During the research on small-scale sewing workshops in Doksan-dong, Seoul between 2011 and 2012, ‘Bacchus’, a refreshing drink that contains ingredients preventing from sleeping and boosting body energy temporarily, was found as the symbolic object identifying blue-collar culture. Helping to forget physical exhaustion, Bacchus is still very much favoured in many working environments where intensive labouring is required. Despite devastating working conditions such as low wage and unstable employment status, most of workshops being visited for observations and interviews maintained vibrant atmosphere with a great pride in their skilled works. In this way, Bacchus reflects high spirit for hard working on one hand and exploitation of economic system that constantly devalues skilled manual labours compared to office-based works. The theme of the solo exhibition ‘Bacchus Economics’ (gallery ggooll, Seoul 2013) is derived from this.
The iconic work of the exhibition is The Factory Girl, a dress made of the Bacchus patterned fabric. It is a homage to those young female seamstresses who used to be glorified as foot soldiers for Korean economic take-off in 1970s, yet slowly diminished and continuously undervalued in a current knowledge-driven economic system. This petit dress staged solitarily under the silver ball recalls young girls’ sleepless nights and fading dreams.
Along with the Bacchus Dress, a cocktail, named ‘Extra Hours’, serving performance was carried. This cocktail is the mixture of Bacchus and Chivas Regal, the imported whisky known to be the former dictator, President Park’s favourite booze, whose economic policy heavily focused on exporting businesses. The cocktail was served to the audience in an exchange with their memorable labouring experiences, along with a video installation themed of labour exploitation in Korea. By serving 57 audiences, various and rather intriguing stories were collected. They include forced and reluctant work experience in mandatory military service, working holidays experience in one of Australian slaughterhouses, questions in the relationship between actual labour and value of contemporary arts, different social perception on different kinds of jobs, and so on.