Critics’ Picks

View of “Haegue Yang: Shooting the Elephant, Thinking the Elephant,” 2015.

View of “Haegue Yang: Shooting the Elephant, Thinking the Elephant,” 2015.

Seoul

Haegue Yang

Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art
60-16 Itaewon-ro 55-gil, Yongsan-gu
February 12–May 10, 2015

For her first Korean exhibition in five years, Haegue Yang chose a title inspired by George Orwell’s essay “Shooting an Elephant” and Romain Gary’s novel The Roots of Heaven (1958), which both feature elephants as a metaphor for nature’s dignity and its relation to human civilization. Yang’s recent concerns about the tension between them unfold collectively in her latest series, “The Intermediates.”

On view are three architectural structures, modeled after an ancient Mayan pyramid, Borobudur Temple in Indonesia, and Lala Tulpan (a Russian Islamic mosque), respectively—all handcrafted with straw, the artist’s newest material of choice. Employed by virtually every culture, straw, for Yang, evokes the universal. To produce the works, she sought out a straw-weaving teacher and learned traditional macramé techniques—while also studying the history of the material. And while evidence of time-consuming labor adds to the monuments’ sense of authenticity, the fact that the straw Yang used is actually made from artificial fibers calls into question the relevance of the dichotomies—between the genuine and the synthetic, the ancient and the modern—that “The Intermediates” seems to pose.

Cittadella, composed of 186 Venetian blinds plus moving spotlights and scent emitters (all signature materials in Yang’s oeuvre) further questions conventional oppositions. Certainly, the window covers literally blind one to their other sides, but a slight adjustment of the slats renders the divisions porous. Attempts to construct consistent narratives out of the folkloric origins of “The Intermediates” and the industrial devices of Cittadella will be frustrated. In fact, Yang favors frustration over complacency.