Concept, direction, Performance, Text, Music and video by Jaha Koo CAMPO. Aiustralian premiere/South Korea/Belgium. OzAsia Festival. The Space. Adelaide Festival Centre. October 25-26 2019.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
“I never knew” my friend said as we left The Space Theatre after the performance of Cuckoo, conceived, directed and performed with original music by Jaha Koo, a 34 year old South Korean, now living in self- imposed exile in Belgium.
It is this awakening that makes the OzAsia Festival such an enlightening and inspiring event. Cuckoo opens the eyes, offering a piercing insight into another world and other lives affected by Asia’s great financial crisis, largely unknown and yet as devastating as the 2008 global financial crisis that threw economies in America, Europe and Australia into chaos. Jaha Koo’s profoundly disturbing revelations cast a grim pall across the financial veil that pits the International Monetary Fund, powerful economies and political might against the vulnerability of smaller, politically subservient and disadvantaged nations.
In 1998, the impact of Thailand’s economic collapse reverberated throughout Asia, crippling South Korea’s economy and forcing the nation to seek assistance from the IMF. Then Treasury Secretary to the Clinton administration, Robert Rubin, a former executive with Goldman Sachs, persuaded the IMF to lend South Korea assistance at hugely inflated interest rates, which would force many businesses into bankruptcy, driving up costs, creating massive unemployment and placing a small Asian nation at the mercy of corporate greed.
|Jaha Koo with Seri in Cuckoo|
Cuckoo is a painful expose of consequence. It opens with video footage of riots that spilt onto the streets of Seoul between the 1998 National Day of Humiliation and 2016. The sight of citizens being beaten by police and blood covered protestors paints a fearful picture of the effect of the IMF conditions that drove up interest rates and broke the back of South Korean economy and pride.
Jaha Koo stands before his audience dressed in a plain black t-shirt, a reminder of all he had when he left his homeland for Europe and a better life. Sorrow sweeps through his eyes as he embarks upon the tragic consequences of cruel exploitation. In front of him are three Cuckoos, a South Korean electric rice cooker. Steam rises from the quiet Hana, who does not talk and silently accepts her lot as a cooker of rice. Duri in the centre assumes the role of superior cooker, able to talk and cook and mocks Seri, who since having an LED panel inserted has not been able to cook and can only hurl insults back at the deriding Deri. The analogy is strikingly potent. Like the cooker, the nation simmers at the realization of the impact of the National Day of Humiliation. And then begins to boil until exploding into steam and emerging from the hard seed as a fluffy headed, soft product to be consumed, powerless against a greater force.
While the cookers fight and Hana proceeds to avoid conflict and cook the rice, Jaha comments on events that resulted in the shame of his homeland and the death of his best friend who suicided and a worker on the underground protective screens, who, pressured to complete repairs stayed too long in the narrow space and was struck by a train. It was the same distance as between the ledge and the window from which his friend jumped to his death.
Cuckoo is a lesson in consequence, a simply and imaginatively conceived revelation that powerfully reveals unknown tragic truths. The use of talking, fighting, cooking telerobotic rice cookers to emphasise the analogy lends the performance some moments of wry humour and relief, but we are left with the appalling sense of powerlessness against larger political, corporate and economic interests that strike at the very heart of personal freedom and welfare.
The sorrow remains in Jaha Koo’s still stance before his audience at the close of the performance. And for an instant I think of Julian Assange and the AFP raid on the ABC. And I think of the Extinction Rebellion and the riots on the streets of Barcelona and Bolivia. And I contemplate Jaha Koo’s three pressure cookers who for only an hour caused an audience to see the world differently.