25-31/10/2018 LAPAIX 12 rue de la Paix, 75002 PARIS

Hard to ignore
Semi Kim

I was walking the streets of Paris on a hot summer day and faced a beggar with a crumpled paper cup. Some people criticize them for begging and using young children. I just look at them. In the enormous noise and pollution of automobiles, these children, with shabby dresses and strained faces, look at me with pity and plea in their eyes. I see how they sometimes play with garbage as toys in the roadside flowerbed, next to their begging mother.

As I walked passed the group of beggars, I receive a photo of my niece and nephew playing in a swimming pool. The pool is filled with clean water and was made by their grandparents. They placed the pool in the backyard of their house in Gapyeong, located inside the deep mountains about an hour and a half away from the capital city of South Korea. My younger nephew looks into the camera with a vivid and pleased expression and both their faces are filled with laughter.

Could I afford to pay for food to all these people I see in the street and the subway so that they could eat everyday? Would that be charity? Where does this idea of wanting to help them come from? I think my question is more about the nature of humanity, rather than just my compassion.

Emmanuel Levinas says, “The ‘I’ is the neighbor's self. The identity and ethical universality of the self can not be freed from that of our neighbors.” The multicultural society he sees, it exists as a public world in which others and I coexist. This is a world of close neighbors, which demands a responsible relationship between the other and I. Therefore; the value of life that can be used in this world requires ethics that ties up the relationship with the other. Moreover, this value redefines the value of the common good that the social community seeks to obtain from the other.

As the sight of children walking the streets with their parents and that of the begging children, sitting oon the street, enters my gaze simultaneously; I am filled with two very separate and perplex emotions.
[note to self: Paris is an infinite chaos]
I walk pass them, again and again. ¬¬My consciousness thinks I should give them what they are asking for, but as I walk by, my gaze turns to look away and I ignore them. I am uncomfortable and feeling dubious. Was I perhaps unconsciously questioning my safety, hence my unease as I got closer? I continue walking and soo¬n after seem to forget about my existential questionings and return to live my own life.

I am a foreigner living in Paris. I have no direct ties to this group of “others”. But having to navigate a new system to solve physical, mental, and security issues away from my homeland, which I left by my own choice, I am myself asking for something to someone every time. As I walk pass beggars on the street I each time feel a great unease and I notice how it increasingly affects my everyday life. I have a feeling of it being my duty to give greater priority to this relationship with others. I am reading it as a sign that in order for me to find a more solid base for my own personal freedom I have to seek answers to these questions that keep arising within me.

Every time I return to Paris from Seoul I find that the number of people begging on the streets has increased. I have felt it as a sense of crisis. For all of you who have your fundamental needs as human beings resolved, how do you confront these people who are asking us for something on the street? How do you make your choices? And how can I as an artist, with my paintings and drawings, do something with my work do address this?

For a long time I was worried about indifference and negligence.
In my mind indifference was an individual choice and therefore I could not dwell upon it. But I am today confronted with the conviction that I cannot not address something merely because I have gotten used to it. I have become more conscious of what the presence of these “others” means to my life. It has altered into a desire of never ignoring but to instead see how I can create a rebirth of goodness within myself. As a human being to become truly human, must we not reconnect to the cycle of humanity, of goodness and to nature in order to resolve tragedies such as war, violence, and refugee problems in our current hugely confused society?

Over the years I have been doing my drawings between France and Korea, repeatedly expressing moments in times and of emotions. My experience of a continuous back and forth between the two countries has created the existence of invisible spaces and emotions that I sense to be physically "in between". I have become very sensitive to these “in between” subjects and places.
This exhibition is an attempt to address the uncomfortable moment facing the face of the other. I do not think these moments can be ignored and I believe that these unstable moments between the many other people I meet on the street and myself are moments we need to live, together, as human beings.

A part of the profits from the sales of the works will be donated to Emmaus and Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

*Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) French philosopher of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry who is known for his work related to Jewish philosophy, existentialism, ethics phenomenology and ontology.