By using the term religion I want to show the power of patriarchy and misogyny in our daily life. I want to reframe them with the term.

Leymusoom

Heesoo Kwon

Heesoo Kwon's art practice engages with performance, video, and sculpture to reimagine personal and social narratives. Much of her current work centers around Leymusoom, an autobiographical feminist religion she created as an alternative to the Catholic creation myth and her experiences with Korean patriarchy. Her interdisciplinary practice includes sculptural installations, collaborative performances with the followers of Leymusoom, and digital interventions into her family's intergenerational archive. Collectively, Kwon explores—and creates—new ways of being in the world.

On April 6, 2019 Kwon spoke with Maddie Klett, a writer and independent curator based in Berkeley, at her studio on the UC Berkeley campus. The following is an excerpt from that conversation, which has been edited for clarity.

Maddie Klett (MK): What is Leymusoom?

Heesoo Kwon (HK): Leymusoom is an autobiographical feminist religion I started in 2017. It was started as my personal resistance towards Korean patriarchy, and misogyny, and also the Catholic Genesis story—which I really hate. I organized a performance to write a new genesis story, which became the foundation for Leymusoom. People really responded to the performance—I didn’t expect that.

MK: When was this performance?

HK: It was in November 2017.

MK: So it was your first semester in UC Berkeley's MFA program?‍

 

HK: Yeah. The performance was a final project for a writing class with professor Anne Walsh. People gave me really interesting feedback. So I decided to develop Leymusoom for my first year MFA show by making a shrine. When the exhibition opened in January, people were really obsessed with it and asked how they could convert to the religion. In April I had another performance, which you attended. I started to hold weekly meetings in August 2018, and have since developed this feminist movement alongside my own Leymusoom.

MK: How much information do you give viewers for accessing Leymusoom as you’ve conceptualized it? You’ve explained to me in the past how this project has roots in both Korean shamanism and Catholicism, which were both present in your upbringing. How important is it for you that viewers know this? As someone who grew up Catholic in the United States, I see an altar and references to the body in your work. I make the connection to how corporeal Catholic rituals, like communion, are. But there are so many different layers that I, and I imagine others, wouldn’t readily see in the way you understand it.

‍HK: Yeah, that’s true. I feel like my stance toward Leymusoom keeps changing. At first, I was afraid of showing myself and hid my identity as a woman from Korea in her late-twenties. I was more interested in seeing how people reacted to my work and how that reaction reflected their personal backgrounds.

After taking an Asian American writing class last summer, I realized it’s impossible to hide myself completely. The reason I started this religion is inspired by my background—specifically Korean shamanism and Catholicism. I now describe Leymusoom as a religious group where I guide believers to develop their own feminism. So, personal narratives play an important role.

I hold weekly meetings with the believers. We started making family trees to reinterpret our personal histories. We question how gender affected the lives of our ancestors, and how those traumas and experiences impact us today.

MK: And what forms have the believers’ Leymusooms taken? Do they each create their own shrine or practice in some way?


HK: At this point, it’s like art school because I help them to visualize their own Leymusoom through art. Some of them make books, others create ceramic statues, and some develop performances. For example, one of the practitioners started to capture the daily moments when she felt her gender and sexuality. She had the desire to pee in men's bathrooms, and so another baby Leymusoom and I were with her to document this moment. It was incredible. We then made a sculpture with the funnel she used and the dress she wore.

MK: And what forms have the believers’ Leymusooms taken? Do they each create their own shrine or practice in some way?

 

HK: At this point, it’s like art school because I help them to visualize their own Leymusoom through art. Some of them make books, others create ceramic statues, and some develop performances. For example, one of the practitioners started to capture the daily moments when she felt her gender and sexuality. She had the desire to pee in men's bathrooms, and so another baby Leymusoom and I were with her to document this moment. It was incredible. We then made a sculpture with the funnel she used and the dress she wore.

 

Leading those weekly meetings, I supported believers in developing their own Leymusoom. As they established their versions, I started to feel that I need to evolve my own. I became more interested in my family story realized that my grandmother is the strongest inspiration for me. She always said, "Obey your father"—not only God the Father but also my biological father. I started to think about how visualize my Leymusoom with her body, symbolizing Korean patriarchy and strict Catholicism.

