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In her unique art installation, Margaret Rhee makes poetry immersive and hands-on. The Kimchi Poetry Machine is a jar that poetry flows out when opened. Exploring topics like feminism, food, and culture, the Kimchi Poetry Machine is a metaphor of the writing process that authors go through. Much like fermenting kimchi in a jar, writing takes time and patience. Rhee makes a statement about femininity through the juxtaposition of the maternal aspect of cooking and the tangy spiciness of kimchi. The installation piece incorporates visual, audial, and tangible elements to make the reader feel like they are part of the installation. After they open the jar, the reader can take a paper poem out of the jar and tweet their own poems to the machine’s twitter account. Digital media is essential for Rhee’s piece, because it constructs the experience of the installation. Reading the poems out of a book would not have the same meaning.
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[[Creation of the Installation]]
[[The Digital Genre]]
[[A Symbol of the Writing Process]]
[[A Symbol of Tradition]]
[[Works Cited]] <img src="http://kimchipoetrymachine.weebly.com/uploads/2/1/7/7/21770700/_4855819.jpg" width="300" height="300" alt="kimchi poetry machine">
The Kimchi Poetry Machine was created in 2014 when Margaret Rhee was part of a fellowship from the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) Invention Lab at the University of California, Berkeley. Powered through open sourced tangible computing, the machine allows writers to send in poems and the reader can touch and interact with the piece (Electronic Literature Collection). By having many different poems from many different authors featured, the Kimchi Poetry Machine makes a stronger impact, because it emphasizes solidarity and the collective experience shared by women across the world. Margaret Rhee said, “what began as a personal passion of encouraging public participation of creative expression has translated into large-scale participatory art workshops, installations, and inventions that promote interaction and collective story-telling” (MCBA). Rhee was able to make her machine engaging enough through allowing many writers to participate, gaining multiple points of view, that the experience grew from an idea to a movement.
[[The Digital Genre]] The Kimchi Poetry Machine fits into the subgenre of digital literature called interactive installations. These pieces “bring elements of spectacle and meaning into tension with each other” (Rettberg 189). Obviously, the majority of the installation is for show; the jar, the action of slowly unscrewing the lid, and the poetry audibly flowing out of it are all meant to be aesthetically pleasing and interesting. However, the tangible parts of the piece help create and enforce the meaning Rhee is trying to get across. The poems alone would still be literature, but they take on a new meaning within the context of the physical parts. Scott Rettberg points out that language is usually not the only element in an interactive installation, but “letters, reading, and literary interpretation remain core aspects of the experiences they produce” (192). The installation relies on both literature and technology to fully convey its meaning. Although digital literature may seem bizarre and unorthodox to some, the same literary elements that are in classic novels are at the foundation of digital pieces.
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[[Kimchi Batches]] The whole experience of interacting with the Kimchi Poetry Machine is filled with symbolism. Kimchi is a staple of Korean culture. It is made out of fermented vegetables, usually cabbage, that are seasoned heavily. It was originally made to preserve vegetables to be stored and kept fresh in jars for a long time. It is considered a comforting food in Korea and it has many health benefits because it is full of dietary fibers and vitamins (New World Encyclopedia). Making kimchi can be a time-consuming process because the fermentation period can take anywhere from two days to a week. The Kimchi Poetry Machine uses a metaphor to compare the process of making kimchi to the writing process. Writing takes time, patience, and practice. Writing cannot be rushed or thrown together, like how kimchi needs time to ferment to enrich its taste before being eaten. While writing, the first draft is rarely the finished product. An author must take the time to reread and edit their work to ensure the result is captivating and enticing.
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[[A Symbol of Tradition]] The machine produces different “batches” of poems written by both women and transgender poets. Some batches have themes chosen by Margaret Rhee. For example, Rhee and Rona Luo hosted a yoga and creative writing workshop in which writers were asked to write poetry responding to the prompt: “What is healing to you?” They were asked to consider what healing looks like, tastes like, and feels like in order to create their own unique definition. Many of the women connected healing to their mothers taking care of them and cooking for them. Women are connected to healing culturally because they are traditionally considered mothers and caretakers. The last lines of the last poem written at the workshop are, “Writing is healing. / Writing this is healing” (Rhee). People heal through things that comfort them, whether it is the nostalgia of being taken care of by their mothers or expressing themselves through poetry. Using writing to heal is not a new idea; a study done in New Zealand showed that after writing about negative life experiences for 30 minutes, people had higher CD4 lymphocyte counts, which are used to gauge the strength of the immune system (Murray). Writing is a universal symbol of healing and letting go of pain.
[[A Symbol of the Writing Process]] The installation is closely connected to Korean culture and tradition because of the significance of kimchi. In Grace Yoo’s “Koreans in America” class at San Francisco State University in 2012, writers wrote about their love of kimchi and what the traditional comfort food means to them.
with a unique
I am filled
Of my mother
The writers think of their childhoods when they think about kimchi. Motherhood and the maternal quality of women are a recurring theme in the installation. However, while kimchi is comforting and traditional, it is also strong and spicy. Kimchi is pungent and overwhelming. It is not afraid to take up space. Margaret Rhee explains, “when the jar is opened, instead of the pungent smells of fermented cabbage filling your nostrils, your eardrums are lulled by the luminous readings of poetry written by a variety of invited feminist poets” (mbca). Poetry comforts and empowers, like the traditional fermented side dish. “It’s spicy. Feisty. Passionate. Strong.” writes one of the participants (Rhee). Women can both take the roles of caretakers while subverting this role by being strong and fiery. Rhee is taking a feminist stance by emphasizing the fact that being maternal and powerful are not mutually exclusive. The installation takes two qualities that are viewed as complete opposites by societal norms and puts them together.
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[[Targeted Audience]] Although kimchi is a staple in Korean culture, and many people from other countries may not have even heard of it before, the experiences of women is universal. In terms of audiences, some may not be able to relate to the stories about the writers eating kimchi and its sharp definable taste, they can likely relate to their mothers cooking and caring for them. Although some of the poems are certainly meant for an Asian audience, anyone could be able to appreciate learning more about Korean culture and make parallels and connections to their own lived experiences. It could also be used as a way to learn more about the dynamics of Korean tradition and family life, as well as seeing how women have experienced life around the world. This installation has the power to open people’s eyes and allow them to step out of the bubble of their own lives and cultures. Margaret Rhee uses multimodal techniques to completely immerse the reader and give them insights on topics like food, culture, and feminism. The Kimchi Poetry Machine could not exist on paper. The interactive and digital qualities of the work make the poems more powerful and give them new meanings.
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“Kimchi.” New World Encyclopedia, www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Kimchi.
“Margaret Rhee, ‘The Kimchi Poetry Machine.’” The MCBA Prize, 12 Apr. 2018, mcbaprize.org/rhee/.
Murray, Bridget. “Writing to Heal.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/monitor/jun02/writing.
Rettberg, Scott. Electronic Literature. Polity Press, 2019.
Rhee, Margaret. THE KIMCHI POETRY PROJECT, kimchipoetrymachine.weebly.com/about.html.
Rhee, Margaret. Electronic Literature Collection. http://collection.eliterature.org/3/work.html?work=kimchi-poetry-machine