Fan Death in Venice – the Korean Pavilion at the Biennale

by Philip Gowman on 3 November, 2009 updated 14 December, 2017

in Exhibition reviews and comment | Venice Biennale

Haegue Yang: Series of Vulnerable Arrangements – Voice and Wind

Haegue Yang: Series of Vulnerable Arrangements – Voice and Wind

In a collection of National Pavilions which includes a big aluminium cage (France), some unfinished pine kitchen furniture (Germany) and a reconstruction of a celebrity gay swimming pool death (Nordic countries) the Korean pavilion at the Venice Biennale is in good company in making you scratch your head a little bit. What is one to make of an installation of venetian blinds, artfully stirred every now and then by some giant fans? Fortunately, the doors to the pavilion are always open, thus reducing the risk that visitors fall prey to that most potent of Korean summertime killers, Fan Death. In the side room, another, smaller, installation featuring dangling light bulbs and bits of knitting which look like hair scrunchies is even more mystifying.

Haegue Yang: Sallim

Haegue Yang: Sallim

This smaller work is entitled Sallim, and the brochure explains that it is “a full-size model of [the artist’s] Berlin kitchen”. “Where does she do the cooking, then?” was the question asked by one very practical observer. Mind you, the same could be asked of the German pavilion next door. Yang herself admits the problem: her kitchen is “free from many of the things that are attributes of the ordinary concept of work in terms of social effectiveness/productivity”. Like a cooker, for example. Or a sink.

Haegue Yang’s overall concept is entitled Condensation. Maybe the giant air conditioner in the pavilion’s roof was part of the main installation, but I didn’t see any drips on the floor. There were apparently also scent emitters which “infuse the installation with moments of sensory experience”, but I’m afraid I missed those.

Haegue Yang: Studies for Doubles and Halves (Ahyun-dong)

Haegue Yang: Studies for Doubles and Halves (Ahyun-dong)

On a side wall, there was a video projection of some backstreets of one of Seoul’s poorer neighbourhoods (Ahyun-dong) which didn’t seem to make much sense – particularly with the Italian language voiceover. But if you waited long enough, or were lucky in your timing, the English voiceover at least mentioned the title of the whole show. Something to do with marginalised people clinging together and then evaporating like so much condensation. The video essay is entitled Doubles and Halves – Events with Nameless Neighbours. While it is helpful to have a work which resonates the theme of the pavilion itself, and can thus justifiably be said to be a “cornerstone of the exhibition”, the video struggles to unify the venetian blind sculpture (entitled Series of Vulnerable Arrangements – Voice and Wind) with the kitchen in the side room.

Haegue Yang: Series of Vulnerable Arrangements – Domestics of Community

Haegue Yang: Series of Vulnerable Arrangements – Domestics of Community

Things came together a bit more in the Arsenale. Here Yang has more installation space which she fills with more from her Series of Vulnerable Arrangements – Domestics of Community, comprising dangling light bulbs, kitchen utensils and, yes, venetian blinds (but no fans) all in the same place.

Living and working between the distinct cultures of Europe and Asia, Haegue Yang often investigates small shifts of meaning and form through translation and dislocation. She looks for moments of divergence and abstraction, be it in a linguistic or formal sense, be it through photographs and videos or three-dimensional installations.

Back to the main exhibit, though, it probably was best not to think too hard. The interlocking planes in which the blinds were hung, the different angles and colours, the gentle rippling of the sculpture as the fans turned on and off, were all pleasing in their own right. And in uniting a well-known product from the host city with a well-known phobia from the artist’s home country, the exhibit was perhaps appropriate enough to be installed in a national pavilion.

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