Becoming Forest: Breakwater (Youngsook Choi and Taey Iohe) & Cường Phạm

Breakwater: Becoming Forest (poster), 2020, courtesy the artists

Breakwater is a London-based Korean diaspora artist duo of cross-disciplinary artist and researcher Youngsook Choi and Taey Iohe, who make installations combining performance, film, sound, photography and  text to explore postcolonial and intersectional identities. Their collaborative practice centres around ideas of postcolonialism, climate justice and migrants’ lived experiences as well as their mutual interest in excavating counter-narratives through an exploration of spiritual knowledge, folklore, and queer methodologies.

Cường Phạm is a cultural producer, community activist and curator based in London. He has co-curated ‘Record, Retrieve, Reactivate’ (An Viet Foundation) and ‘Resettled Spaces’ (Lien Viet) which explored the history, memory, and language of the Southeast and East Asian migration experience. He holds a MA in Southeast Asia Studies at SOAS. Under the handle phạmbinho 范悲儒, he hosts an NTS online radio show, to musically reframe ‘Asia’ as a contested paradigm. 

This project considers mental wellbeing as a collective responsibility, focusing on the  detrimental impact of Covid-19 and the spike of anti-Asian racism upon the mental health of Southeast  and East Asian diasporas, refugees and precarious migrants in the UK. Drawing upon Franz Fanon’s  seminal observation on the relationship between colonial oppression/violence and mental illness, this project conceptualises collective healing as performing justice. Four radio episodes will be developed during the residency that aim to provide and hold a space of solidarity and communal comfort. 

Project Update – February 2021

A field of green grass is shown at duck mostly covered in snow with two pathways worn through. Pale pink and grey translucent undulating lines are overlaid on the image
Photo © Taey Iohe; courtesy Breakwater

Breakwater & Cuong Pham explored a psychosocial space of East and Southeast Asian migrant’s mental health as part of making the winter episode – the first in a series of four seasonal audio episodes.

Listen to their Winter Episode here.

Breakwater held three workshops of Becoming Forest with their regular participants over December and January (workshops are set up as closed, intimate sessions to build up collective healing and solidarity among participants who are vulnerable).

As part of the process, they interviewed Michaele Nagac, a mental health support officer at Kanlungan Filipino Consortium to discuss the colonial implication of mental health problems and how we associate sound and memory for the healing process.

A path meanders through a forest full of young trees with bright green leaves on them. Undulating waves of grey and green are  superimposed over the peaceful scene
Becoming Forest I Spring © Taey Iohe; courtesy Breakwater

Spring Episode

In the second of four radio episodes, the artists invite listeners to join them for a polyphonic spring day, featuring birdsong, buzzing bees, weather, and Southeast and East Asian folk song and folk tale. There are also recorded messages of support for Violeta who recently lost her newborn granddaughter to Covid-19 from participants of the IRL Becoming Forest workshop. As well as an interview with Jack Shieh, the director of Vietnamese Mental Health Services, who has dedicated almost 40 years to community work.

Listen to their Spring Episode here.

Summer Episode

ferns, grasses and other forest undergrowth are shown in verdant green on a sunny day. The photo is overlaid with a translucent wave that echoes a sound wave with darker and lighter tones.
Becoming Forest: Summer. Image courtesy Breakwater (Yoongsook Choi & Taey Iohe)

In the third of four radio episodes that aim to provide and hold a space of solidarity and communal comfort, the artists invite listeners to join them for a conversation held during a communal hotpot meal. They invited three UK-based creatives, artist Bettina Fung 馮允珊, artist Yarli Allison, and writer Yin Lo to share their thoughts on food, homemaking, language, migration, decolonisation and more. The conversations are interspersed with acoustic captures of Hong Kong through rustling bamboo leaves, rippling water waves, and aeroplanes taking off over the city. 

Listen to the Summer Episode here.