DVEX by Sora Park

Sora Park
The Art Incubator Gallery . March 9 – April 7, 2017
Opening Reception: Thursday, March 9, from 7 pm – 10 pm
Harcourt House Artist Run Centre, 3rd floor, 10215 – 112 St, Edmonton

For the past three years, I have visited various cities in Europe and North America to conduct ethnographical research on Kizomba dancing subcultures. Kizomba – a partner social dancing originating from Angola – particularly appealed to me as an impetus for my research and art projects, due to its explosive popularity and rapid growth that were obviously visible through YouTube videos constantly being uploaded, but also the fact that Kizomba, as a new dance that just arrived in the Latin dancing scene in Europe and North America, had not been analyzed from the anthropological and sociological perspectives yet. Even though there were numerous studies done on other Latin partner dances such as Salsa and Tango, Kizomba encompassed a unique characteristic that demanded a scholarly interpretation distinct from Salsa and Tango studies.

As I became an active and ardent participant of Afro-Latin social dancing subculture during this research process, I was exposed to various issues that emerged when a cultural product, such as a dance, migrates out of a country of origin and is interpreted by different cultures. Some of my research interests born out of this in-depth field research period include passion as a cultural commodity, gender politics within social dancing, social hierarchy, ownership based on race, and creation of national identity and patriotism through exported cultural products.

My latest work, DVEX, short for Dance Venue Expo on exhibition at Harcourt House Artist Run Centre is inspired by many dance venues that I visited over the years, particularly by the ones in Paris where multi-level boats docked on the Seine River function as popular dance venues every night. This established practice of using boats as everyday dance venues for Latin dancers provided me a new perspective on physical space for dancing that was sharply different from typical dance venues I was accustomed to previously.

The typical dance venues that I continuously encountered during my research trips can be described as an indoor space within a larger building structure, with either hardwood floor or cement as a foundation for the dancers to stand on. Verticality and horizontality are overwhelmingly present as major elements of the dance space and 90 degree intersections resulting from the collision of these vertical and horizontal elements are evident. The lights are usually dimmed to evoke rather sensual – or club-like – atmosphere, and the presence of physical boundaries and markings such as a door, wall and an isolated space for DJs are noticeable.

Apart from the physical boundaries, the dance space is further divided – invisibly yet detectably – into different social groups of dancers and these invisible boundaries persistently sustain the social hierarchy within the Latin dancing subculture. The dance floor is where beginner dancers and advanced dancers seldom merge together, casually dressed and Converse wearing female dancers are overlooked, and elegant heels of Argentine dancing shoes brand “Comme Il Faut” are desired. It is where male dancers wearing V-neck shirt, rosary necklace and a velvet jacket are seen as stereotypical Latin Salsa dancer. At the same time, the Latin dancing subculture encourages and operates strictly within the heteronormative structure where the dancers are subjected to accept cisgender-ing and traditional gender role assignment on the dance floor as a norm. No matter which city I visit, whether it be New York, Istanbul, Stockholm or Vancouver, the social hierarchies on the dance floor consistently exist.

DVEX combines the concept of typical and conventional dance venues with imaginary dance venues that are deemed unconventional, while emphasizing the complex issue of social hierarchy on the dance floor. The audience is presented with aesthetics of technical architectural floor plans, juxtaposed with sculptures in various sizes representing altered and unconventional dance venues. In these unconventional venues where the typical representation of dance venues as a single floor within a large rectangular building structure is obliterated, the social hierarchy still fails to cease. Yet, as the cubical structures representing conventional dance venues set up in horizontal and vertical system visually merge with sculptures of unconventional dance venues, the audience is asked to accept the evoked uncertainty and curiosity and the existence of social hierarchy altogether.

DVEX not only reflects ethnographical and sociological methods of research deeply embedded within my art practice, but it provides an insight into a Latin dancing subculture that many people might not be aware of.

The exhibition runs till April 8th at Harcourt House Artist Run Centre.

Sora Park acknowledges the generous support of the Art Council of Norway for this project.

Sora Park Biography:

Sora Park is an interdisciplinary artist based in Edmonton. Her practice engages in an ethnographic study of subcultures, and explores how various forms of information, experiences and emotions gathered during an immersive practice of field research translates into works of art through text, performance, media and installation.

She received a BFA in Photography from Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver and an MA in Fine Art from Bergen Academy of Art and Design in Bergen, Norway.