Who Listens and Learns – Johanna Hedva at Modern Art Oxford

words Edward Harrington

Korean-American artist, writer and musician, Johanna Hedva, explores what it is to be human in an ever alienating world with their new piece “Who Listens and Learns.”

“Who Listens and Learns” is a multimedia experience that is available online and is now open at Modern Art Oxford’s Cafe until 5th March 2023.

The piece is divided into seven parts that chronicle the protagonist’s journey of development and realisation.

Who Listens and Learns Johanna Hedva

The robot-voiced main character is living in her apartment, nine months into lockdown, with their AI enhanced virtual companion Coconut. Despite some design faults, the two are developing a cosy relationship. 

In one of her local walks into the forest, the main character stumbles across The Woman Who Carves The Tree. The woman continues to ignore her as she begins to take the same route everyday out of pure intrigue in their mysterious work… The woman is constantly carving into a dead tree stump. 

As the main character continues to observe this witchlike woman’s work, she begins to notice that the grooves are precise and angled perfectly. She continues to bond with Coconut. It seems they are both beginning to see different sides of one another and the experience is starting to feel a lot more human. 

art Johanna Hedva

She is starting to become aware that there is something significant about her and her connection with the woman carving the tree and when she finally gets to speak with her, the old woman has found an interest in her hair, asking to use it for her work. But this is all too much at once. She asks Coconut to look into how hair has been used in magic throughout the ages… The woman with the tree has also asked her whether she sees foxes in her dreams. Coconut explains to her that foxes in her dreams are a sign of danger, and also that “to cut someone’s hair is a warning of hidden jealousy around you.”

After asking Coconut to order her some luxury shampoo, she begins to treat the tree herself late at night whilst the woman is away. After finally acquiring the shampoo and applying it, she visits the woman for the last time with her newfound understanding of her work “that it is not about the result but the process,” imparting her similar experience with her AI companion. But the woman appears to be more interested in her silk-like head of hair, and when she cuts a lock off of it, it sparks an intense moment of hatred and desire between them. “I will give it to you. It is yours now,” she says as she hands her chisel to her.

Who Listens and Learns

She orders Coconut to cancel their research project into the magical uses for hair. Coconut tells her what she already knows… “It is because you know everything there is to know about the power of hair to bind two people together.” 

She knows the woman in the forest is gone, and the next time she enters, she is full of confidence… Her short head of silk hair that will grow back, the tree wrapped up with the mysterious woman’s hair on top of it, the chattering sounds of feet and the shine of eyes… 

She knows now; the hair is the glue to a deeper connection with everything and Coconut knew all along…

Who Listens and Learns – Johanna Hedva is on until 05 March 2023 at Modern Art Oxford

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