Installation view of Haegue Yang: Tightrope Walking and Its Wordless Shadow, La Triennale di Milano, Italy, 2018. Photo: Masiar Pasquali. Courtesy: Fondazione Furla and La Triennale di Milano

Tracing Movement is a new exhibition that combines new and recent works by acclaimed South Korean artist Haegue Yang, as part of her ongoing exploration into ideas around identity politics and migration, alienation and difference.

Her choice of materials is similarly wide-ranging, often integrating industrially manufactured with crafted items, revealing otherwise overlooked juxtapositions and co-existence through her own, very particular sensibility.

Acts of tracing, from perceiving the physical terrain of spaces to revisiting obscured voices in history, provide the defining thread between the works in this seasonally charged show at South London Gallery, some of which add to series developed over many years, while others are site-specific pieces.

Inspired by the potential of the Gallery’s elegant Victorian exhibition space to be a ballroom, two works from the Dress Vehicle series (2011–), Sonic Dress Vehicle – Hulky Head and Sonic Dress Vehicle – Bulky Birdy (both 2018), take centre stage.

Installation view of Haegue Yang: Tightrope Walking and Its Wordless Shadow, La Triennale di Milano, Italy, 2018. Photo: Masiar Pasquali. Courtesy: Fondazione Furla and La Triennale di Milano

Installation view of Haegue Yang: Tightrope Walking and Its Wordless Shadow, La Triennale di Milano, Italy, 2018. Photo: Masiar Pasquali. Courtesy: Fondazione Furla and La Triennale di Milano

These wheeled, angular sculptures occupy an indeterminate territory between abstraction and figuration, motion and stillness. Their powder-coated aluminium frames are dressed in Venetian blinds and brass- and nickel-plated bells that create a subtle yet distinctive rattle when periodically activated by performers.

The unevenness of the floor is traced by this rattling, which intermingles with the sounds of birdsong emanating from clusters of speakers positioned in diagonally opposite corners of the space.

Poignantly, this birdsong was recorded in April 2018 when thousands of journalists were gathered to report on the historic inter-Korean summit in the DMZ (demilitarised zone), an event watched by millions of viewers worldwide. The leaders’ every move and words were scrutinised, fuelling speculation of a real breakthrough in tense military relations between North and South since the division of the Korean Peninsula after the Korean War (1950–53).

Unexpectedly, the leaders asked to talk in private at a distance from the press. Lacking any evidence of the political significance of the moment or the heavily guarded nature of the site which represents deep human conflict, the audio recording of only peaceful birdsong and occasional camera sounds piqued the artist’ interest.

Installation view of Haegue Yang: Tightrope Walking and Its Wordless Shadow, La Triennale di Milano, Italy, 2018. Photo: Masiar Pasquali. Courtesy: Fondazione Furla and La Triennale di Milano

Installation view of Haegue Yang: Tightrope Walking and Its Wordless Shadow, La Triennale di Milano, Italy, 2018. Photo: Masiar Pasquali. Courtesy: Fondazione Furla and La Triennale di Milano

Another sound element is triggered when visitors approach the centre of the gallery where hidden beneath the wooden floor is the original marquetry panel designed in 1891 by the English artist, book illustrator and socialist activist, Walter Crane (1845–1915).

Generated through TTS (Text to Speech, a speech synthesis), 26 distinctly different artificial productions of human speech are heard uttering the words “the source of art is in the life of a people”, the phrase inscribed on Crane’s floor.

Voices have long been significant in Yang’s work, frequently referred to in her titles and important tools as what she calls ‘aural writing’. Departing from her focus on human voices and their inevitable association with particular people and personalities, mechanically-generated voices enable Yang to trace Crane’s sentence with “voices without throats”, highlighting its invisibility as a buried piece of history.

Installation view of Haegue Yang: Ornament and Abstraction, kurimanzutto, Mexico City, Mexico, 2017. Photo: Omar Luis Olguín

Installation view of Haegue Yang: Ornament and Abstraction, kurimanzutto, Mexico City, Mexico, 2017. Photo: Omar Luis Olguín

The geometric design marked out in tape on the floor also responds to Crane’s panel. Yang traced certain lines of the original design, before rotating the motif in two different directions. The off-kilter repositioning serves as a metaphor for processes of translation and interpretation, migration and movement.

Yang’s interest in abstraction and geometric designs, as well as in acts of recycling, informs the Trustworthies series (2010–), in which aesthetic value is blown into scraps of envelopes, origami, graph and sandpapers, integrating otherwise insignificant materials into expansive, dynamic wall designs.

Installation view of Haegue Yang: Tightrope Walking and Its Wordless Shadow, La Triennale di Milano, Italy, 2018. Photo: Masiar Pasquali. Courtesy: Fondazione Furla and La Triennale di Milano

Installation view of Haegue Yang: Tightrope Walking and Its Wordless Shadow, La Triennale di Milano, Italy, 2018. Photo: Masiar Pasquali. Courtesy: Fondazione Furla and La Triennale di Milano

Myriad influences have informed Haegue Yang’s artistic practice: the life and work of historical figures, including the artist Oskar Schlemmer, Dadaist Sophie Taeuber-Arp and the spiritualist George I.

Gurdjieff; the music of the Korean composer Isang Yun; and the significance of dance and rattle instruments in European pagan cultures and Korean Shamanism. These reference points are often hidden but contribute additional layers of meaning to her probing of ideas around migration and its vast and nuanced impact.

To Yang, movement is not only a physical act but is also felt mentally, emotionally and socially. In her fundamentally anachronistic approach, ancient and futuristic go hand in hand. Her work offers us a metaphorical map of a place where time is collapsed and hierarchies between history, personal narratives, human solidarity and mechanical tracing are eradicated.

Tracing Movement: Haegue Yang runs at South London Gallery until 26 May 2019.

Creative Boom Go to Source
Author:

Darren Clanford

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