Govett-Brewster presents New Zealand’s first exhibition by Haegue Yang
26 Nov 2018
In partnership with Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art (IMA), the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery presents Triple Vita Nestings by the celebrated Korean artist Haegue Yang (b.1971, Seoul, South Korea).
Triple Vista Nestings brings together diverse works from more than a decade of Yang’s practice, alongside additional works produced for New Zealand audiences.
One of the most significant artists of her generation, Yang’s influential body of work spans a diverse range of materials and methodologies in an ongoing process of experimentation. Chance encounters generate unexpected forms, emotions and narratives. Industrially manufactured objects meet with the handmade, figuration meets abstraction, and conceptual art strategies meet materially-driven craft techniques. Yang destabilises such binaries to create immersive and imaginative experiences.
Whether evoking narratives of historical figures, mythical creatures, or the artist’s own intimate inner voice, Triple Vita Nestings reveals the way individual subjects impact on others, shaping their lives and the way they view themselves and the world. The relationship between these otherwise disparate layers of narrative begins to unfold, each nesting within another, representing our interwoven realities.
Govett-Brewster senior curator Paul Brobbel says “working with Haegue Yang is a longstanding ambition of the Govett-Brewster and New Zealand’s art galleries are long overdue in exhibiting her work. We’re delighted that we now do so in partnership with the IMA and with a work developed further for Taranaki”.
Triple Vita Nestings is a touring exhibition organised by the Institute of Modern Art (IMA), co-curated by Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh with Sarah Wall at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. Umbra Creatures by Rockhole (2017-2018) as well as the reconstruction of Lethal Love (2008/2018) were made possible through partnership with 21st Biennale of Sydney, Australia Council for the Arts, Korea Foundation and assistance from Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen.
Haegue Yang was born in 1971 in Seoul, South Korea. Currently, she lives and works in Berlin and Seoul. Her works are known for their eloquent and seductive sculptural language of visual abstraction out of her research on historical figures and events.
Yang has exhibited in major international exhibitions including the Liverpool Biennial (2018), the 21st Biennale of Sydney (2018), La Biennale de Montréal (2016), the 12th Sharjah Biennial (2015), the 9th Taipei Biennal (2014), dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel (2012) and the 53rd Venice Biennale (2009) as the South Korean representative. Haegue Yang’s first major survey show, ETA 1994-2018 was hosted by the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, coinciding with her receiving the Wolfgang Hahn Prize 2018 and the publication of the comprehensive catalogue raisonné of her complete oeuvre. Yang’s recent solo exhibitions were held at La Panacée, Montpellier (2018), La Triennale di Milano (2018), Kunsthaus Graz (2017), KINDL – Centre for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2017), Serralves Museum, Porto (2016), Centre Pompidou, Paris (2016), Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2015), Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul (2015), Bergen Kunsthall (2013), Museum of Contemporary Art, Strasbourg (2013), Haus der Kunst, Munich (2012), The Tanks at Tate Modern, London (2012), Kunsthaus Bregenz (2011), Modern Art Oxford, (2011), Aspen Art Museum (2011), and the New Museum, New York (2010). Her works are in the collections of major international institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul and Hamburger Kunsthalle, Germany, among others.
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Works in the exhibition
VIP’s Union, 2001/2018
chairs and tables borrowed for the duration of the exhibition, dimensions variable, courtesy of the artist
Haegue Yang’s conceptual work VIP’s Union (2001/2018) greets visitors in the exhibition’s first gallery. One of Yang’s formative works, it was first presented in 2001 in Berlin, and subsequently Bristol, Antwerp, Bonn, Seoul, Graz, Cologne, and now New Plymouth. Each exhibiting institution follows a strict procedure set by the artist, beginning with the institution compiling a list of important local people according to their own criteria following the artist’s advice. Letters of invitation and questionnaires are sent out, asking the addressees to lend a piece of furniture for the duration of the exhibition. Their furniture is then taken to the gallery where it is arranged according to functional criteria.
Leading local figures from different areas of society, including local government and non-government organisations, arts and culture, business, health, and education have loaned a piece of furniture from their homes or offices to the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. Shaped through the generosity of the lenders, VIP’s Union at the Govett-Brewster stands in contrast to the usual furnishings found in art institutions, and subverts any expectations we have of designer, invite-only VIP rooms. This hybrid landscape of furniture creates an abstract portrait of New Plymouth, pointing to Yang’s interest in the possibilities of community, not as uniform or exclusive but as characterised by difference and diversity, open to a plurality of ideas and affiliations.
56.6 m2 Doubled in Reverse, 2002/2018
red chalk, site-specific dimensions, courtesy of the artist
Alongside VIP’s Union (2001/2018), Chalk Line Drawings is another of Yang’s early formative series of works. The red chalk lines, tilted by one degree from the horizontal and running the length of a wall, form the work which takes its title from the surface area occupied in a given presentation. For this iteration, 56.6 m2 Doubled in Reverse, Yang has introduced a new element; two sets of parallel and equally-spaced lines extending from either end of the wall to intersect, creating a shimmering effect of movement.
The installation changes imperceptibly, the widths and colour levels of the lines varying from start to finish due to pressure and handling of the chalk. This work reflects Yang’s early interests in geometry, standardisation, mundane materials, and perceptual experiences, which are now central to her practice.
