Gina Kim’s powerful work has added a new dimension to visual activism in the global context of anticolonial and feminist movements. Her recent virtual reality work, Tearless (2021), is a significant contribution to memory activism and foregrounds issues of ethical representation in the age of immersive media.
Tearless is the second of Kim’s trilogy on the ‘US comfort women’ who were mobilized for sexual servitude in South Korea’s camp towns that surround US military bases. A 360-degree three-dimensional display is used to invite the viewer to a virtual space that re-enacts ‘Monkey House’ – a medical prison for those women who were suspected to have STDs. The South Korean government regularly tested camp town women for STDs and detained those who were suspected to have been infected in this isolated building. The name “Monkey House” was given to the detention centre by US soldiers ridiculing detained women. It was operational from the 1960s through the 1990s and is now derelict. Gina carefully documented the look of this abandoned building with a 360-degree camera and established a virtual spatial archive of postcolonial South Korea’s neglected remains.
This virtual reality project, along with Gina’s previous work Bloodless (2017), imposes a challenging self-reflexive task on memory activism in the postcolonial world. While the neo-imperialist nature of US military presence in Asia has been criticized with evidence of sexual trafficking in camp towns and unequal treaties to deal with the crimes committed by US soldiers, both the role of the postcolonial state in such an unholy alliance with the US for military prostitution and the statuses of those mobilized women in their own society, not only in the general public’s mindset but also in the anti-imperialist narratives of memory activism, have not been sufficiently questioned or examined. Both Bloodless and Tearless invite the viewer to the virtual spaces of past atrocities in an endeavour NOT to visualize and consume the victim’s body in a dramatized and gendered narrative of victimization. The immersive media technology here provides room for an alternative and reflective experience of becoming victims, challenging the male gaze prevalent in mainstream media and public memory.
Gina Kim’s work has broadened film media’s horizons of social critique and gives us powerful insights towards new and reflexive methods in visual activism.