Yang at Aspen Art Museum: Moving parts, travel logs
August 19, 2011
ASPEN – For her current installation in the downstairs gallery of the Aspen Art Museum, Haegue Yang made a point of sourcing her materials locally. Yang, who was born in Korea, lives in Berlin, and has been in Aspen on an Art Museum residency, got well-worn coats from the Thrift Shop of Aspen, electrical cords from the Miners Building, pine cones on her walks around town.
Knowing that methodology, it’s easy to think of Yang’s installation as a message about localizing one’s practice – connecting with a specific place and the objects that are readily available there, being rooted somewhere. But if these are the concerns she has in mind, she arrives at them by having experienced their opposite.
Yang’s installation, a collection of sculptures – several of them built on clothing racks – framed paper collages, wall dividers, and a vast full-wall painting that mirrors the physical objects she has used, is called “Folding the Lands,” a title which suggests movement, travel, and a way of making a vast world smaller and more manageable.
“‘Folding the Lands’ – that’s a way to travel from mountain peak to mountain peak. It’s not your physical travel, but you’re folding the land to get things together.” she said. Yang, a 40-ish woman with a quiet voice and accented, but clear English, then added that these ideas sprouted from actual travel, and the sense of uprootedness that comes with it. “I moved to Germany. I travel around for shows, and if I go somewhere, and I don’t know the people there, What are the expectations going to be? And what are the needs? The audience is not necessarily the people I get to know. They are addressees; they’re nameless and faceless. But they are there.”
Yang is eager to make a distinction between the kind of moving around she does, and travel for pleasure. “I prefer the term ‘migration’ to ‘traveling,'” she said. “I travel around for work. That’s different that traveling around for fun.”
The most ubiquitous material in “Folding the Land” is driftwood, which hangs from metal clothing racks, is arrayed around a pyramid of gold-colored cans of Spam, and is painted multiple times on the wall. On the most obvious level, the driftwood represents movement – it falls from a tree, gets swept into a river, and off it goes.
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But Yang also points out that driftwood can be seen as not just aimlessly drifting. Picking up wood around Aspen, she found that pieces tended to gather in certain places, suggesting that it had a destination, even a purpose. “They often get collected in one spot. They cluster, and there’s a spot you can go and collect it,” she said.
Handling the wood, Yang found another, deeper metaphor, also related to the relationship between movement and work. “I had this driftwood in front of me for the first time and realized how light they are,” she said. “It was similar to having charcoal – it’s kind of exhausted; it’s gone through something. It’s lost some of its substance. There’s something a bit tragic. That’s attractive to me.”
Other elements of the installation similarly point to the theme of traveling. The clothing racks she uses are all on wheels. There are a series of framed paper collages, which Yang calls “Trustworthies,” that were inspired in part by her interest in formal elements: “I wanted to make something face-like, like a mask,” she said. “And I wanted to use geometric forms, and I wanted a matching of shapes, something going on between the pieces.” But on closer inspection, the paper she uses are air-mail envelopes.
At the center of “Folding the Land” are walls that effectively divide the installation into quadrants. The walls, rather than being solid, have gaps between them, which adds to Yang’s theme – the viewer can physically and visually maneuver through the exhibition.
“That gave me a dynamic that wasn’t there,” Yang said. “It gave me a direction and an orientation. It looks one way when you first walk in, and it’s directed towards you. But you walk around and it shows its backside and other sides. Also, it’s very open – you can look through it, the air goes over it. But you have to go around it, so your way around becomes a larger journey.”
Yang says that, for much of her career, she was bothered by the fact that she had not developed “one rigorous, formal language.” But lately she has become comfortable with not having settled on specific methods, that she is free to travel around in mediums and approaches.
“For the time being, that’s become the most delightful part of my work,” she said. “I don’t become a slave to this language I developed over a long time.”