Removing Mother Tongue, 2017
Performance documentation video, residual objects, paper flyers. Dimensions variables
Derived from an endurance-based performance, Removing Mother Tongue utilizes the markers of Woo’s own Korean background to visualize the inevitable distress one encounters while moving across cultures. Woo focuses much of her work on the organ of the mouth, a bodily orifice which is instrumental in building primordial notions of belonging. A cavity connecting the interior of one’s body to the external world, the mouth is at once the source of language, the means to savor traditional dishes, and the site that, in Freudian terms, is at the origins of social interaction. In Removing Mother Tongue, Woo conflates these connotations by using her lips and tongue to write a native Korean idiom by spreading a painfully hot Korean paste.
The amorphous objects that accompany the footage derive from the cancerous ashes of the same hot paste mixed with Woo’s saliva: residues from the performance. These obscure masses possess an evocative potential that contrasts the destructive encounter between the body and an artificial context expressed by Woo’s performance. At once reminiscent of animal organs, feces, carbonized plants, or even burnt tongues, Woo places these suggestive remains on a metallic surgical tray, as if they were specimens of scientific importance. The universal ritual of burning and resurrection thus counterbalances the apparently insurmountable obstacles that impede one’s life passage.
Preparation for the performance included intense scientific research biologically identifying Woo using her saliva samples. This scientific research is not a ‘visible’ part of the performance or resulting residues, and is separate from those aspects of her identify involving language, appearance, lifestyle, or geographical location. Woo will always be biologically classified as of Korean ethnicity, regardless of her time spent abroad, her cultural adaption, or legal citizenship status. Chemoreceptor cells on Woo's tongue taste buds and their relationship with the nervous system, differences between the salivary gland tissues of multi-ethnic people, the correlation between PTC alleles, diet, and ethnicity, and genomic DNA sequencing using gel electrophoresis to vizualize PCR; all of these research aspects went into the preparation of Removing Mother’s Tongue.