individual owns a language as it is in constant flux. But why do people speak of it as though it is like property that can be owned? While my deficits as a foreigner in this new country are greeted with hostility, I bear the shame of my ignorance and remain existing, but not surviving.
II. Liminal Gender
My traditional and patriarchal family kept the rule of inheritance to the first son. Before I was born, my family prayed relentlessly to shamans and any god who would listen that I be born a boy. Unfortunately, my hardware was born female. Therefore, my birth was not only a huge disappointment for my family but an unanswered prayer as well. Though most of them visibly hid their disappointment from me, my father did not. When puberty broadcasted my body’s physical difference to other boys my age, my father became acutely aware of my gendered lower ranking on a hierarchical ladder erected primarily for men. A ladder I still try to climb.
Since I always felt like an outsider, this was compounded in a new cultural context with its own systems that structure gender inequality. I tried to create a universal way of understanding different social groups to safely interpret where I belong and feel acceptance. However, my father’s high expectations dictated that I be the best because all he knew was how to make me see the world in the same hierarchical way that he did. This was how he was taught to be a man. But the more he propagated his opinion of my position in his system of powerplays the more confused I became. I could not challenge him as a child, during a time in which a father’s acceptance and love is of utmost importance. So, I swallow the quiet failure that I will neither be the leader nor be the son he and my family prayed for. I am Other. In my head, I scream to myself that I should remain existing.
III. The Process of Violence within the Architecture of Family
A wall distinguishes between exterior and interior space, forming a single concrete structure. Together, many walls construct the rooms that build homes, much like individual members build the family unit that demarcates a sense of home and refuge. But the interiority of my family life did not protect me from the exterior world. I stood outside and faced a façade of safety. While walls are designed to stand together to form a structural body, human bodies as human beings do not always stand together—even when they are related by blood. The notion of outside, could therefore, even be inside the architecture of family. When you leave one barrier behind, there is another one waiting, so I believed these divisive walls wanted to devour me. This is how my claustrophobia started. I began to associate the structure of violence with walls as I suffered alone in a room at the violent hands of my father.
Could the process of violence resemble a two-sided wall? While one side is being defended, the other side is being attacked. But together, both sides form the wall’s structural integrity. Is only the attacker to blame, or does the victim play a role in this process of violence? Indeed, inciting violence is always unacceptable. But the potential to provoke a violent act of defense from the victim is still there. Emotional defending can cause verbal violence, the mental defense can cause physical attacks, and so the defense can represent an additional physical attack. This is the cycle of violence. Its self-perpetuation makes it difficult to truly find the point where it first began and how to stop it. Its mechanism is taught to us so naturally without realizing it. Brutality is easy to reproduce. Understanding and critically thinking about its effects are not so easy. I could have become a perpetrator as well by justifying it as self-defense, but I did not. I had to stop the cycle of violence.
The dichotomy of violence’s two-sided participation is symptomatic of a universal binary between existence and non-existence. But on a spectrum, there are many states between just two extremes. It is the claustrophobic concept of the binary that causes the restless oscillation between two opposing forces. And I do not want to either become a monster like my father or remain a passive victim. I want to be able to tolerate my existence. While I choose to be neither defender nor attacker, both modes still face each other to build one body, to build the wall that gives structure to systematic violence—until I find another exit to remain existing.
IV. A Smooth Exit
I hate the word “survive” so much.
My father once told me that the strongest are the ones who survive.
I never wished to be the strongest person in the world.
I never wished to partake in any powerplays to prove myself.
Whenever I recall my father’s oppressive regime, I feel like the invisible walls are expanding around me. They are expanding so fast and eternally that I feel like I am suffocating even in outside space. Is the true meaning of struggle—to escape and find an exit, or is it to confront the walls?
Kay Yoon – A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation
29/07 – 20/08/2022
Eylauer Str. 9