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Lar in Focus: Channelling Creative Forces

14 October 2020

Lar in Focus: An ongoing series of blogposts exploring and demystifying some of the processes undertaken by artists developing works for commissions.

Channelling Creative Forces

With Yeji Yeon

Image: ©Yeji Yeon

Ed Liddle, Learning and Engagement Assistant at The Amelia, spoke with artist Yeji Yeon, the creator of ‘Veni lares Veni’, the second track to be released as part of the commission, Ten Songs for a Lar.

Yeji trained in singing and ballet from a young age, however, her interests quickly developed into acting, film making, dance and music. In this honest interview, Yeji gives insight into her creative process, explaining how meditation and spirituality are central themes. Yeji also reflected upon what it means to be a multidisciplinary artist when writing and recording a song inspired by a two-thousand-year-old roman figurine; The Lar.

Yeji is currently working on her debut album, a collection of songs written whilst on the road. Yeji has also has just finished her latest film ‘Artificial Intelligence’, a story of two lovers living in a dystopian reimagining of Seoul.

 

Ed Liddle (EL):

Could you tell us about what first interested you in the Lar commission?

Yeji Yeon (YY):

Definitely the spirituality.I’m very interested in how spirituality manifests itself in different cultures and eras. There was a time in life quite recently when I was travelling extensively around the world and I found that my point of attraction in different countries and cultures was how they express divinity within themselves. It is that essence of spirituality or divinity that I was attracted to when I first saw and read about the Lar. I was fascinated by the culture of having the statue and having that ‘god essence’ inside your home. I was also intrigued by the people of that time praying before their meals and before every family occasion and gatherings. These thoughts really spoke to me.

EL:

In your description of the work you created, you refer to a short prayer of gratitude to Saraswati, is this another God that you found on your travels?

YY:

Yes! She is the one I found in India.  I was really impressed by the people and the culture there. When I went to the music academy to learn how to play Tabla (the Indian percussion instrument) there happened to be another student that was entering the academy, he was an old student and each time before entering the school he touched the floor, paying homage and gratitude to the place where he was learning music. After bowing to the floor he bowed to his teacher and to his instrument. I was very touched by that and I looked back on myself and thought how little gratitude and respect I had shown to my instrument and the places in which I was singing and playing. It was just so eye opening for me how the people there respected music and respected that divinity, and personified that in the goddess Saraswati.

EL:

It sometimes takes being with other people to take you out of yourself and to realise what things you do or don’t do in as part of your creative process.

YY:

Yes, definitely, it’s like a fish asking another fish ‘What is water?’

EL:

Could you tell us about the track you made for the Lar commission?

YY:

Yes. The track is called ‘Veni Lares Veni’. When I first made the music, I envisioned myself as a person living during that time [Roman period] and the song just came to me, the melody and the words. I know very little Latin and didn’t look anything up, instead I imagined and envisioned myself living during those times. I approached the writing of the song from a place of worship and devotion for this statue, well… the spirit that resides in the statue. The process was fluid, it didn’t really take any effort. From the very point that I picked up my instrument, to finalising the actual music took me about twenty or thirty minutes. It was very instantaneous and intuitive. After I had consolidated the piece, I thought of rearranging the verses or trying to change the instrumental part and playing around with different chords. The final stage was playing through the song several times during the recording sessions.

EL:

It is interesting that you say about it being a really quick process. What are your thoughts about divine inspiration, that the song simply arrived and you channelled it somehow?

YY:

I absolutely think that and agree with that notion. After I had made the song, and after I had put down the instrument, I felt a rush of release or a rush of relief, a moment of ‘ah yes!’, it was like a gush of wind of inspiration that is blowing through you. It is then difficult afterwards to explain or figure out why or how it happened. But I completely agree with you, and that is what I actually thought after I had completed the initial stage of conception. I thought ‘Wow, the spirit visited me, the Lar visited me!’

Image: ©Yeji Yeon

EL:

Do you have strategies, or forms of meditation which bring you to the best frame of mind where you are able to receive that message or inspiration more easily?

