Since 2015, I have been working on a project called ‘K-Town Is My Town,’ an interactive performance in the guise of a walking tour through the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles. ‘K-Town Is My Town’ blurs the line between art and everyday social interaction. I provide opportunities for engagement with residents of Koreatown which are based from my own childhood memories of growing up there. Participants are able to engage with facets of the neighborhood which would have otherwise been inaccessible. — visiting a Korean movie theater, conversing with shop owners who speak only broken English, sampling food at a grocery store. This reversal of gaze from my childhood as a Korean girl learning American customs to Americans in a “foreign” place (Koreatown) allows me to share my immigration/assimilation experience as well as blur the narrative of “the other.”
Themes of personal history and memory continue to marinate in my brain as I observe the ways my childhood neighborhood has changed over the years, how “outsiders” relate to it then and now, and the cast-off people and things visible on its streets as a result of gentrification and social and economic shifts. As a result, I decided to photograph the streets of Koreatown over the course of a full day by participating in a worldwide photo event called the 24 Hour Project. On April 1, people from around the world took photographs of their city and shared them on Instagram in near-real time: one photo every hour for the full 24 hours in their time zone. I remained exclusively in Koreatown (an area approximately 3.2 kilometers by 2.6 kilometers) and did not venture out to other areas of Los Angeles.
Though people could “follow” me on social media through my posts throughout the day, I also scheduled and publicized “mini-experiences” to include the audience participation element of my ‘K-Town Is My Town’ tours:
- Late Night Eats / Friday, 10:30pm / Dan Sung Sa: The kick-off! Grab a bite and some drinks at this OG spot. You can keep the fun going at Gaam Karaoke next door as I start roaming K-Town with my camera.
- Late Late Night Eats + LA Riots + Architecture / Saturday, 2:30am / Denny’s: After some diner grub, let’s check out a few architectural gems on Wilshire Blvd as we discuss the LA Riots of ‘92.
- Mmm, Donuts / 6:00am / California Donuts: We’ll grab early-morning donuts at this 24-hour joint. I’ll share briefly about Little Bangladesh, a relatively new enclave within Koreatown.
- Slurp Your Breakfast / 9:00am / Sun Nong Dang: Skip the bacon and eggs for a traditional Korean breakfast, then check out the mall across the street. You may wish to continue on to Crystal Spa on the second floor of the mall if you like jjimjilbangs (Korean bathhouses).
- Lunch on Western / 1:00pm / The Bun Shop: We’ll grab lunch at this hot spot. Afterwards, I’ll drop some basic K-Town knowledge as we walk to Madang Mall for dessert.
- Memory Lane / 4:00pm / 7-Eleven: First, slurpees. Second, my first American home. Third, my first American school. We’ll cool our heels at Hewa Sun Ji as we enjoy traditional Korean tea and snacks.
- Last Call / 11:00pm / Monte Carlo: By this time, I’ll have been up for 30+ hours! Help me end strong with moral support and dive-bar booziness.
In total, I was indeed awake for 30 hours, and walked 33,000 steps. It was a physically and mentally challenging day but rewarding as well, in great part thanks to supportive friends and those who participated in the mini-experiences.
Helen Kim (b.1974, Seoul, Korea) lives & works in Los Angeles, CA. She has a BFA in Studio Arts from UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and pursued Education Abroad Program (Fine Arts) from the University of Leeds, UK.
Her work is in-between Korean and American culture (since she was born in Seoul, South Korea, then immigrated to Los Angeles, USA, when she was seven) but it also disregards the line between “art” and any other activities that people would normally engage in. She throws dinner parties and gatherings that are exploring themes of personal and public space and attempting to engage so-called non-artists in an artistic endeavor. She doesn’t frame these events as art events or use any language that is standard art speak. The exploration itself is interesting. People who normally don’t engage with the art community find the art framework disorienting, confusing or intimidating. She tries to address this gap or sense of disorientation, through her practice.
Some of her engagements can be seen on https://caseandpoint.wordpress.com/2016/09/17/30-sentences-2016-part-1/