Seminar XIV - Yeeun Cho
Puncturing the World
Sunjoo Choi (DCW 2021)
As the last seminar of the DOOSAN Curator Workshop 2021, we discussed the process of worldbuilding with the novelist Yeeun Cho, who has written stories drawing on elements of horror, SF, and fantasy such as Cocktail, Love, Zombies (2020) and Snowball Drive (2021). In particular, we considered together issues such as the power of fantastic stories and the characteristics of stories that can touch readers, and discussed how we could graft such elements into the exhibition form. Reminiscing about growing up watching low-budget horror films, Cho commented that although she did not realize it at the time, she came to question the ways in which the expressive methods of horror presented the abuse of women as entertainment, and began to aspire to writing new genres of horror stories. She shared that particularly during the writing of Cocktail, Love, Zombies (2020), she turned to fictional stories in order to distance herself from horrid realities, as she encountered unacceptable events taking place in real life.
For Cho, worldbuilding is “taking a hole in the fabric of reality that seems small and negligible and enlarging its size,” and it is important to manage the border between story and reality by way of fantastic elements. She introduced us to her four-step process of storybuilding. First, she extracts the story she wants to write by drawing on other themes and media such as film and music, and links them, like constellations, to map out an expansive worldview. Then she formulates a protagonist, and when this character comes to the point of finding out the strangeness of the world, she has the character undergo an extreme change, so that the difference can be shown in a clear way. The author pointed to this point of inflection as the key attraction of her work, and said that she always takes care to make her message reach the audience by choosing a protagonist that resonates in part with the author herself. In the short story “Meat and Pomegranates” (2021), a ghoul and an elderly solitary begin to live together, and at the end, the ghoul is asked to eat the human’s body after death, without leaving a trace. The author began this story from her own “fear that she may die alone,” and employed fantastic elements so that her own reflected desires could be fulfilled. In this way, worldbuilding incorporates rules to match a protagonist informed by the author’s desires, and as the character’s desires are made more specific, fantastic elements are arranged accordingly. Cho is particularly interested in telling stories that are not about perfect people, but about people with wants and lacks; in her recent work, Snowball Drive (2021), she had the characters Moru and Iwol become driving forces through their desire for each other in a surreal world covered in snow made from preservatives.
“When events took place that I could not understand, I wanted to build a world that I could grasp, and that is why I began to create. As I observe the world, rebuild it, rethink it, and create characters within it that are connected to me, I keep on wishing. Although the realities of the times are beyond comprehension, I still hope to find possibilities within it. I want to help the readers of my stories find these possibilities too.”
Cho emphasized that in the end, worldbuilding is an effort at discovering the world’s possibilities, and also a method of understanding the world. Therefore, even when the creative work presents itself in the form of genres such as horror, fantasy, or SF, links to reality must continually be made, and the creator must not fall back on the easy excuse that it is all a fiction. In closing, Cho mentioned the horror drama series American Horror Story, introducing it as an example of how people can be touched by the story of a character with desires who reveals one’s worst side, hits rock bottom and undergoes visible changes, yet does not give up and regains one’s footing. The writing of a story is quite like planning an exhibition in that it begins with a wish to reach out and touch someone. This seminar was an opportunity to reflect deeply on the voice that is communicated to an unspecified recipient such as a reader or audience, and to think again on the responsibilities that come with curating, all the while taking care not to forget the links between fiction and reality.