Minouk Lim, an acclaimed artist from Seoul, South Korea, is in the Residency at Hyde Park Art Center from January 4 to February 12 of this year. Lim collaborated with Chris Foreman to present FireCliff 4_Chicago at the Logan Center last Friday. FireCliff 4_Chicago is the fourth of Lim’s FireCliff series; she has also done shows in Madrid, Seoul, and Minneapolis. In her performances, Lim sends political messages in collaboration with other artists, and creates uniquely composed performances.
Foreman, now in his mid-fifties, is a talented jazz musician from Chicago. He was carefully seated behind his organ in trendy sunglasses (Foreman is blind). The performance began, and the room darkened. I watched the shadow of the man as the jazz sound flowed. As Foreman opened his mouth to begin a soliloquy, I had to strain my ears to pick up even a few of his words. Foreman sounded ominous as he whispered words like “sense” and “anger,” amid bunches of muffled phrases. He appeared to be saying something crucial, but no one could quite make out the words, and his speech remained practically inaudible until the end. When his soliloquy was over, though, the lights came on and a staff member quickly picked up the fallen microphone. He hastily clipped it back onto to Foreman’s shirt; the whispering had been an unfortunate mishap.
The performance continued without further glitches. With a more upbeat tone of voice, enhanced by brighter lighting, Foreman began another portion of the show. He allowed audience members to interact: He encouraged them to guess the song he was playing, sing along, and laugh freely at his jokes. People sang along to the theme songs of The Flintstones and The Jetsons.
The performance was then interrupted by more darkness, though the jazz continued to flow. The absence of vocal input continued for some time. Then Foreman finally opened his mouth to utter an abridged version of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. His voice was low and mysterious, barely a whisper, only this time on purpose. The darkness continued to devour the stage, and a recording of a man’s voice came on—it was the charismatic King himself delivering his 1963 speech. As King’s voice became more intense, Foreman hit the organ again. His magic fingers created a euphoric melody, which accompanied King’s passionate appeal for equality.
Then something new happened. A thermal video of a person and her hand was projected on a back screen. The effect of the video, infused with rainbow colors and the faceless figure, was utter confusion. What was clear, however, is that the range of colors neutralized the figure, eliminating any markers of race or gender.
The figure seemed to be staring at its open palm, resolute, and maybe even grieving. The universal emotions of the figure seemed to suggest that there is grief in everyone regardless of race or gender. But because of the image’s ambiguity, the notion was uncertain and useless.
As the show closed with another, brighter jazz performance and audience sing-along, Lim’s remix of political speech, sound, and image remained ambiguous yet ever so powerful. The message that cannot be seen was delivered in spite of the mishap in the beginning. When I complimented Lim on how much I liked the performance, she lamented that the beginning soliloquy “was the most important part of the show!”
“But these things happen all the time,” said Lim. Her performance was hindered by an unfortunate microphone accident, but she should know how well her performance still worked.