From the mid-1970s until her death at age 31 in 1982, Korean-born artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha created a rich body of conceptual art that explored displacement and loss. Her works included artists' books, mail art, performance, audio, video, film, and installation. Although grounded in French psychoanalytic film theory, her art is also informed by far-ranging cultural and symbolic references, from shamanism to Confucianism and Catholicism. Her collage-like book Dictée, which was published posthumously in 1982, is recognized as an influential investigation of identity in the context of history, ethnicity and gender.
In her highly theoretical yet poetic video works, Cha uses performance, speech and text to explore interactions of language, meaning and memory. Much of Cha's work balances a rigorous analytical approach with an almost spiritual evocation of transformation and suffering. Themes of displacement and rupture are articulated in forms derived from French psychoanalytic cinema and linguistic theory of the 1970s; Cha studied in France with Christian Metz, Raymond Bellour and Thierry Kuntzel, among others. Drawing on sources and strategies as diverse as concrete poetry, Korean cultural traditions and conceptual art, Cha speaks with a distinctive voice.
Cha's exploration of exile and dislocation in her art is informed by her own history. Uprooted during the Korean War, her family immigrated to America in 1962, moving first to Hawaii and then to San Francisco. After years in the Bay Area and time in Europe, Cha moved to New York City in 1980. As an editor and writer at Tanam Press, she produced two well-known works, Dictée (1982) and Apparatus, an important anthology of essays on the cinematic apparatus.
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha was born in 1951 in Pusan, South Korea and died in New York City in 1982. Over a ten-year period in the 1970s, she received four degrees from the University of California at Berkeley: a B.A. in Comparative Literature, a B.A. in Art, an M.A. in Art, and an M.F.A. in Art. In 1976 she studied at the Centre d'Etudes Americaine du Cinema in Paris. Cha was awarded an artist's residence at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, taught video art at Elizabeth Seton College and worked in the design department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. From 1980 until her death in 1982, she was an editor and writer at Tanam Press in New York. Her work has been shown at the Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, CA; Artists Space, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Bronx Museum of Art, New York, among other venues. A major retrospective exhibition of her work, entitled The Dream of the Audience: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-1982) was organized by University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in 2001, and traveled to five cities, including Seoul, Korea.