Doubles and Halves – Events with Nameless Neighbors, 2009
single channel DV-PAL, colour, sound, 21.20 min., filmed in Seoul and Venice.
audio piece, voice-over: Sarah Roberts (English), 21.55 min., courtesy of the artist
The artist’s video essay Doubles and Halves – Events with Nameless Neighbors (2009), offers intimate, characteristically abstract self-reflections on Yang’s quasi-neighbours in two different places: Venice, in the Biennale grounds including the Korean Pavilion during the off-season, and the neighbourhood of Ahyeon-dong, Seoul, where Yang used to live. Shot at sunrise or sunset, the places appear dim and empty. Ambient sound is heard from a speaker by the projector, while a voice-over narration – produced as a separate, independent audio track – empathises with the invisible neighbours and disappearing neighbourhoods, despite never having being involved with or meeting them.
Drunken Speech, 2007
TV set, IPTV streaming, TV channel (KBS World), headphones, sleeping bag, audio player, voice-over: Helen Cho (English), approx. 16 min.
Like Doubles and Halves – Events with Nameless Neighbors, the audio recording Drunken Speech (2007) presents a highly self-reflective and confessional narrative. A single, contemplative voice reflects on the challenges of combining practice and career as an artist. Like many contemporary artists working internationally, Yang’s life and work necessitate constant travel, ruling out any equilibrium between work and rest. Played through headphones, the recording can be listened to while seated on (or lying in) a sleeping bag positioned in front of a monitor showing a live satellite feed of broadcast television channel possibly watched by a local migrant community.
The lack of synchronisation between the audio recording and visual television feed reinforces the imbalance and disparity which act here as a metaphor for homelessness, a notion which Yang seeks to acknowledge and empower through much of her work.
The Story of a Bear-Lady in a Sand Cave, 2009/2011
audio player, speakers on tripods, voice-over: Tsukasa Yamamoto (English),
20.30 min., loop, courtesy of the artist
The audio piece, The Story of a Bear-Lady in a Sand Cave (2009/2011), draws on the narratives of two different women: a widow from the Kōbō Abe novel, The Woman in the Dunes (1962); and a bear-woman from an episode in a Korean creation myth. In both stories, the place of ‘home’ is a site of endurance, daily routine and singular devotion.
According to the Korean creation myth, a tiger and a bear who desired to become human were instructed to eat only garlic and mugwort and to remain out of sunlight for 100 days in a cave. The tiger gave up, however the bear remained and was transformed into a woman, marrying the Heavenly Prince Hwangun and bearing a son, Tangun, ancestor of the people of Korea.
The Kōbō Abe novel, The Woman in the Dunes, tells the tale of a young widow forced to live in a house at the bottom of a cavernous ditch in the dunes, where she is faced with the relentless task of shovelling sand into buckets to keep it from burying her home.
In The Story of a Bear-Lady in a Sand Cave, a plant-eating bear-woman likewise lives in isolation in a dark cave, continuously shovelling sand, creating a wave-like pattern in the sand’s surface as she does so. The narration is critical of how the outside world perceives her life: rather than being limited and meaningless, her daily chore is a deeper, almost transcendental undertaking, highlighting the discreet selflessness of many women.
Lethal Love, 2008/2018
aluminium venetian blinds, powder-coated aluminium hanging structure, steel wire rope, self-adhesive mirror vinyl film, moving spotlights, scent emitters (Wildflower, Gunpowder) dimensions variable, courtesy of the artist
Video Trilogy 2004–2006
Unfolding Places (Video Trilogy I), 2004
single-channel DV-PAL, colour, sound, 18.15 min., filmed in London and Seoul. Voice-over: Helen Cho (English), courtesy of the artist
Restrained Courage (Video Trilogy II), 2004
single-channel DV-PAL, colour, sound, 19.07 min., filmed in Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, Seoul, Berlin. Voice-over: Camille Hesketh (English), courtesy of the artist
Squandering Negative Spaces (Video Trilogy III), 2006
single-channel DV-PAL, colour, sound, 27.57 min., filmed in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Voice-over: David Michael DiGregorio (English), courtesy of the artist
Lethal Love belongs to a series of venetian blind installations begun in 2008 that are often based on Yang’s subjective readings of the life and achievements of historical figures who share both an unwavering commitment to their own political ideals, and a feeling of inner turmoil and tension between their public and private lives.
Lethal Love revolves around the life of Petra Kelly, an influential German activist and one of the founders of Germany's Green Party. In 1992, Kelly was shot in her sleep by her partner Gert Bastian – an ex-army general and fellow party member – who then took his own life. The installation itself incorporates a tree-like formation of suspended venetian blinds branching out from a large mirrored surface, a spotlight, two moving lights, and two different scents (Wildflower and Gunpowder). The interplay of these elements – the semi-transparency and obscurity of the blinds, the roaming lights, confined spaces, mirrored reflections, and perfumed air – evoke the intensity of and mystery surrounding this narrative.
Incorporated into Lethal Love is Yang’s essayistic Video Trilogy, considered a key development in her artistic trajectory and understanding of her own practice. The videos, shot by Yang with a handheld camera in London and Seoul (Unfolding Places, 2004), Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, Seoul, and Berlin (Restrained Courage, 2004), and Brazil (Squandering Negative Spaces, 2006), comprise a sequence of images of insignificant moments and scenes that do not usually command our attention. The accompanying narratives, each one read by a different voice, are personal and introspective, ruminating on themes of solitude and vulnerability; of being alone, alienated, lost, lacking courage, detached from but longing for a community. These early pieces’ melancholic mediations allude to the failure to relate to or connect with others – as a deliberate act of avoiding the requirements of social interactions.