YY:

On a day to day basis, I meditate. In general, it’s my objective, not just as an artist, but as a human, to be as empty and as thoughtless as possible throughout my waking day as well as during sleep. To fall asleep with consciousness. These preparations that I make outside of artistic content, as well as inside are incredibly important to me. Preparing your life as a vessel is the key. Then, when you are singing, when you are playing the instrument you are empty, you are not in the way of yourself. That is my strategy.

EL:

Your choice of instrument, was that inspired as well? Or was there another process going on there as to why you chose the autoharp?

YY:

Yes, I think it was also intuitive, I did have a thought, that it would be better to use the harp than the guitar or the piano or some of the other instruments that I play, because the autoharp sounds like a lyre or an old instrument. It seemed like this was the logical thought process. When I first conceived the music, I was playing on the autoharp.

EL:

It was just a good fit for what you were feeling at that time?

YY:

Yeh.

EL:

You previously mentioned, ‘when singing and plucking the strings, I see the figure of the Lar coming to life dancing, the cold rusted metal of the statue turns to flesh.’. So, the statue is coming alive but are you the one making it come alive, or are you part of the statue, or is the statue you? Or do you see yourself dancing as the statue?

YY:

I was outside of myself. I was observing it dancing. In my mind’s eye, it was a cold statue, then it rose from the ground and became animate and began dancing. This was the image that I saw as I was recording the song.

EL:

In that same spirit, throughout history there are lots of stories that are to do with the power of the voice, perhaps it is someone’s voice that is taken away, perhaps it is a voice that is activating something, or people speaking and things coming alive. What do you think about the power of the voice?

YY:

The power of the voice is immense and incredible. I am still studying it and I don’t mean only in a musical sense but like you said, the innate power of the vibrations that sounds hold and how sounds would be visible if we actually had the ability to see beyond the limited spectrums that we currently have as humans. There are people that say they can see colours in sounds and having that extra sense is magical and completely beyond our understanding. I absolutely believe in all those ancient stories, I don’t just interpret them metaphorically. This is also another reason why we must be very careful in the words that we choose to speak, because words are magic. I love those stories.

EL:

The track is beautiful, it is mesmerising. It is almost as if it is a siren’s song drawing people to the lar, or to you. The song definitely has power. How much did you want the song to act as a meditation itself?

YY:

The singing of the song, the making of the song, was definitely very meditative for me. In terms of how the audience would perceive it, I didn’t have a particular intention. Although I didn’t intend people to meditate through this song, I do find that when I am meditative during my singing, the audience also receives and feels that same way. So, I wouldn’t say that I directly intended something but from singing in the state of meditation, there is often an indirect effect on those listening.

EL:

As if it flows from its creation.

YY:

Yes.

EL:

Do you think the lar track is part of your other work, is it separate? Does it compare differently?

YY:

I think the main difference would be that it was a collaboration. Usually for theatre or for making films it’s a process where you do collaborate with a lot of other people but so far I have kept my music just for myself. It’s a very personal and individual project. So in a sense this is my first collaboration because the inception of the work was coming from somewhere other than myself but I conceived the music so I consider it as my first musical collaboration.

It felt very different in the initial stage or the initial context I would say but once I got into the conception, as in creating the actual music that was also very very personal. In that sense the work is very comparable but also very similar.

EL:

Do you feel that you have gone on off a slightly different route with this track that you would like to explore further?

YY:

Yes! So far a lot of my songs have been about nature and love or have been based around spirituality. But they were all written in languages that I speak, Korean, English and Spanish. After creating this song, I felt more inspiration to make music in gibberish or words that I don’t understand.  Through working in a language I wasn’t as familiar with, I was able to explore and get closer to the actual vibration of the sounds. It made me realise the depths of what singing can do, in terms of meditation and invocation.

EL:

Something about working in a language that you don’t necessarily have such a strong connection or understanding of, is that language becomes like an abstraction.

YY:

Yes, yes, well put!

EL:

So it’s less about the words and more about the vibrations or simply playing with sound.

YY:

Yes, I agree.

