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Cuckoo review at Campo, Ghent – ‘stylishly staged performance lecture about South Korea’

Jaha Koo in Cuckoo at Campo, Ghent. Photo: Radovan Dranga

A Cuckoo, in South Korea, is a pressure cooker for preparing rice. In Amsterdam-based artist Jaha Koo’s solo performance-lecture, visiting Ghent’s Same Same But Different festival as part of a European tour, there are three, spread out before Koo on a high desk. Two of them can talk, and together, Koo and his rice cookers balefully sift through 20 years of South Korean history, starting with the 58 billion-dollar IMF bailout that rescued the country’s economy in 1997.

Throughout the piece, Koo interleaves his personal history with depression and loneliness, and works in similar stories from others of his generation – a childhood pal whose family moved to America, a debt-struck friend who committed suicide, an overworked metro-worker hit by a train. These sections are stylishly separated by video clips and original electronic music.

Koo’s aim is to tie South Korea’s high rates of suicide with the consequences of the 1997 bailout. South Korea, he suggests, has been turned into a pressure cooker by economic colonialism. It might be a valid take, but it’s not coherently argued.

Koo loops in a score of different factors – the machinations of US treasury secretary Robert Rubin, the post-bailout rise in international investment, the regular social unrest, the introduction of screen doors on Seoul’s metro to prevent suicide – but although he’s an engaging presence, and deftly weaves these threads together theatrically, this piece isn’t as satisfying on an intellectual level.

Cuckoo ends up playing out like an article abstract: the bare bones of an idea, but with little actual argument.

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Amsterdam-based artist Jaha Koo’s stylishly staged but incoherently argued performance-lecture on recent South Korean history