Shen Xin — Brine Lake (A New Body)


  • Location:
    M HKA, Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp, Belgium
  • Artist:

Brine Lake (A New Body) (2020) is a video and sound installation that meditates on the interrelation between ethnicity and ecology. Two female protagonists converse in the Korean, Japanese and Russian languages with two unseen employees of a fictional iodine factory. Remaining muted for us and functioning as one entity with the cameraperson, the ghostly interlocutors invite the viewers to move between the work’s overlapping episodes. Throughout the conversation, we learn about iodine and its natural origin in deep sea brine lakes. In these highly saline underwater environments, bodies of dead organisms never decay, lingering in the transitional state. The subtle cues in the dialogues gradually begin to translate the process of iodine recycling into a metaphor for statelessness and assimilation.

The installation reveals the complexity of experiences for Korean immigrants in Russia and Japan. The distinct bilingualism of the female protagonists alludes to the story of labourers deported to the Sakhalin Island in the late 1930s and early 1940s during Japanese colonial rule over Korea. Rendered stateless through ethnic identification and persecution, many of them were continuously involved in state-run economies while existing in persistent invisibility. Intertwining historic and fictive narratives, as well as interpersonal and political perspectives, the installation operates as a space of active reflection on topics such as extractive economies, linguistic and ethnic multiplicity, separation and belonging.

M HKA’s natural consciousness is that of multipolarity, with Eurasia as its cultural and conceptual space. Shen Xin’s solo presentation is part of the museum’s long-term engagement with the plurality of cultures across the total landmass of what we know as ‘Europe’ and ‘Asia’. Brine Lake (A New Body) was acquired by the museum following its premiere at the Gwangju Biennale (2021) in South Korea.