It’s 3:39 am and I’m taking a short break. I haven’t eaten dinner yet, and I have to leave in 6 hours to head to Seoul. I’m going to the salon, because every other time I’ve been in front of a video camera I’ve looked like hell. Well, I’ll probably look like hell this time too, because I’ll have worked two weeks straight like I am now on top of my day job. But I’m excited and optimistic and energized despite being totally run-down.
Just now I unrolled 150 yards of fabric (well, actually I have about 20 more yards to do) and cut it into 7 meter lengths. Let me tell you: that’s a real workout! It’s like doing 60 downward dogs, fast, all in a row…That 150 yards was from way back when – when we were going to get tiny tags and pack them in real tight. Now, we need 300 more yards, which will be delivered to my school so I can do more of this. Right now I’m sewing two 1 yard wide panels together. After that, I have to put tent pole casing on three sides and velcro on another.
7 meters is really long! Once sewn, it makes a tunnel section about about 9 feet high by 6 feet wide by 6 feet deep. Now multiply that by 28 times. The tags will be really crowded. If I’d designed it to have a little breathing room on either side, it would have ended up about 10 feet longer than a football field. To give you an indication of the enormity of this project, each tag is 4 cm wide by 8 cm. long. That’s about 1.5 inches wide by 3 inches long. 200,000 of them overlapped by half, in a tunnel 9ft. high by 6 ft. wide, shoulder to shoulder, is about 12 feet shy of a football field. And that’s just little tags…
It isn’t making me cry YET, probably because I am taking care of the canvas. Maybe tomorrow when I go to help stamp a number on each tag I will. It’s definitely affecting everyone who’s working on the project. I worry about Jane, surrounded by all those little tags. You can see what she’s up against at the TRACK website. A Korean saw a small portion of the tags, which is a huge quantity, and said, “I’m so ashamed to be Korean right now.”
Let’s hope the lawmakers feel the same way.
You know, people have been confused by the project. Nobody really understood that the art was not in the product, but in the doing. It was never meant to be easy. It was meant to reflect the reality of processing adoption.
I was asked to give an artist’s statement, and so I wrote the following. It’s currently being edited for Korean culture, (because I thought Han meant Korean people) but says what I wanted to say.
A collection of one
the art instigator’s personal statement
The Korean in me wanted to tell the Korean in you something, as the one people we should have been, and the one people Korea can be in the future, and so I shall talk about our adoption experience in terms of we…because the adoption experience is not just the adoptee’s problem, but uri problem.
Most Koreans have never met an adoptee in real life, though almost every Korean knows of a family member that was affected by the disappearance of a child, a child who was born a Korean but is now only a guilty whisper at family confessionals: a distant memory for many and a fresh wound for many more. In each Korean family clan there are child-shaped holes, and in the space of their absence is a void that can’t be filled and can only be covered up.
These children are the memory we want to forget but never can. They are on our minds like bad dreams and spill out on our paper, canvas, and screens. And so we return — again and again and again — to re-live the pain of our loss, in the hope we can somehow find resolution to absolve us of this act committed against nature and humanity. We want it so badly, this resolution, and in the deepest way. But we are trapped in a never-ending inconsolable loop, because we not only exiled our children from us, but we also exiled ourselves from our children. We not only harmed them, but we also harmed ourselves: on so many levels. How many knots must this nation untie due to adoption?
This internal haunting of conscience is our eternal fate as a people, as a nation, and as individuals, unless we stop throwing away our children and face the ugliness of our own actions: so that we may right our wrongs, heal our wounds, and make a better society for our now endangered Han. And in order to do this, we must finally open our eyes, look at the consequences of our actions, take ownership of them, and correct our ways.
The Korean adoptees who have returned recognize that adoptees are not real to Koreans. They don’t look like the foreigners they’ve been forced to become. There is no way to distinguish them from other Koreans, because they are Korean. At most, they are an anomaly, a momentary disruption in the fragile pride we have over the sacrifices we’ve made for success, and easily dismissed in the habit of purposeful forgetting. A futile forgetting.
In a collectivist society, one has no meaning. And adoptees are always portrayed in terms of one. And when they come to visit, they come one at a time. And when they were thrown away, it was one at a time. By profiling the adoptee as one, we don’t allow the lone adoptee, the anomalous adoptee, to penetrate our task of protective forgetting. Yet they are not one. Each and every child sent away is a person: a person who’s absence has left a deep scar on the soul of Korea.
All together, approximately 200,000 Korean children were sent away from Korea without a choice.
Of those, only an estimated 500 have returned as adults to live in the country that threw them away.
As one of the 500 who has returned, I wanted to show you what 1 Korean adoptee looks like, 200,000 times.
And as one of the 500 who has returned, I’d like to see Korea redefine family so that it values all Korean blood,
so Korea loses no more Han and I never have to hang another tag.