This past winter, I visited my home in Korea and collected photos of my ancestors. I studied my grandma in those pictures—her face and hairstyles through the years. She passed away when I was 20 but suffered from dementia for seven years; I wanted to remember her before that. I also researched Korean churches, religious objects, and I bought these statues.

MK: You bought these in Korea?

HK: Yeah! These statues are how Koreans visualize the Virgin Mary—as a beautiful white woman. I felt that the shape looked like a vagina.

MK: The shroud?

HK: Yeah! So I made these statues.

Currently, I visualize Leymusoom and my female ancestors with 3D models. I 3D rendered my mom, my grandma, myself, and Leymusoom and put these bodies in old family home videos and photographs.

In situ interview by Maddie Klett

By using the term religion I want to show the power of patriarchy and misogyny in our daily life. I want to reframe them with the term.

Bodurinao’s Shrine, 2018.

MK: How much information do you give viewers for accessing Leymusoom as you’ve conceptualized it? You’ve explained to me in the past how this project has roots in both Korean shamanism and Catholicism, which were both present in your upbringing. How important is it for you that viewers know this? As someone who grew up Catholic in the United States, I see an altar and references to the body in your work. I make the connection to how corporeal Catholic rituals, like communion, are. But there are so many different layers that I, and I imagine others, wouldn’t readily see in the way you understand it.

‍HK: Yeah, that’s true. I feel like my stance toward Leymusoom keeps changing. At first, I was afraid of showing myself and hid my identity as a woman from Korea in her late-twenties. I was more interested in seeing how people reacted to my work and how that reaction reflected their personal backgrounds.

After taking an Asian American writing class last summer, I realized it’s impossible to hide myself completely. The reason I started this religion is inspired by my background—specifically Korean shamanism and Catholicism. I now describe Leymusoom as a religious group where I guide believers to develop their own feminism. So, personal narratives play an important role.

I hold weekly meetings with the believers. We started making family trees to reinterpret our personal histories. We question how gender affected the lives of our ancestors, and how those traumas and experiences impact us today.

Bodurinao’s Shrine, 2018. Mixed media installation including a metal shed, clay, fabric, printed photographs, tables and found objects, 10 x 10 x 10 feet. Photo: Heesoo Kwon and Gabriella Willenz

Bodurinao’s Shrine, 2018.

The genesis of Leymusoom

I now describe Leymusoom as a religious group where I guide believers to develop their own feminism. So, personal narratives play an important role.

Genesis, 2017. Performance still. Photo: Gabriella Willenz

MK: And Leymusoom here is a spirit, or how would you describe it? How is Leymusoom different now from when it was previously more of a shrine?

HK: I'm inspired by Korean shamanism now. In Korea, shamans are destined to become shamans, whether in their twenties or forties. Before they become shamans, god spirits come to their daily life and live with them, support them, protect them, and observe them. They live together with the god until they discover their fate.

So, when I watched home videos, I imagined the Leymusoom in my family rituals and family members. I started visualizing Leymusoom as a spirit, as you say, and wanted to show their presence in the past. Also, I saw many misogynist family rituals that I wanted to interrupt.

In 2017, Leymusoom’s shrine was full of reptiles, objects that reference sexual organs, and visual references to Catholic Genesis and women’s bodies. But the form keeps evolving as the Leymusoom community grows. With members encouraging me, for example, I started to bring in my personal history, traumas, and desires.

MK: What are some of these misogynistic rituals?

HK: Well, for example, when other family members were having a meal, my mother was the only one standing and serving people. My father was filming the video, leisurely observing while the female family members worked hard.  There were so many of these kinds of examples. I wanted to interrupt this; it’s my fantasy to reframe and rewrite that history.

I have seven hours of footage of home videos taken by my father or my uncle, and I’m using 18 minutes of that footage where I see misogynist family rituals.

This is my great grandma [see above]. She always watched those Virgin Mary statues; she had dementia as well. In my video, the Leymusoom is reflected in her mirror. I want to show that Leymusoom was there with her, not threatening her, but taking care of her.

탈피를 위한 의식 A Ritual for Metamorphosis (video still), 2019

MK: How are you thinking about time with this work? Some of these also include 3D reproductions of your own body with the Leymusoom in these family photos. Why is it important for you to return to the past?

