Sacrifice to the Seaworm was made after Leeds Art Gallery’s decision not to show Soojin Chang's Jerwood/FVU Awards commission BXBY, including its documentation of a deer being culled in the Scottish Highlands, and images of cervical self-experimentation done at the artist’s home. The artist, in consultation with Jerwood Arts and Film and Video Umbrella, agreed to create a new, collaborative installation that points to a wider debate on the history and role of Western art institutions in shaping ethical values and depictions of violence.
The title, Sacrifice to the Seaworm, refers both to the sea gods who launch the first birthing in BXBY and to the burial mound at the centre of this new installation. Formed collaboratively with writer Tenzin Mingyur Paldron, the large projected film features Paldron reading an adaptation of his essay, ‘Virtue and the Remaking of Suffering’. Read together with Tenzin Tsomo and filmed by Tsewang Lhamo, with interludes from the song of return ‘Aku Pema’, played by Tsejin Bhotia and another musician, Paldron’s essay follows a letter by Vietnamese monk Thích Nhất Hạnh and the actions of 170 Tibetans. The essay calls for thinking beyond narratives of pity or resistance to comprehend acts of self-immolation and their relationship to present-day suffering.
Accompanying the large film projection are three films that feature the artist Jade O’Belle, who also appears in a central scene of spawning in BXBY. Moving beyond the binary between birth and death, as well as the personal and planetary, O’Belle and Chang constructed a ritual for O’Belle to end a cycle of inherited burden. O’Belle uses the physical body to identify, expel, transfer, and intentionally kill residues of past actions.
The final performance is the burial mound at the centre of the room, constructed with insects, bones, coral, and shells from the Natural Science collection of Leeds Museums & Galleries. The soundscape by Samuel Karugu (DUMA) distorts everyday ambient sounds of drains and phones into sounds of a deep chasm.