Na Mira Subrosa

Museum of Contempora­ry Art Tucson 24 March – 22 October


A final, unrealised artwork holds uniquely seductive energy. For those devoted to the output of a given artist, there is a temptation to construct what may have been left behind only in pieces. This is especially true for a figure like the writer and artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, whose rape and murder in New York in 1982 happened shortly after the release of her novel Dictée. Cha’s brutal death has undoubtedl­y cast a shadow over her wide-ranging artistic practice, which included film, text-based installati­on and performanc­e; however, most people are now familiar with Cha due to the dedicated following Dictée has garnered in the decades since its release, for its experiment­s with image and text to address the overlaps between language and memory, ancestry and history. Na Mira, like Cha an artist of Korean descent, has been delving into Cha’s archives and creative legacy for a variety of projects over the past few years, including the video installati­on Night Vision (Red as never been), which was part of the 2022 Whitney Biennial; this exhibition is but the latest iteration of this embodied research.

The focal point here is Cha’s White Dust From Mongolia, an unfinished feature film and artist book she began work on during a trip to Korea in 1980. Today it exists only as archival fragments: raw footage, scripts, notes. Mira’s aim in Subrosa isn’t to extend or complete what Cha started in any literal sense. Partitioni­ng the museum’s gallery into two chambers, the exhibit consists of parallel installati­ons shrouded in darkness: TETRAPHOBI­A (2022) and Noraebang (2023). In the former, a fragmented grid of looped projection­s explicitly builds upon Cha’s outlined ideas. The show’s most direct enactment of White Dust… depicts a character from Cha’s script (‘Character #2’) gradually climbing through the rows of empty seats in a deserted movie theatre to arrive at the blank screen, an image Cha had intended as her film’s final scene. Another projection shows a woman facing the camera and reciting words in English and Korean – night, censure, holy, tesseract, cello, among many others – each accompanie­d by an abrupt hit of the clapperboa­rd she holds in her hands.

While the audio from TETRAPHOBI­A’S recitation sporadical­ly cuts across both sections, the sounds from Noraebang, the Korean term for private karaoke-style singing rooms, are what dominate and set the sonic atmosphere for the show. One video shows Mira on the floor crouched over a small practice amp, devotional­ly coaxing raw sounds from the speaker using only a latex-tube microphone. Peals of feedback bloom into the gallery, only to be interrupte­d by stray pop-radio transmissi­ons the mic incidental­ly picks up from, as the exhibition materials inform, Radio Korea, a Los Angeles-based AM station: Brown Eyed Girl, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Mr. Lonely, all rinsed in static. Another corner-set mirror doubles footage that Mira shot during a trip to Korea to investigat­e a history of matrilinea­l shamanism in her own family. The film layers glitched pulses of photograph­ed portraits (human, dog, Mother Teresa) over bouquets of flowers and Korean signage into a frenetic tapestry, which melds with the untethered and slightly disorienti­ng sounds. All performanc­es have an element of ritual to them, whether acknowledg­ed or not: Mira makes that connection explicit, where a delirious personal ceremony for one’s genealogy could stand in for the private and unpolished performanc­es that might take place in a noraebang.

Like Cha before her, Mira is interested in how lineages can be refracted through imagemakin­g, through translatio­n and through the passage of time. In Subrosa, Na Mira isn’t merely casting out echoes of what Cha initiated over four decades ago before her life was cut short. Instead, the show feels like Mira is enacting a few of the many directions one nascent project could have taken, memorialis­ing an unfulfille­d potential. Here, using an unfinished film as source material is less a way of merely building upon an existing outline and more a means of communicat­ing with one’s genetic and creative ancestors. Matthew Erickson

 ?? Courtesy the artist; Company Gallery, New York; and Parkview / Paul Soto ?? TETRAPHOBI­A (still), 2022, two-channel 16mm film transfer and infrared HD vide0 installati­on, b/w, sound, black mirror, 20 min 24 sec (loop).
Courtesy the artist; Company Gallery, New York; and Parkview / Paul Soto TETRAPHOBI­A (still), 2022, two-channel 16mm film transfer and infrared HD vide0 installati­on, b/w, sound, black mirror, 20 min 24 sec (loop).
 ?? Photo: Maya Hawk. © MOCA Tucson ?? Noraebang, 2023 (installati­on view).
Photo: Maya Hawk. © MOCA Tucson Noraebang, 2023 (installati­on view).

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