HK: I feel like reframing and rewriting personal history is a really important part of Leymusoom. Without talking about the past, it is impossible to talk about my present and my future. The Leymusoom meetings were really special for me, because we talked about our ancestors. Sharing the traumas and fantasies related to this helped me a lot. It was a healing process almost. So I’m both reinterpreting my past and visualizing my fantasy world.

I’m working on the 3D models of my female ancestors and myself in a public bath space, which is part of Korean culture. These are women-only spaces in Korea where everyone is naked and it’s really chill and relaxed.

These are three generations of my family. People have already given feedback that it looks like incest, but I didn’t mean to develop this work in that direction.

MK: Because you’re nude? If you were clothed it wouldn’t look like that.

HK: [Laughs] Yeah. The gesture, their posture, my eyes... I was inspired by that comment and started imagining a kind of feminist utopian world. How could three generations of women evolve in a world of only women? I’m imagining all the possible ways, the fun ways. This thrills me; it’s like creating my own film.

I’m collaborating with a computer science major PhD student. For this technology you need to source video with movement.  I will apply the 3D models of my ancestors to my movement and I will enter the virtual reality as well—much like the ritual shamans.  

MK: So all of this will be in your upcoming MFA show?

HK: Yeah, hopefully. It will be in the video that will be part of my installation. I just sent the plan. If it's too tight to include them in the group show, I will show them later in a solo show. Here's the plan that I have in mind [see right].

In Korea, doljanchi, or the first-year birthday party, is a really important ceremony. It celebrates the baby living one year and its happy life forever. So, I want to do doljanchi for Leymusoom. I designed a folding screen and I'll make totally different designs from Korean traditional imagery. I'll also use these covers of my 3D models. Here’s my face.

A 3D model of Heesoo's installation, 탈피를 위한 의식 A Ritual for Metamorphosis.

Explore more of Kwon's work

© on-off.site 2020

Heesoo shares family photos, Korean statues, and a 3D-printed Leymusoom figurine in her studio.

An in-progress video work by Heesoo mines her three generations of her family's matrilineality.

Family heirlooms

탈피를 위한 의식 A Ritual for Metamorphosis (video still), 2019

MK: How are you thinking about time with this work? Some of these also include 3D reproductions of your own body with the Leymusoom in these family photos. Why is it important for you to return to the past?

HK: I feel like reframing and rewriting personal history is a really important part of Leymusoom. Without talking about the past, it is impossible to talk about my present and my future. The Leymusoom meetings were really special for me, because we talked about our ancestors. Sharing the traumas and fantasies related to this helped me a lot. It was a healing process almost. So I’m both reinterpreting my past and visualizing my fantasy world.

I’m working on the 3D models of my female ancestors and myself in a public bath space, which is part of Korean culture. These are women-only spaces in Korea where everyone is naked and it’s really chill and relaxed.

These are three generations of my family. People have already given feedback that it looks like incest, but I didn’t mean to develop this work in that direction.

MK: Because you’re nude? If you were clothed it wouldn’t look like that.

HK: [Laughs] Yeah. The gesture, their posture, my eyes... I was inspired by that comment and started imagining a kind of feminist utopian world. How could three generations of women evolve in a world of only women? I’m imagining all the possible ways, the fun ways. This thrills me; it’s like creating my own film.

I’m collaborating with a computer science major PhD student. For this technology you need to source video with movement.  I will apply the 3D models of my ancestors to my movement and I will enter the virtual reality as well—much like the ritual shamans.  

MK: So all of this will be in your upcoming MFA show?

HK: Yeah, hopefully. It will be in the video that will be part of my installation. I just sent the plan. If it's too tight to include them in the group show, I will show them later in a solo show. Here's the plan that I have in mind [see right].

In Korea, doljanchi, or the first-year birthday party, is a really important ceremony. It celebrates the baby living one year and its happy life forever. So, I want to do doljanchi for Leymusoom. I designed a folding screen and I'll make totally different designs from Korean traditional imagery. I'll also use these covers of my 3D models. Here’s my face.

A 3D model of Heesoo's installation, 탈피를 위한 의식 A Ritual for Metamorphosis.