Jaha Koo

Jan 23 - 26, 2020

TICKETS Merrill Theater

Thu, Jan 23, 8 PM
Fri, Jan 24, 8 PM*
post-show conversation
Sat, Jan 25, 8 PM
Sun, Jan 26, 5 PM

A journey through the last 20 years of Korean history told by a bunch of talkative rice cookers.

In Cuckoo, South Korean artist Jaha Koo gives a touching insight into the tragedy of a lonely life in a thoroughly technologized society–all through a sequence of dialogues between Koo and three rice cookers. One day when his electric rice cooker informed him that his meal was ready, Jaha Koo experienced a deep sense of isolation. ‘Golibmuwon’ (고립무원) is an untranslatable Korean word expressing the feeling of helpless isolation that characterizes the lives of many young people in Korea today. 

Twenty years ago there was a major economic crisis in South-Korea, comparable to the financial crash in the United States and Southern Europe in 2008. This crisis had a huge impact on the young generation to which South Korean artist Jaha Koo belongs. He witnessed many endemic problems including youth unemployment and socio-economic inequality. Rising suicide rates, isolation, acute social withdrawal and a fixation on personal appearance are but a few of the symptoms.

Jaha Koo lost a friend to suicide, one member of the generations of South Koreans plagued by feelings of abandonment, anxiety, and loneliness. In his apartment one day, his rice cooker spoke to him saying the rice is ready, and the voice of this inanimate object gave him comfort during a time of feeling isolated. The rice cookers become alter-egos and characters in the performance, as he delved into experiments for “theater without human beings.” Cuckoo considers South Korea’s Japanese colonial background and the American influence after Korean War as turning points in larger cultural strategies related to political power.

In bittersweet and humorous dialogues, Jaha and his clever rice cookers take you on a journey through the last 20 years of Korean history, combining personal experience with political events and reflections on happiness, economic crises, and death.

In Korean with English subtitles


Please note that this performance deals with themes of death and imagery of public suicide. If you have further questions, please contact the Director of External Relations, Samie Detzer.

This presentation is sponsored by Artefact and Hopelab.


Related Events

Jan 22, 12-1pm at Artefact

As part of Artefact's Impact by Design events series, On The Boards is excited to partner with Artefact for a lunchtime conversation with South Korean performance artist Jaha Koo.

On the Boards' Artistic Director Rachel Cook will interview Jaha Koo on his inspirations and work in the context of our hyper-technologized society and its contribution to our increased feelings of loneliness.

The event is free of charge with a suggested donation to On the Boards. Lunch will be provided.



Jan 24 at On the Boards

On the Boards' Artistic Director, Rachel Cook, will be sitting down with Chris McCarthy, VP of Strategy and Design at Hopelab and Jaha Koo for a post-show conversation on January 24.

Hopelab focuses on the health and well-being of teens and young adults and McCarthy's work has been featured in the Harvard Business Review (Sept 2010), Bisognano and Kenney’s “Pursuing the Triple Aim: Seven Innovators Show the Way to Better Care, Better Health, and Lower Costs” (2012) as well as FastCompany, and the New York Times.


Watch the Trailer

About the Artist 

Jaha Koo is a South Korean theatre/performance maker and music composer. His artistic practice oscillates between multimedia and performance, all of which include his own music, video, text and installation. His performances closely interweave politics, history and his own personal issues. 

Since 2014, Koo has been developing his Hamartia Trilogy which focuses on the inescapable past that tragically affects our lives today. The first part of the trilogy, Lolling and Rolling, was premiered by Zürcher Theater Spektakel in 2015. The second piece, Cuckoo, was premiered at Steirischer Herbst Festival in 2017. The final part of the trilogy, The History of Korean Western Theater (working title), will be premiered in 2020 (executive producer: CAMPO). 

Koo majored in theatre studies (BFA) at Korea National University of Arts and studied at DasArts (MA) in Amsterdam. GuJAHA is the pseudonym of JAHA KOO as a music producer. His most recent EP was Copper and Oyster in 2015. 

Concept, direction, text, music & video Jaha Koo 
Performance Hana, Duri, Seri & Jaha Koo 
Cuckoo hacking Idella Craddock 
Scenography & media operation Eunkyung Jeong 
Dramaturgical advice Dries Douibi 
Production Kunstenwerkplaats Pianofabriek 
Executive Producer CAMPO 
Co-production Bâtard Festival 
Support CAMPO, STUK, BUDA, DAS, SFAC & Noorderzon/Grand Theatre.

Presented in partnership with PuSH Festival, Vancouver, and International Festival of Performance and Ideas, Toronto. Cuckoo was realized with the support of de Vlaamse Gemeenschapscommissie.

Photo by: Radovan Dranga