SPILL STINGS 3: Jungmin Song

Thu 01 Jan 1970

Conversation with Jungmin Song
by Madeleine Hodge

In the first of a series of conversations that I am undertaking with some of the artists in the SPILL National Platform, I meet Jungmin Song for a coffee in the early evening on the South Bank. The sun is shining as we walk towards the river and as we walk she begins talking about the artistic ancestors of the performance of Hamlet that she is producing for SPILL.

The work sprang out of a small piece created for the 2010 Sacred Festival at Chelsea Theatre. It was performed in a program of emerging artists prior to Robin Deacon’s restaging of Stuart Sherman’s Hamlet.  Her PhD supervisor suggested that Stuart Sherman was possibly an ancestor of her work, and she wanted to commune with these ancestors in her own version of Hamlet. In her version, she focuses on the liquid in the narrative, using tissues, a water spray bottle, a tabletop and small towel to wipe away the water. From Shakespeare to Stuart Sherman to Robin Deacon to Jungmin Song, the narrative of Hamletis mutating as it seeks new hosts for the story. I like imagining the ghost of Hamlet’s father and the troubled prince as a virus in the body of our culture.

Jungmin Song attended a school for the Future Scientists in Korea, and she acknowledges that this scientific training remains embedded within her artistic practice. She is interested in objects: how they move, how they are propelled into action.  She explores our everyday usage of objects, intensifying their usage by bringing them into charged theatrical experiences. She has been in London for ten years, initially working as a costume and set-maker for musicals and theatre productions. She developed her skills in puppetry working for the Little Angels Theatre in Islington and it was while working with puppets that she became interested in working with internal properties of materials. When building a puppet the material with which the puppet is made –  its flexibility, the joints, the weight, its density, how it sways and moves – is essential to the character you are creating.

In Hamlet: (Tissues) she is also turning to other materialities and will use her voice for the first time, speaking some of the words from the original text of Hamlet.  She describes her work for the SPILL National Platforms as a tissue massacre with a beginner’s voice, and we speak of her nervousness about using her voice: she still doesn’t know if she will end up going through with it. I wonder whether she will approach the voice in the same way she approaches objects, and I ask whether she will think of the voice as another substance that might be manipulated in the service of narrative.  She tells me a lovely story. In the afternoon, just prior to meeting me, she visited a puppetry workshop where Lyndie Wright, one of the founders of Little Angels Theatre Works. Song tells Lyndie about her nervousness about speaking Shakespeare, and Lyndie offers the advice that the Royal Shakespeare Company tells children:  the words should be read following the rhythm of the heart. Speech follows internal propulsion from breath to lungs to blood to heart to mouth.

As I was heading towards my meeting with Jungmin, I thought about our role as writers within the festival, and about the place between listening and writing. I have been thinking about the movement between these two states in terms of infection. Hours after our meeting I am filled with her words and a sense of her obsessions. I overhear a conversation on the train in which a girl is talks about the wall of an airplane: the inside is room temperature, while the outside is 60 degrees below zero. I think of this in relation to Jungmin and her experiences of the wonders of matter, and I realise that I am now carrying this infection with me; these words are just some of the symptoms as they begin to flash up here before me.

I am aware now that I am failing to record this conversation.  It didn’t happen like this, of course.  Here on the page it is something else.  The record of a conversation is missing…. with all its lapses, pauses, moments in which you might double back having forgotten something, only to find yourself on another tangent, moving around something, something bigger that sits between you, remaining silent.