O Tannenbaum
2019
Two-channel video installation
13:48 min, loop
Still image
Courtesy of artist

The strategic coordination of Japanese politicians, underground mafia, and mass media under the CIA's navigation and direction resulted in the violent suppression of communist protests, thereby paving the way for Japan to accept pro-American policies.
Since 2016, Minouk Lim's research has been centered on tracing the historical journey of the renowned labor anthem The Red Flag. Sung to the tune of the German carol O Tannebaum (O Christmas Tree), the new lyrics—emphasizing the sacrifices and solidarity of the international labour movement—were written in 1889 by Jim Cornell, and later bacame an anthem of the British Labor Party.

In this newly commissioned project, Lim extends her research of the song's migration to Japan in 1921, to be sung by the Japanese Communist Party, and later by the New Left, while the same music was sung by Korean independentists against Japanese rule. Through performing the song, Lim suggests how this evocative and emblematic anthem became avessel for otherwise conflicting beliefs.
The Red Flag is closely linked to antigovernment protest activities which during the 1950s and '60s, developed into the Utagoe, or singing voice, movement—socialist choral activities that strove to promote popular unity, compiling song books together with Soviet worker's songs.[1] Exhibited as a video installation of the documented performance, Lim’s work stages a car broadcasting live accordion music of The Red Flag and other “labor songs” selected from the Utagoe songbook, while driving around the Tokyo Imperial Palace, as such choreographing the deterritorialization of history through the subject in motion. The loud speakers of the live accordion music goes on and off as the car drives in and out of the sound restriction zone surrounding the palace. This intervention recalls Bloody May Day in 1952,[2] when protesters forced themselves into the Imperial Palace, clashing with the police amidst unified chanting of proletariat hymns. The National Security Act in South Korea
enforced in 1948 prevents the public from singing The Red Flag as a Pro-North Korean, and therefore
anti-goverment, act.

[1] The Utagoe has its origin in 1947, when the Central Chorus band of the Democratic Youth League of Japan (Minsei, 1923-present) was formed as a substructure of the Japanese Communist Party. This grassroots public choral activity of “workers’ songs” gained nationwide popularity in the 1960s, spreading across Utagoe cafés with the slogan “Sing with Marx! Dance with Lenin!”

[2] Bloody May Day (1952) occurred at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace (Kokyogaien) between the government and multi-sectoral leftist forces composed of Japanese and Koreans (reportedly led by
Minsei and Zengakuren, a communist/anarchist league of students), following the country’s release from American occupation and the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty (1951).
[Images]
Right: Still from O Tannenbaum (2019).
Left: Music notes and lyrics of The Red Flag in Japanese. In: Proletariat Song Book
(Puroretaria Kakyoku-shu), Musan-sha, 1931.