Profile — 23 Nov 2018
Sara Sejin Chang employs filmmaking, installation, drawing, performance, collaborations, and interventions to draw attention to the narratives that structure our thinking and order our institutions. Chang’s work sets out to unmake and remake these narratives in order to expose underlying hierarchies of gender, race, and nationalism. Through this process, she challenges us to recognize the injurious effects that Western imperialist ideas of world-making have historically had on our interactions.
Her work also highlights the continuing presence of such ideologies in our social, public, and civic lives, and asks us to consider what we, as a society, might lose by failing to recognize or challenge this situation.
In her affecting and devastating film Brussels 2016, Chang approaches these ideas through an ostensibly personal lens, framing the film as a letter to her unknown mother in South Korea. Set in the months following the Brussels bombings of March 2016, and prior to the referendum in which British voters were to decide on their future within the European Union, Chang captures the city at a vulnerable moment.
Chang, who had just moved to Belgium from the Netherlands, made the film while participating in an artists residency program at WIELS. As both an insider and an outsider within the institution and the Netherlands, Chang takes special interest in the uncertain status of the gallery’s unofficial residents—a community of displaced Roma and Syrian refugees living on the grounds of WIELS. Through presenting their makeshift home and reflecting on the antagonisms that she has witnessed towards immigrants from former colonies and Belgian people of color, Chang invites viewers to consider broader political narratives. In her poetic rendering, she exposes the “foundational fictions” that underlie the city of Brussels, and the united Europe it purports to stand for.
Functioning as a portrait of the city, the film captures Brussels’ European institutions, lush parks, as well as the various communities that intersect in Chang’s life: her fellow artists, her queer friendship group, the neighbors who come to learn, play, and labor in the WIELS gardens. Brussels appears as a series of parallel realities, brought together by Chang’s gaze.
Through the individual encounters that structure the film, Brussels 2016 shows that intimate interactions are necessary for us to collectively repair our society and imagine how things could be. Such interactions include Chang going on a walk through the woods with her dogs, meeting a friend’s newborn baby, getting to know a stray cat, and falling in love.
About the artist
Sara Sejin Chang (van der Heide) (1977, South Korea) studied at the Amsterdam University of the Arts and the AKI Academy of Art & Design in Enschede. She has participated in residencies at De Ateliers, Amsterdam; International Studio & Curatorial Program, New York; and WIELS, Brussels. Her work has been shown at venues including the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Sharjah Biennial 13, Beirut; 1st Asia Biennial/5th Guangzhou Triennial, Guangzhou; De Appel Arts Centre, Amsterdam; Andalusian Center for Contemporary Art, Sevilla; Marres, Maastricht; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the International Film Festival Rotterdam; WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels; and biennials in Kiev and Sydney. Her work is held in public collections throughout the Netherlands, Belgium and the United States.