Dancing With Yourself: A Q&A With Contemporary Performance Artist Jason Ahn
Having practiced and performed for over ten years on the streets, in the studio, and on stage, Jason Ahn has accrued an impressive roster of contributions to the creative community. Last year he performed at the Seoul World DJ Festival. He has appeared live alongside Korean electropop trio Clazziquai and prominent hip-hop group Epik High (the latter of which is sadly on hiatus at the moment because one of their members is serving mandatory military service).
As a contemporary dancer, house hustler and performance artist, Ahn is notorious for his phenomenal footwork and exceptionally smooth torso jerking. Paired with his charismatic stage presence, Ahn is seen as a fundamental figure in Seoul’s dance and performance scene. The improvisational nature of his technique gives him the flexibility to perform with others, himself, and most recently, with technology.
While the combination of dance performance and technology is nothing new, the experimental possibilities are always expanding. Last year Ahn joined the entourage of Lumpens’ second VAJP project. Visual Art Jam Performance is a versatile engagement between Lumpens’ visual artwork and other disciplines of performance art such as live music and dance. In VAJP 2 Ahn bared it all—figuratively, in regards to his truly dynamic and talented performance, and literally, as he wore only a loin cloth.
Climbing and crawling, kaleidoscopic cavorting, and then suddenly acting lifeless and lynched, the projection of Ahn’s performance, along with his actual live performance, conjures an uncanny (but at points calming) mood, as it seems he is battling between his projected self and his actual self.
We sat down with Ahn for a short Q&A on his experience with VAJP 2 and to talk about his position as a modern performer in the midst of the substantial trend uniting dance and technology.
The Creators Project: Could you explain where and how you learned your practice? How were your experiences studying dance at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and Kookmin University Graduate School of Arts?
Jaeson Ahn: I think the universities in Korea are very interesting. Because there’s so many people of varied cultures, I was able to see, do, and feel many different things and learn a lot from them. And in the end, I figured out what I really wanted to do. I met amazing instructors that made it possible for me to grasp movement and music. It was actually my first time having formal instructors. On the streets, there’s no such thing. I think with the encounters and conversations I had with different instructors, I figured out how to really understand different perspectives.
And now, you’ve been performing in all sorts of productions. Last year you were part of Lumpens’s VAJP 2 project. How was that?
It was fun, of course. After being completely immersed in interactive art, I deeply questioned the significance of actual presence that is so relative to performance art. Because we have such different means of expressing ourselves, it was very interesting to have him [Yong Seok of Lumpens] go ahead and directly reinterpret my body and my expressions.
Can you explain the concept behind the project and the direction of choreography?
After our first meeting, we didn’t want to go for a “me” versus “you” concept per se, but rather, the direction we went for was more like a “me” amongst all the other “me’s” that are living in this world. I mean, everybody thinks of themselves as a “me.” It’s because one thinks of oneself always through “me.” And so, almost like that video game Kratos, the concept was a fight between a self-made spirit of me versus myself that tries to make sense of things. The various selves inside of me conversing with the actual, present me. And so, I come out of myself and then I conflict, I chat, I become frustrated with me, and even become afraid of… me.
How did it feel to be performing with multiple projections of yourself? How would you explain the difference in performing with a projection of yourself, a mirror’s reflection of yourself, and just by yourself?
The difference is in terms of space. Myself portrayed through a projection or mirror isn’t exactly me, but still is me. A projection of me represents myself in the context or space of the actual me, or a possible me. So when I’m actually dancing, I don’t see myself as I do in a mirror. So, I just imagine that me I would see in a mirror or projection, and converge it with my actual self when I’m composing. After all, it’s that special quality of presence in performance art that makes it a performance. Because of its presence, it becomes seen.
You also participated in the opening performance of the Incheon International Media Festival in 2009. It must be interesting to experience the growing trend of dance and technology. How do you feel about the combining practice of dance with other mediums of technology, like video and projections?
Dance, technology, technique—I think these are all ways through which emotion can be portrayed. And so, when these methods of showing emotion are put together, you produce things that are that much more meaningful and cool with that much more flavor. I mean, we’ve approached that time now where technology, or more so machines, and the body are being completely combined and practiced as one synthetic art. It should be our effort to become more comprehensive as people through shared commonalities. This kind of trend, I think, is really on point.
If you could perform on any stage in the world and with one other artist, where and who would it be? And why?
What I really want to try out is standing on a stage, in virtual reality, with the sky. More realistically, it really doesn’t matter where or with whom I dance. Or even, who sees me dance. In the end, when I perform, I’m always performing inside myself.