Image: ©Yeji Yeon

 

EL:

In terms of being multidisciplinary, do you actively draw from those other disciplines when making your work or do you feel instead that you put a sort of hat on each time, as if you go ‘Right, today I’ll do a bit more dancing but a little of singing but mainly dancing today’.

YY:

[Laughing] That’s a really great way of describing it. I think you’ve given me a solution actually!

EL:

Time to make some hats?

YY:

YEH! That’s a good idea. Recently I did feel that I perhaps I needed some sort of regime or routine because I felt that not every medium was getting my attention. I usually unconsciously block several days to one discipline. So, for example, for the next several days I would be more attentive to one discipline in particular. But recently, I feel like I need a new discipline to fit everything into one day. So different hats would be a really great idea! Or a mask.

EL:

Do you think the multidisciplinary aspect of your practice represents facets of your personality?

YY:

Yes, I’m all over the place! I definitely think that it does.

EL:

Looking back now, because that is sometimes easier, writing and channelling the song for a lar, would you consider that process as being multidisciplinary. Or do you consider that to have been made on a ‘song making day’?

YY:

I would say that the process was very musical but at the same time, when I am singing I am always reminding myself that I should sing as if I am dancing and when you are making music, and you are in the rhythm of it, the two are really inseparable. To dance, in terms of physicality, you are also swaying to the rhythm of the dancing. So, the track is very musical but within the song there is the essence of dance.

EL:

I think that is beautifully put. It is interesting that you tell yourself to make the song as if you are dancing it at the point of creation. It is embedded in the work.

YY:

Yes.

EL:

If you were to meet the lar, what would you say or do? How would it go down?

YY:

I would love to hug it if I can, if we were not separated by a panel of glass. I would love to touch it. Perhaps I would put my ear next to it, it would be so small. I would say ‘You’re very adorable’.

EL:

I am sure that the lar would be appreciative of that. A two thousand year old little thing, he may be desperate for some attention! Have you listened to the other track?

YY:

I listened to Stergin and Lousie Fazackerley’s music and I was amazed at how each of us is like a prism, and with the same light entering through us we just express it in all different ways. It was so great to see how the essence of Lar can be interpreted in such different ways. I’m really looking forward to hearing all of the other artists. This made it really really fun for me, being able to all come together with our own music and make it into a whole. I really appreciate this project and I’m really looking forward also to seeing how the compilation album will turn out. It’s very exciting.

It’s like it was a collaboration between me and the Lar but it’s also in a way, a collaboration with all of the other artists. I really want to thank you for this opportunity. It’s been really fun, and it will be fun as we hear all of the other artists.

 

To find out more about Yeji Yeon visit: https://www.yejiyeon.com/

 

Below are three work created through dance, film and song highlighting Yeji Yeon’s practice and processes as a multidisciplinary artist:

DANCE:

Before Sunset:

Choreography and dance by Yeji Yeon & Kyungho Nah; curated by Gentle Monster; Installation by Tae Hwan Kim


FILM AND DANCE:

SAAL:

煞 [Saal]- meaning ‘evil energy’- is a ritualistic word in Korea: a collective term for spirits behind the calamities that humans face. Through offerings of dance and music, a mortal pleads for an appeasement with the higher realm in efforts to null its devastating effect.


SONG:

Take Me to your Love

Music and photograph by Yeji Yeon. Recorded in Gokarna, India; 2019

 

 

 

FIND OUT MORE

Ten Songs for a Lar has been commissioned by Kent Medway Museum NPO and is inspired by an almost 2000 year old mysterious figurine, held in the collections at The Guildhall Museum, Rochester. This tiny ‘Lar’ statuette, a household god figurine, served as a protector of the home, family and domestic boundaries and dates from around AD 200.

The KMM NPO is a group of four museums (The Historic Dockyard Chatham, Canterbury Museums & Galleries, Guildhall Museum Rochester and Tunbridge Wells Museum & Gallery) funded by Arts Council England (ACE) to work together to deliver excellence in the use of collections and to inspire learning, creativity, and wellbeing to existing and new audiences in their communities.

Find out more about Ten Songs for a Lar

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