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Le Monde
Le Monde
18 Nov 2023

Images Le

On the heights of the French capital, just outside the Jourdain metro station, La Gitane looks like any small Parisian café, with three or four tables lined up along a wall. But if you go up the wide circular staircase, the place takes on a more festive atmosphere: Ornate railings set geometric shapes in motion under music-hall spotlights, and Bakelite decorates the second-floor walls. Two neon signs – one indicating a tobacco store and another a metro ticket – light up our guest through a large bay window.

Night – probably the best way to describe Park Ji-min, a 35-year-old South Korean visual artist and actress living in Paris. First, because she made her film debut in the night-set Retour à Séoul (Return to Seoul) by Davy Chou (2022). Her character, Freddie, drifts through a spellbinding night in search of her origins, releasing her anger and melancholy in the phosphorescent streets and clubs after midnight, coming to terms with the fact that something will always be missing. The second is that Park has long been a regular at Paris's best queer parties, such as Flash Cocotte and Trou aux Biches. "It was safe," she said.

During her final year in art school, at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs de Paris (ENSAD), she even treated herself to a return trip to Berlin every weekend to dance at Berghain, the Mecca of techno. She went there in sweats and sneakers, dancing for hours on end, sometimes up to 23 hours straight. It was a real workout. "It was like we were in hell, but it was paradise," she says. Every week, she met up with a community of self-taught dancers like herself, sneaked into backrooms, and slipped from world to world along the corridors beneath towering ceilings. "I haven't drunk alcohol for six years. It would bring out my violent side... Some fights took a bad turn," she says with a smile, in a softly spoken voice that gives the impression she is now on a perpetual quest for gentleness. She orders hot water to make her green tea last longer.

Now, she channels her energy into her work. It will soon be her final day on the set of La Maison, a French series by Apple TV+ about the world of haute couture, featuring a host of celebrities, including Carole Bouquet, Lambert Wilson, Amira Casar, Zita Hanrot, Anne Consigny and Florence Loiret-Caille. "Acting, why not? I've no career plan," she says. She has just exhibited at the Swab Barcelona Art Fair and at the Festival Sillon in southern France, and is about to leave for a residency in Brussels to create the sets for a young performer, Agathe Meziani. Inspired by her dual French and Korean background, she creates large abstract works in her studio in L'Ile-Saint-Denis, just north of Paris, and edits videos from her endless collection of images. She shows a red and yellow cloud: "A dragon, right?" A puddle on the sidewalk: "A beautiful poodle?" A mended Pokémon plushie: "A trashy Pikachu?"

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