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Guide to the Theresa Hak Kyung Cha Collection 1971-1991
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Cha Collection
    Date: 1971-1991
    Creator: Cha, Theresa Hak Kyung
    Repository: Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive
    Berkeley, CA 94720
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Director. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Theresa Hak Kyung Cha Conceptual Art Archive, Berkeley Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley.


    Theresa Hak Kyung Cha was born on March 4, 1951 in Pusan, South Korea. Her family had fled to this southern port city to escape the advancing North Korean and Chinese armies during the height of the Korean War. The Chas remained in Korea until 1962 when they emigrated to America, settling first in Hawaii and then moving to San Francisco in 1964. The Bay Area remained Cha's home for most of her life.
    She attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic school, where she began her studies in the French language. After graduating from high school, Cha enrolled briefly at the University of San Francisco and then transfered to the University of California at Berkeley where she continued her studies for ten years, receiving four degrees: B.A Comparative Literature (1973), B.A. Art (1975), M.A. Art (1977), and M.F.A. Art (1978). Of particular importance to her studies were Professor Bertrand Augst of the French and Comparative Literature Departments with whom she investigated film and French film theory and James Melchert, Professor in the Practice of Art Department with whom she studied performance and conceptual art.
    From 1974 to 1977 Cha worked as an usher and cashier at the Pacific Film Archive of the University Art Museum in Berkeley. She had the opportunity to view numerous classic and experimental films and to hear lectures by filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Goddard, Chris Marker, etc. In l976 Cha lived in Europe, studying at the Centre d'Etudes Americaine du Cinema in Paris, staying briefly in Amsterdam, and traveling in France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany. During her brief stay in Europe she came into contact with many curators, artists, and writers including: Christian Metz, Raymond Bellour, Thierry Kuntzel, Monique Wittig, Hreinn Frithfinsson, and Ulisses Carrion.
    In 1979 Cha made her first return trip to Korea. She returned again in 1981 to begin shooting the unfinished film, White Dust From Mongolia.
    In August of 1980 Cha moved to New York City. She worked as an editor and writer for Tanam Press, producing two important works: Dictee, a book-form collage of poetry, found text, and images; and Apparatus, an anthology of writings on the film apparatus. In 1981 she was appointed Instructor in Video Art at Elizabeth Seton College and also worked in the design department of the Metropolitan Museum. In 1982 Cha was awarded an artist's residence at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She married Richard Barnes, a close friend since 1975, in May 1982.
    On November 5, 1982, Cha was murdered in New York City.
    Lawrence Rinder Curator for Twentieth Century Art Berkeley Art Museum, University of California

    Scope and Content

    Although she lived only 31 years, Theresa Cha left a substantial and diverse body of work. The primary mediums in which she worked were: ceramic, performance, artist's books, concrete poetry, film, video, sculpture, mail art, audio, and slide projections. In many cases her work combined aspects of different media, blurring the boundaries between conventionally distinct categories. It was characteristic of Cha to take the thematic and formal approaches developed in one medium and reinterpret them in another; elements of film and video, for example, find their way into artist's books and vice versa.
    The central theme of Cha's art is displacement. While she occasionally addressed the personal and historical circumstances of her exile directly, Cha typically treated this theme symbolically, representing displacement through shifts and ruptures in the visual and linguistic forms of her works. She developed an approach to displacement based largely on cinematic forms and the psychoanalytic aspects of French film theory. Cha integrated elements of these theories into her own exploration of the processes of memory, communication, and psychic transformation.
    Cha's art incorporated a wide array of references drawn from diverse cultures and periods. From her native Korean culture, she incorporated elements of traditional dance, shamanism, and childhood traditions of making handmade books. Korean avant-garde poetry, itself partially inspired by French Symbolism, was also influential. Both Confucianism and Catholicism--the two predominant spiritual traditions in Korea--are central to Cha's work, especially the theme of redemption through suffering and the idea of family as spiritual community. In her approach to language, Cha combined the aesthetic ideals of concrete poetry and certain forms of conceptual art with a rigorous, analytical method derived, in part, from her readings of Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan. The psychologist A.R. Luria's theories of memory were especially influential in Cha's later work.
    Lawrence Rinder Curator for Twentieth Century Art Berkeley Art Museum, University of California