Em· pa · thy

I used the literal definition of empathy " take off your own shoes then step into other's shoes"  in my performance. 

During this series, I asked my audiences to take off their shoes and step into the shoes I had created for them. These shoes had been reformed and programmed so that, when two people touched while wearing them, silenced voices and lights came forth. These sounds and sights revealed a hidden truth: that the shoes were once worn by other people, whose suffering had been ignored by others.
One particular pair had belonged to a mother who had lost her son. In 2014, our paths crossed and she told me about the tragic disaster that had claimed her son’s life. After hearing her heartbreaking story, I held her hand and experienced a strong surge of empathy.
This was the moment I wanted to recreate for my audience: the moment of connection with another. I was inspired by the use of bodies as the medium for this communication, and by the idiomatic definition of ‘empathy’:
“to take off your own shoes, and to step into another’s.”
"take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” [Exodus 3:5]
I believe God exists in moments of such strong kinship.
“When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them,” wrote Buber.

[ Eyes Adi : Syrian Refugee ] 

Z/KU, Berlin, Germany -
[ 시리안 난민 이야스 아디의 목소리 ] Z/KU, 베를린, 독일 2018 

In 2017, I met Eyas Adi - a Syrian refugee - and heard his story. This was during a month-long residency at ZKU in Berlin, where I worked with Adi to produce an interactive installation aiming to tell the heartbreaking tales of refugees.
Taken from the idiomatic definition of ‘empathy’ – “to put yourself in someone else’s shoes” - I decided to use Adi's shoes as the central object of this artwork. Shoes are an important piece of clothing: they have walked every step of our journey with us. So, to justify taking such vital items from my collaborator and modifying them, I first offered to wash Adi's feet.
A film of this process was shown to audiences and directed their attention to the care and humility involved in empathy. The same shoes that were seen in the video were then presented to the audience, who were invited to step into them. When an audience member wore Adi's shoes and held my hand, an electrical circuit would trigger certain sounds and images: Adi's voice, and images of refugees.
Although hushed and unnoticed at first, Adi’s story now broke the silence. It had been cued by a universally warm gesture – holding hands. I was absorbed by the abstract idea that an act of touch can create an “empathy tie,” and in turn, can release stories that have been silenced.

[ Kam Charles : South Sudan Refugee]
Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Omaha, Nebraska,USA -
[ 사우스 수단 난민 캄 찰스의 목소리] 베미스 센터, 오마하, 네브라스카, 미국 2017 

In I and Thou, Martin Buber writes: “All real living is meeting” (Buber, 1923: 11). To live and experience life, and to become ourselves, we must meet others.
I became myself through my meeting with Kam Charles, a refugee from South Sudan, who gave me his words and his shoes. If you take off your shoes and put on Kam’s, you too will ‘become yourself.’
  During this performance, Kam's voice was heard saying :
1. I was conceived, born, and raised in war.
2. I count not pursue my dreams or make a plan for my life because war took that privilege away from me and it dictates my tomorrows.
3. I could not play and laugh like a normal child because war silenced me.
4. My own home is war town hence inhabitable.
5. I cry all the times when I think about home, my mother, sisters, brothers, uncles in war
6.If people could be brought out of that environment, I would work for it 24/7, to share this life with them or whoever needs it.
7. If you have peace, would you please share a portion with someone like myself
8. I want piece in South Sudan, can you share your peace with us
9. I want my friends to visit me at home at peace and be happy with me in peace at home
- [ Voice of JongSun Han : the victim of Scandal at Busan Hyeongje Welfare Facility] In front of National Assembly, Seoul, Korea
- [ 한종선의 목소리 ] 국회의사당 앞, 서울 한국 2018 

Jongsun is the victim of a ‘Brother’s Home’, a concentration camp where homeless men were exploited through violence and forced labor.
Victims had been fighting to uncover the truth of their sufferings, in front of the National Assembly building, in Seoul, Korea.
 [ For the mother : who lost her son at the Ferry disaster ] Asian Cultural Center, Gwangju, Korea
- [ 그 어머니를 위하여 ] 아시아문화전당, 광주 한국 2018  
A significant turning point in my work was in 2014, when I crossed paths with a mother who had lost her son in a tragic disaster. After hearing her heartbreaking story, I held her hand and experienced a strong surge of empathy.
After this encounter, I began to use the body as an artistic medium: to explore human communication, between people. Inspired by Martin Buber’s ‘I and Thou’, I leveraged the conductive properties of the human body as the main vehicle for stimuli.
Through this method, the universal gesture of two people holding hands triggered an action or presentation within my work. The fleeting moment where one hand touched another translated into a sensory response, echoing the emotional eruption that happens when we connect with others.
I believe God exists in such moments of strong kinship. The message of Buber’s ‘I and Thou’ played on the idea that “when two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”
Empathy, connection, and human touch are a major theme in my art practice today. I continue to probe the distinct types of encounters existing among people, between I and thou (you), to discover the melodic rhythm in life - just like the ongoing ebb and flow of a tide.