How to Fall in Love in A Brothel began in 2017 as a written episodic script by Sunhui Chang, of a Korean American diaspora experience that unfolds across decades. In 2018, Sunhui began an intercultural, mixed-genre collaboration with artists Ellen Sebastian Chang and Maya Gurantz to imagine how the rich sensory details of his writings could be realized in architecture, theater, and video.
Commissioned by Catharine Clark Gallery as Box Blur 2019, an annual initiative bringing visual and performing art into dialogue, the film was one part of a full gallery installation that showed in San Francisco, CA from November 2 to December 21, 2019, with performances nights featuring Ellen Sebastian Chang, Maya Gurantz, Daeun Jung, Odeya Nini, and Marvin K. White.
The main structure of How to Fall in Love in a Brothel is an abstracted recreation of a 1950s Korean shoji-room. With instructional video and audio pieces, viewers are taught to create peepholes in the walls, referencing a rural ritual where wedding-night consummations were quietly watched by villagers who silently rubbed a hole into the shoji with a wet finger.
In the exhibition’s immersive space, the invitation to look inside the shoji-screened room is also an invitation to witness intimate moments of conversation that are unassisted by modern technologies. Inside, viewers peer into a ritual space created by the artists, who have collaged stories and images of their secret family histories which cross the globe—from post-War South Korea to rural Mississippi, from World War II refugee camps in Kyrgyzstan, to Israel in the 1950s, and Guam in the 1970s. The stories sometimes rhyme and sometimes clash, while complicating notions of a “post-racial,” “post-cultural,” and “post-historical” identity in the 21st century. Over the course of the installation, as more holes are created in the shoji, the piece inverts itself—inside becomes outside, marks of intimacy are accreted, and watching and exchange become visible.
The installation also activates through “Intimacy Hours”, during which visitors will be invited to schedule “appointments,” in which they can occupy the shoji-room for a period of time, without access to phones or external distractions. Participants will learn/enact traditional and ritual routines of floor cleaning, preparing blankets for sleeping or pillow talk, sharing Sunhui’s banchans (kimchi and pickles), and quietly rediscovering the simple value of being on the floor, cocooned together, conversing and feeding one another.