Tweets, poems, and... kimchi?
Kimchi, a Korean side dish of fermented vegetables and spices, is perhaps best known as a polarizing condiment, engendering love, hatred, and YouTube videos of screaming children trying it for the first time. It is also serves as inspiration for the work of Margaret Rhee, a feminist new media artist and scholar. In The Kimchi Poetry Project, she asks, "What feminist methods, histories, and stories can we unearth and create through the poetics of kimchi?" (Rhee, "Installation - The Kimchi Poetry Project"). Rhee's innovative work explores the possibilities at the intersections of kimchi, tweets, and poetry.
After publishing her poem "A Feminist History of Kimchi" in the anthology Conversations at the Wartime Cafe (2011), Rhee was invited to a poetry reading where she asked the audience to make "kimchi poetry" with her. The Kimchi Poetry Project was born. Rhee's participatory poetry venture includes a series of multimedia installations and objects. At her installation A Feminist History of Kimchi at SOMArts in San Francisco in 2014, Rhee displayed Kimchi jars filled with lines of poetry written on crepe paper, along with a "Poetry for Free" bowl filled with "Pocket Kimchi Poems." These collaborative poems were derived from lines contributed by 350 people at earlier workshops and events.
Rhee also has developed The Kimchi Poetry Machine. The machine, a glass jar, offers a multi-sensory experience to those who interact with it. Opening the jar releases a whiff of kimchi as pre-recorded "kimchi twitter poems" play. These poems, each 140 characters, were writen by poets invited to explore kimchi, womanhood, and culture and previously appeared on the Kimchi Poetry Machine Twitter account. The jar contains paper copies of kimchi twitter poems as well.
According to Rhee: "The Kimchi Poetry Machine is a response to 'bookless' libraries and a digital future without poetry. While the drive to bring poetry into the future includes publishing poetry on digital tablets, The Kimchi Poetry Machine reimagines how tangible computing, paper, and participation can be utilized to create a new poetic & feminist experience from a jar" (Rhee, "Machine - The Kimchi Poetry Project"). Navigating the relationship between art and technology, the project is powered by open source electronics, including Arduino and Adafruit.
Here, artist and theorist micha cárdenas, who contributed poems to the project, interacts with the machine:
Rhee's project has garnered interest and support from many places, including the CITRIS Invention Lab at University of California - Berkeley, Artbots, and the California Institute of Integral Studies. With its unique blend of poetry, circuitry, and multimedia aesthetics, The Kimchi Poetry Project surprises, much like the bracing taste of kimchi. In doing so, it offers an important contribution to the contemporary Asian American avant garde.
Rhee, Margaret. "Installation - The Kimchi Poetry Project." The Kimchi Poetry Project. n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.
---. "Machine - The Kimchi Poetry Project." The Kimchi Poetry Project. n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.