Laurie Kang, Bloom, 2019, mesh fruit bags, polymer clay, paint cans, reflective sheeting, Cordyceps. Installation view.

Laurie Kang, Bloom, 2019, mesh fruit bags, polymer clay, paint cans, reflective sheeting, Cordyceps. Installation view.

Laurie Kang

In the kitchen, the shrine, and the scientific laboratory alike, new substances and insights can emerge from analog processes and the (mis)use, elevation, or preservation of materials that may lack value in the conventional sense. Laurie Kang’s sculptural installations for “Beolle,” her first solo museum show, fleshed out such processes and their latent potential within a light-filled former mansion on Lake Ontario.

For one especially engrossing work, Mother (all works 2019), the artist arranged forty-one stainless-steel bowls—sourced from a restaurant-supply store in one of Toronto’s Chinatowns—on the aged hardwood floor. Frequently used to prepare fermented foods, these receptacles, whose surfaces reflected spectators stooping over to peruse their contents, contained a remarkable range of items: One housed a twisted black form resembling entrails (which were made of clay), partially immersed in what appeared to be rust-hued liquid (actually hardened rubber), in which swam a pair of pockmarked circular forms (made of pewter). Another held the aluminum cast of half an Asian pear, placed within a pool of grayish-brown silicone, along with an expanse of copper chain mail, draped over the side of the vessel. A few featured abstract color compositions in their mixtures of pigmented silicone: One striking example involved a gray C-shaped cloud extending into a forest-green background. The former living room that housed this installation could have been read as a stage for rites that, with their attendant chromatic, chemical, and perhaps alchemical changes, were ostensibly ongoing. The work’s title further suggested a maternal presence that these enactments were meant to please or appease.

Another room-size work, Bloom, included yellow mesh bags (of the variety often used to package fruit) containing dark clay forms resembling fecal matter (or engorged leeches), as well as shiny silver paint cans partially filled with Cordyceps (a dried fungus). As in Mother, the elements were numerous and scattered across the floor in an optically stimulating composition: The viewer might focus on the blossoming yellow-and-black patterns reflected on the curved exteriors of the cans, or on the swirling umber forms of the fungi, similarly amplified by the cylinders’ mirrored interiors. Unlike the crowd-pleasing reflections that anchor other photogenic installations (such as Yayoi Kusama’s mirrored rooms), Kang’s phenomena unfold on an intimate scale, offset beauty with abjection, and encourage prolonged speculation. And her imagery addresses the viewer differently, not cleanly placing one’s image within the work but indirectly referencing bodily experience in ways reminiscent of post-Minimalism—Robert Morris’s mirrored cubes, Untitled, 1965/1971, and Eva Hesse’s 1966 Untitled works with net bags and metal weights come to mind. Kang’s other priority is to provoke speculation about how viewers’ bodies may participate in, or be necessary to, this strange ecosystem, maybe through the literal effects of altered perception or the contemplation of our excretions and ingestions (such as fungus for medicinal purposes), which Kang suggests have reached a point of excess, leading to symbiotic and potentially parasitic relationships.

Knot, installed in a smaller gallery, engaged many of the same rich contrasts—between flesh and metal, figuration and abstraction, formlessness and geometry—but with a differing approach to fabrication and materials. After slathering sheets of unprocessed photographic paper with darkroom chemicals, Kang removed the backing of each sheet to create thinner membranes, which she tied into contorted configurations. She then placed three of these bundles on a bed of steel studs normally used in construction. From there, the light-sensitive paper continued to slowly shift in color and composition, according to the windowed room’s changes in atmosphere and light. On the terra-cotta floor beneath the steel members were scattered aluminum casts of anchovies. This combination of materials—strained and solidified, monumental and fragile—again suggested an altar, where imposing architecture houses pedestrian gifts. Here, the skinned paper became an offering to the elemental forces of sun and air, which could ultimately destroy it. Like the simplest of shrines, decorated with a few gifts of fruit and flowers, Kang’s process-based project was resolutely rooted in the potential for mundane realities—cabbages in the kitchen more than immaterial imagery—to form the basis for spiritual and aesthetic awareness.