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Brave New Worlds: Doryun Chong interviews Haegue Yang

When Brave New Worlds opens October 4, it’ll include the piece Blind Room by Korean artist Haegue Yang. Each time she installs the piece, a multisensory installation that with lights, smell and sound, she buys all the components of the piece, including blinds, locally. For the new issue of the Turin-based magazine UOVO, Yang discussed […]

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When Brave New Worlds opens October 4, it’ll include the piece Blind Room by Korean artist Haegue Yang. Each time she installs the piece, a multisensory installation that with lights, smell and sound, she buys all the components of the piece, including blinds, locally.

For the new issue of the Turin-based magazine UOVO, Yang discussed her recent work with Brave New Worlds‘ co-curator Doryun Chong. The issue was guest-edited by former Walker curatorial fellow Max Andrews with Mariana Canepa-Luna, known for their work on the intersections of art and ecology. Their curatorial practice, Latitudes, has made the full interview available as a pdf.

An excerpt from Chong and Yang’s conversation:

Doryun Chong: We can start playing a bit of word game. I said, ecology’, and you said, what about eco-il-logy’ or eco-illogical’. Can you say more?

Haegue Yang: The word is derived from the Greek οικος (oikos, household’) and λόγος (logos, study’), and I’d like to draw our attention to a somewhat contradictory notion to logos’: pathos. I would like to propose a new term for our contemporary language, ‘eco-motional’, which would encompass pathos, and this new supplementary term, in my mind, allows the complexity of ecological matters to be redefined and extended. We would not only need to mobilise our consciousness and rationality but also our emotional involvement around issues of ecology, because ecology requires somewhat abstract and long-term thinking.

When we briefly exchanged our initial thoughts about ecology recently, I talked about my experience of suddenly coming upon dozens of windmills while travelling on a train through northern Germany. The landscape in that area is not particularly spectacular, but some die-hard nature lovers would appreciate its unique, lonesome and melancholic features, I’d imagine. The presence of these windmills, however, very much ‘damaged’ the landscape. At that moment, a sudden sense of loss came over me. I felt as if the presence of the windmills almost took away the possibility of one being fully, yet naturally absorbed into the landscape and nature. Images and perceptions are part of our ecology, and they clearly contribute to our engagement as organisms in our environment, not only addressing our physical habitats but also our mental and intellectual territories.

DC: Your answer, then, confirms my feeling about your recent video trilogy – Unfolding Places (2004), Restrained Courage (2004), Squandering Negative Spaces (2006). Each one, almost twenty-minutes long, is a sequence of images of mostly ‘insignificant’ moments; the kinds of images that perhaps occupy the majority of our physical space and perceptual grid in actuality, but that one’s visual and mental focus is usually not directed on. In the meantime, the narratives, which are written by you but read by a different voice in each one, ruminate on different notions, manifestations, and experiences of – I’d guess the best word would be – the pathos of living and going about in this world.

I know that you are inspired by the cinematic methodology of, especially, Chris Marker, and the whole point is to have no clear relationship between images and narratives. But is it too much of an assumption if I were to suggest that a kind of narrative seems to emerge when you put the three titles together? Could we interpret this from an ecological point of view?

HY: In the entire video essay, the voice-over repeatedly speaks about various forms of deprivation in human relations. The absences of connections often cause melancholia, the state in which one feels like s/he is in a chasm. The feeling of being thrown out of a community and the sentiment of lonely dislocation dominate the narrative structures as well as the scenarios in the video essay. The confessional tones and the various images of reflection – such as puddles, rain drops, different kinds of light sources – constitute an allegorical rhetoric. I chose to bring a certain self-reflection to issues in real life without fragmenting them. Ecology is normally defined as an individual’s relation with other beings and his/her environment, but for me, it is nothing but a lack of commonness’ that inevitably brings us into an existential struggle to be connected.

In Unfolding Places, most of the attention focuses on unfolding a negative of real space, in order to be able to navigate oneself and known one’s own position within an environment – instead of being absolutely flexible and floating around as our contemporary society often demands. The second video, Restrained Courage, is a painful and shameful confession of one’s failure to relate oneself to others, and aspires for radical action that goes beyond typical neo-liberal negotiations of social relations and thus avoids the deceitful, unreliable stipulation of a happy ending.

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