I was born in Busan, South Korea, as Jin Jung Mee and flown to the Detroit International Airport when I was three months old. As a transnational adoptee who was “surrendered” at birth, I grew up without any genetic mirrors. I spent a lot of time as a girl staring into actual mirrors, or books, or a television screen, looking for something in the reflection, in other people’s words and images that I had no idea how to name. Now I know that I was searching for my self.
Metaphors, signifiers, and symbols are all such a literary way of understanding the self and the world, but they are what I know. Jacques Derrida infamously said that “the world is a text,” and, analogously, the self is also a text. At least that’s how I have lived. My birth story goes something like: My father was a fisherman who lost his arm in a boating accident, and the family was poor and already had twin sons they couldn’t feed, so they gave me up for adoption because they wanted me to have a better life. That’s how my I ended up with my parents, or so my mother used to tell me.
When I was old enough to question it, I found that my child’s report from HOLT Social Services officially says:
After I was molested in 2016 by a 51-year-old woman, after almost two years of emotional and sexual abuse, I started seeing a crisis specialist and psychospiritual therapist who told me that she had an intuition that my birthmother had been raped, and that’s why I was given up for adoption. Maybe there’s no way to verify it, but the moment she said it, I felt like I could breathe for the first time in 32 years of living. Oddly enough, the woman who molested me first initiated physical intimacy a year before that by telling me how much my birthmother loved me and had wanted to keep me. She said that my mother had been forced to give me up against her will because of a sexual scandal. She said she knew from personal experience to go through the act of giving birth requires intense love, and as she was saying all of this, she touched my body everywhere, and for the first time it felt like I had a body.
Sometimes I feel like my entire existence is defined by not-knowing. Maybe I have twin brothers a year older than me, though it is equally possible I do not. Maybe my father was a fisherman, or more accurately a pawnbroker, and lost his right arm in a shipping collision somewhere off the coast of Busan the year I was born. Maybe my mother was raped. Maybe she loved me. Maybe she still might.
It has taken me many years to call myself an artist and a philosopher, but that is what I know. My inquiry is part origins story, part trauma narrative, part academic love letter and part philosophical treatise on the very inner workings, aesthetic renderings, and artistic expression of being human. It is also a creative exploration of my own desire to know everything. I use a hybrid theoretical and creative approach in forming connections between the world of ideas, the body, objects, and wholeness. The purpose of art, to my mind, is to transform and connect the individual and the social world. It is about living inquiry.
How does art enable people to consciously cultivate the different (often paradoxical) ways we show up and identify with ourselves, with others, and with the larger world into a living expression of a whole self? What are the forms we choose to express “persona” in our lives? How do they manifest in our lived experiences and modes of self-expression? I use the term “persona” here not as it is used in traditional psychotherapy as a mask or false sense of self, but in a more postmodern and playful sense that is in conversation with various modes of self-creation and self-representation. Like a deconstructionist, my aim is to play around and disentangle what dialogical persona can be—and not just with my mind, but with my body fully engaged.
It is my desire to not merely turn my “life into art” or “art into life,” but to find the living expression of that art—for myself and for others. Rather than separate, singular moments of lived experience that come into being in the present, I believe it is more healing for the psyche to return to more integral or holistic views of self that express the living creation or living force of the whole person through object-based metaphors of self-representation.
My inquiry is placed within a complex cosmology of self, object, world, and the interrelationships between them. At its roots, lie the existentialist’s question of the meaning of being, personal trauma healing, embodiment, the dialogical self, and how objects appear to us through our senses.