Mina Cheon . art . text . teach . review . cv



Atropos Press, New York and Dresden, 2009

PRESS RELEASE       REVIEW 1 . 2 . 3


New media theorists, performance artists, media culture commentators, and politicians have celebrated life online—the virtual unknown—as shamanic, Eastern, mysterious, transformative, and exotic. SHAMANISM + CYBERSPACE shows that this rhetoric is actually a familiar version of the other, and that imperialism is at its core. This book combines postcolonial, deconstructionist, and performance theory to reread new media theory and shamanism itself, specifically in South Korea. It unravels and reweaves discourses on originary reproduction, confronting the proliferating violence in media and nationalism. Perhaps most radically, it proposes a new theory of “media mourning” to help us see and hear shamanism colliding with contemporary media art worlds, collapsing time and space, upending gender and racial categories, and confounding the boundaries between East and West. Most importantly, the book introduces a new opening toward instigating the impossibility of the other in philosophy while critiquing how shamanism is used to image the other in cyberspace culture.

Mina Cheon (Korean-American), PhD, MFA, is a new media artist, writer, and educator who divides her time between Baltimore, New York, and Seoul. She is currently a full-time professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, teaching studio and liberal arts. SHAMANISM + CYBERSPACE (2009) is her first book, adapted from her dissertation, The Shæman in Cyberspace: Dilemmas of Reproduction (2008), which was completed for her doctoral degree in Philosophy of Media and Communications at the European Graduate School (EGS), Switzerland. As an artist, she has shown internationally, with solo exhibitions at spaces including the Lance Fung Gallery in New York (2002); Insa Art Space, Arts Council, Seoul (2005); and C. Grimaldis Gallery in Baltimore (2008). From installation and performance to video and interactive media, her artwork deals with issues of media, space, borders, and conflicts between nations, especially the triangular relationship between South Korea, North Korea, and the United States. Recently her work has extended into the realm of looking at other national conflicts, including those between neighboring Asian nations such as Korea, Japan, and China, and the plethora of images of hatred and racism found in popular media and cultures of Asia.


SHAMANISM + CYBERSPACE (2009) is an ethno-theoretical engagement with shamanism and cyberspace cultures, critiquing the separation of magic and science in the postmodern era. Deploying an array of interpretive methods, from deconstruction, postcolonialism, and performance studies to gender studies and queer theory, Mina Cheon unfolds the myriad mythos in media culture that surround the figure of the shaman. She shows that cyberspace, a scientific discourse and a reproductive technology, invokes the shaman as part of its claim to be a utopian space of new relationships. But in fact the shaman reveals that cyberspace is an extension of Western-centric imperialism, marked by nationalism, traditional gender roles, racism, and cultural othering. Cheon looks at the highly contested spaces of actual shamanism, both in South Korean everyday life and in rituals performed by the Korean female shaman Kum-hwa Kim, a superstar within anthropological and theater circles. These spaces reveal the South Korean thrust toward modernity as the residue of being a postcolonial state.

Addressing the death of media guru (the founder of video art), Korean national hero, and international art star Nam June Paik, Cheon formulates a new theory of “media mourning.” This theory accounts for the complexity of media events surrounding the media man and his death, especially shaman Kim’s possession as Paik during a Korean shamanic memorial ritual. At the click of a mouse, today’s imperialistic values are dispersed through tourist sites, Web sites, holy religious sites (existing everywhere and nowhere at once), and everyday cyber-social interactions. In response, the book critiques and questions origin theory and authentic experience of cultures. It asks how cultures are formed through power and knowledge systems that are still predominantly Western. By considering the possibilities of non-knowledge, non-culture, and non-space, this text brings light to a post-Benjaminian reflection on “originary reproduction” and the dilemmas on reproduction found in the shamanic-cyber metaphors in new media theory and media culture. This close reading is informed by Lévinasian, Derridean, and Ronellian ethics of the other. It maps the anonymity and impossibility of the other, and its relationship to gift, death, mourning, friendship, enmity, and forgiveness. Finally, shamanism collides with contemporary media art worlds, collapsing time and space, upending gender and racial categories, and confounding the boundaries between East and West.

Available at Authors Bookshop, MICA Book Store, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powells, Ingram.