For her Present Box exhibition, Sammy Lee created an immersive installation and temporary workspace that brought together two very different traditions of her Korean heritage—joomchi, a technique for making textured paper, and tadumi, a traditional method of ironing laundry using pangmangi (wooden clubs).
While joomchi is a process that Lee regularly incorporates into her artistic practice, her association with tadumi stems from distant memories of growing up in South Korea. She recalls the distinct sound created by the older women ironing that filled the streets once the sun would set. Kneeling on the floor, two women would face each other across a smooth ironing stone with pangmangi in each hand. Adroitly up and down, the women would rhythmically beat and pound the fabric over the stone, folding and refolding, until the fabric was perfectly smooth. The dactylic drumming of the women in tandem and nostalgic percussion of the ironing sticks on the stones would echo throughout the evening. While other methods of doing laundry are known and used today, the pounding and flattening is a traditional way of ironing still utilized by an older generation of women in Korea. It is a laborious, repetitive, and almost therapeutic activity, similar in many ways to the process of creating joomchi.
While traditionally tadumi involves a more literal beating, both tadumi and joomchi use water, continual agitation, and stress to interlock and disjoint the fibers in the material, making them thicker and softer. In tadumi this is applied to the fiber of cloth and in joomchi to the fiber of Hanji (traditional Korean paper handmade from the inner bark of a Mulberry tree). Adopting the use of pangmangi in the joomchi process, Lee connects her daily existence with a ritual of her Korean heritage.
Throughout the week, the installation grew and evolved as Lee produced work. Stretched joomchi works, evocative of animal hides, decorated the walls and hang from the branches of a large drying rack in the center of the spaces. Garments made by casting joomchi hang at the entrance of the space and were available for visitors to try on. A video of a woman doing laundry in the traditional Korean manner was projected onto a screen in the space, and Lee joined her in her process of beating fibers, using pangmangi to flatten her wet papers in harmony. Visitors were invited to participate in Lee’s cathartic and symbolic process throughout the two-week exhibition and in a special “beating performance” during the reception.
Launched in the summer of 2011, Present Box is a series of temporary exhibitions featured in BMoCA’s lounge. Present Box exhibits innovative installations, performances, and events that last no longer than two weeks. These exhibitions present site-specific projects that foster interactive participation. Present Box exhibitions are always free and open to the public.