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kate-hers RHEE: Inventing Genealogies

October 4 – December 3, 2021

The online exhibition kate-hers RHEE: Inventing Genealogies will be on view October 4 – December 3, 2021, presented by the New Media Artspace at Baruch College and generously sponsored by the Wasserman Jewish Studies Center.

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The New Media Artspace is pleased to present kate-hers RHEE: Inventing Genealogies, an interactive online exhibition that confronts and problematizes Asian American and diasporic transnational identity. In common usage, “genealogy” refers to accounts of ancestral descent.1 But for the transnational artist kate-hers RHEE (이미래/李未來), genealogy is invention.

The stakes are high when RHEE repositions genealogy this way, because genealogy frequently invokes DNA and other technologies that secure individuals’ legal rights through patriarchal constructs of lineage, birth, and bloodlines. As a transracial adopted Korean person, RHEE discovered that her family tree was a fabrication created by the South Korean government when she was a small child to falsely construe her as an orphan and thereby expedite expatriating her from Korea to the United States. To claim her own identity and rights without the benefit of a conventional (or factual) family tree, RHEE embarks on inventing genealogies, a process filled with twists and turns and difficult choices, which this exhibition illuminates.

Foregrounding choice, Inventing Genealogies replaces a deterministic genealogical account of RHEE’s identity with a choose your own adventure-style narrative that offers as many paths untaken as paths forward. The online exhibition design, created by the New Media Artspace Student Docent Team, is inspired by family trees and DNA. Plunging through tree rings of a family tree made of documents, viewers tunnel through bureaucratic paperwork as they choose a path linking different artworks. At each work, viewers can interact to descramble an appendix that offers commentary about the project, alluding to the process of learning to communicate as a non-native speaker, and the idea of so-called “broken languages.” Meanwhile, viewers to track their progress through the exhibition through a mini map that resembles a DNA double helix. By uprooting the family tree as a concept in itself, Inventing Genealogies explores what happens when identity and rights aren’t mere matters of inheritance.

In a recent Instagram post introducing herself and her interdisciplinary practice to her followers, RHEE recalls being “literally cut off from [her] ethnic identity as an ‘orphan’ and sent away to be adopted transracially as a survivor of #genderbiasedsexselection abandonment.”2 Grappling with this experience, the works in Inventing Genealogies are derived from the largescale ongoing project that emerged. In 2016–2017, RHEE moved to South Korea for 90 days as part of a durational lived performance called Transkoreaning, in which she aimed to become “authentically Korean” (in scare quotes), a process she documented on social media, through accruing massive amounts of legal paperwork, and in a resulting body of artworks using these materials. In her words, the initial goal of Transkoreaning was “to become Korean in every way possible in language, culture, traditions, customs, and mannerism by immersing myself as a full time Korean.”3 Among other things, RHEE signed a contract with herself to communicate only in Korean, despite having limited experience with the language. As the project continued, RHEE sought and obtained South Korean citizenship and endeavored to legally change her name to a chosen Korean name, Mirae Rhee, an ongoing legal process which RHEE explores in the final work in this exhibition. Equal parts bureaucratic paper wrangling and public code switching, Transkoreaning involved “changing her cultural presentation to accord with her outside sense of her ethnicity—the idea of what it means to be an ethnic and cultural Korean woman.”4

The Wasserman Jewish Studies Center and the New Media Artspace will host an online public artist lecture on Tuesday, October 26, 2021 from 6:00 to 7:30 P.M. The event will be held virtually on Zoom and livestreamed on YouTube. Click here to watch.

1 Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “genealogy,” accessed September 21, 2019, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/genealogy.
2 kate-hers RHEE (@studiolo_estherka), Instagram post, August 23, 2021, https://www.instagram.com/p/CS6TekUAEB-/.
3 kate-hers RHEE, “Transkoreaning Contracts and Calling Cards,” accessed September 19, 2021, http://www.estherka.com/contracts/.
4 kate-hers RHEE, “Transkoreaning,” accessed September 19, 2021, http://www.estherka.com/trans-koreaning/.

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The New Media Artspace is a teaching exhibition space in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts at Baruch College, CUNY. Housed in the Newman Library, the New Media Artspace showcases curated experimental media and interdisciplinary artworks by international artists, students, alumni, and faculty.

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