Korean performance artist Samin Son (26) hangs in the alley
behind the Blue Oyster Art Project Space. Photo by Gerard
Wellington performance artist Samin Son risked punishment
for painting on South Korean Army property with toothpaste. He
was desperate for artistic expression.
The Korean expatriate was at a Wellington art school when he
was conscripted in 2007 for 23 months of compulsory military
training in the Republic of Korea Armed Forces - one of the
largest standing armed forces in the world.
Most of his training was in the Korean Riot Police Squad and
any form of artistic expression was banned.
Junior officers were prohibited from using mirrors to stop
them interacting with their own reflection, he said.
After conscription, he quickly became anxious to ''paint and
As a junior officer, he was given toothpaste and a scrubbing
brush to clean the barracks, including the mirror of a senior
''The mirror cleaning time was when the senior officer
stepped outside for a cigarette.''
As the officer smoked, he scrawled a self-portrait with
toothpaste on the mirror to release the ''urges of
He washed the mirror down when the senior officer approached
because if he had been caught painting, the punishment would
have been severe, he said.
The training reinforced his need for expression.
''I learnt what I really wanted to do: art. It was a big
epiphany that lasted for 23 months.''
He used the skills gained from the secret art sessions for
his Dunedin Fringe Festival work Toothpaste Transcription
of Panopticism, a toothpaste transcription he started in
the Fringe Fishbowl yesterday.
He will finish transcribing passages from the French
philosopher Michel Foucault's book Discipline and
Son said the passages were about the panopticon - a type of
prison designed by the English philosopher and social
theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century.
The building's design allowed a guard to observe the cells
without the inmates' knowledge. . The guard could not watch
every cell at once but as the inmates never knew if they were
being watched or not, they regulated their behaviour, Mr Son
Son will perform other Fringe Festival works at the Blue
Oyster Art Project Space in Dowling St until Sunday.