Mold

Jungwoong Kim had a near death/near life experience and it moves me.

Jungwoong Kim came through AAI today, but not before almost dying. He was on his bike near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, headed toward us when it started to rain, and his bike slid into traffic. Narrowly escaping the car behind him, he got up to realize he had dislocated his left thumb. It was turned at least 30 degrees in the wrong direction. I didn’t see this first-hand (pun intended) but I believe him when he arrives at the building and tells us what happened because he raises his stiff arm, engorged and purple. He is wincing, soaking wet. He had relocated his thumb at this point—pushed it back right way up—a detail he demonstrates with a snapping gesture that sends my stomach to my throat. I’m sure I would’ve gone straight to the ER but he’s confident he should be here.

We find him some ice for the swollen thumb, or more precisely, we repurpose a half-full bag of frozen tater tots that are in the office freezer for some reason. A loose bag will be easier to roll around his hand, I reason, when I hand him the stale potatoes. I remember my dance major roommate from college always had a bag of frozen peas wrapped around her ankles.

We tour the building which he hasn’t seen in 4 years. Jungwoong once called the AAI building his Lamborghini, which is hilarious as it feels more like a suspicious cargo van to me. The Lamborghini cargo van has been updated a lot in the last year. All the larger rooms have been renovated. He jumps on the floors to feel the change under his feet. He walks backward and forward into and out of the sunlight flashing through the windows. The last time we did an artist did a site visit, a bassoonist clapped while walking across the floor to discover the acoustics. This is my favorite part of any visit. The futzing and feeling.

I go back to my office and Jungwoong asks for more ice before roaming around the building again, this time to explore the demised parts of the building, alone.

An hour later he comes by my office to discuss projects he’s thought of while touring the space. We’re already scheduling a dance piece around the theme of collective grief, but in the course of our conversation I see a clear picture of many more projects happening here. I’ve heard nothing but good ideas this month, and they ALL make sense for us. We get excited at the prospect of collaborating with people in other disciplines.

As he explains his ideas, Jungwoong tells me that the pandemic has made him moldy from isolation. He has done nothing but receive water—ideas and knowledge and learning. I think he uses the phrase “molding with too much rain water,” or maybe he just said he was feeling wet, but I think I remember him describing the information dump of the last year as collecting too much for too long. English is at least a second language for him, and much of what I’m recounting is an interpretation of gestures and common backgrounds.

The isolation was the hardest. It made me anxious and scared. I have the ability to be generous but being denied that ability; without the ability to support people and give of myself, I suffered.

Being denied the ability to be generous. That will stick with me.

I think isolation for a movement based performance artist who specializes in somatic healing, must be profound. He describes dark feelings. I interpret and write in my notebook, “performance atrophy” to rephrase what he is describing, but it sounds like an erectile dysfunction so I change it to “creative atrophy,” which sounds somehow much worse. He talks about contact improvisation and I think to myself how much I love when descriptions of practices make complete sense.

What do you do? Contact improv.

I want to call this website something. Personal blathering? Overshare poetry? Fake news?

We talk at length about the need for “proximate intimacy” with other humans. Another phrase I make up. In high school we called it skin hunger because it was untoward to say I want to be touched, but skin hunger it was, one hundred percent. Not needing penetration or sensuality; just proximate intimacy. 

Jungwoong says that the darkness was a cloud, and sometimes a wall, that obscured his entire mind. I am still interpreting gestures. Hands, including a severe injury, hovering over his head. Palms inches from his eyes.

Then he says that almost breaking his hand today was an awakening. Falling on his bike and dislocating his thumb cleared the cloud, and removed the wall. This was the most alive he’d felt in a long time.

I can’t believe a near death experience on his way to our dumb Lambo building is how he feels he’s come back to life but it dawns on me that he has spent nearly two hours here with a half-broken hand. He must be feeling something. Incredibly. Excruciating.

I feel myself about to tell him something merely sympathetic, but the way he talks about his awakening makes me tell him something confessional instead. Nothing inappropriate; just more about my life than I expected to hear flop out of my mouth—personal blathering? Overshare poetry? Fake news?—A couple sentences. He then shares a personal revelation of his own. We sit in the very real coincidence of stories.

I have seen Jungwoong’s distilled work a hundred times in our grant applications, since we use his performances to demonstrate exemplary archives necessary to win major funding. His work is the kind of bullet point in a resume you know gets you the call back. But that’s all I’ve known about him. We have never actually met in person till today. We’ve had but one zoom meeting before this, to which he was twenty minutes late.

It’s not magic or kismet, and it may be great timing or just everyone feeling a special way since getting vaccinated, but it’s also Friday late afternoon, and I’m exhausted after a couple intense weeks packed with family drama. But I’m on the verge of tears from the conversation. And none of it feels wrong, but I wonder if this is some somatic Jedi mind trick because I’m suddenly so moved I want to collapse. Bosses don’t cry at work, yo!

Anyway it’s enough to make me go outside after he leaves. And smoke one cigarette.

The last thing I told him as we wound down the conversation, him hurrying off to get an X-ray of his hand as the pain returned—I can’t afford to break my hand as a dancer—is something my friend Sam told me his grandfather told him:

Fire is sunlight being released.

Here’s Jungwoong performing “husks” on the roof of the Asian Arts Initiative aka the Lamborghini.