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13th November

A silent dance

I saw them from afar while walking our dog Lucy this morning, the three municipal cleaners, two men and one woman in their neon green uniforms and black rubber boots.

They swept the dead leaves, empty soda cans, cigarette stubs and dust from the sidewalk onto the street, where a van followed them in a slow pace, sucking up the trash.


Their broad strokes were executed in perfect coordination, each of them sweeping in the same direction at the same rhythm, as if performing a silent dance.


It made me think of the video I saw the other day by Alexander Ugay, an artist of Korean ancestry born in Kazakhstan. Ugay shows the plight of Koryoins, labor immigrants with Korean ancestry from the ex-Soviet republics who often work in manual jobs in Korea.

The video title, “More than a hundred thousand times”, refers to the repetitiveness of those jobs.


Filmed on streets, abandoned terrains, outside steel and glass offices and grubby apartment buildings, the workers imitate the movements they perform daily but do so out of context.


A man in black jacket, jeans and sneakers standing on a rooftop surrounded by tall buildings, acting as though he was pushing and pulling, moving only slightly while repeating the same gestures time and again. Two women, one in a black dress, the other in jeans and a beige top taking something out of a high cupboard and placing it somewhere lower in a brisk pantomime. A woman in white jeans and a white t-shirt carefully folding and filing an invisible product into an invisible place, and a man in a hoody standing in an empty parking lot by a busy road pretending to clean windows.


These movements too were a silent dance except for the sound of cars, the chirping of birds and a radio in the distance.


Even though the machines these people were pretending to operate were not shown, they felt very much present. As was the tedium of their work.


I imagined the municipal cleaners making the sweeping movements without their brooms, not on the street but in an abandoned garden with a stack of old tires as I had seen in the video. A ballet for two men and one woman in neon green leotards.


As Lucy and I approached I greeted them, but they didn’t hear me. They were wearing earbuds and their heads swayed to the music, each to a different rhythm while keeping up their harmony.

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