Over the years, the Walker has invited more than 200 artists from different disciplines to spend time at the institution working on various projects. This fall, in conjunction with her solo exhibition, Haegue Yang arrived with several new twists on the artist-in-residence concept, which, as she says, “normally implies an artist visiting to provide the institution with something—a commissioned work, a particular outcome connected to a particular community.” Instead, the artist wonders what she might gain from the Walker, a place she first visited when her work was included in the exhibition Brave New Worlds (2007).
Yang’s project began with a proposal to “domesticize” the institution by taking up residence as an apprentice. To this end, she asked the Walker to mobilize a group of “expert” participants to join an openended skill share and knowledge exchange. Specifically, the seminar series addresses the relationship between Yang’s abstract forms and the subjects that inform her work. For Shared Discovery of What We Have and Know Already, as she titled her residency, the artist has zeroed in on two fundamental principles: “One is low-tech, and the second is universality. The very idea of sharing skills and knowledge is a low-tech concept,” she says, while “universality directly relates to such low-tech learning, in that many universal ideas can be easily achieved.”
Her ideal of mobilizing the Walker to create a new and unique kind of shared learning experience is a well-timed complement to the institution’s goal of exploring new kinds of relationships with artists and audiences alike. Walker director Olga Viso says, “With the launch of our new collections installation this November, we have begun a series of programmatic experiments that seek to shift the ‘rules of engagement’ between artists, Walker staff, and our audiences. These experiments, which will take place throughout the galleries, in our inside and outdoor public spaces, and online are intended to disrupt the conventional roles all parties play in the museum-going experience. Our hope, as with Haegue’s project, is to foster new forms of engagement, dialogue, and interaction about contemporary art at the Walker in which everyone may contribute.”
The components of Shared Discovery are mapped around key themes of abstraction, community, and the dialogue between inside and outside. The artist’s investigation of these subjects will help to shape a weeklong series of public programs in January and February 2010 based on the works of Marguerite Duras, a pivotal influence in Yang’s practice.
Yang uses household blinds, lights, fans, infrared heaters, and scent emitters to create complex and evocative installations. Her abstract forms create an experiential language that in the artist’s words “gives true value to the presence of narratives inside of me as well as the narratives I have encountered. For me, abstraction is not anti-narrative, but rather allows a narrative to be achieved without constituting its own limits. The form of language I choose to experiment with is abstract even if the motivation is always concrete.”
Yang’s blind installations often create the experience of looking out from the inside, or, depending on where you are standing, looking in from the outside. Her video trilogy (2004–2006), acquired by the Walker in 2007, also reflects the observances of an almost invisible bystander. Yang’s use of origami reveals a relationship between the inside folds of the paper and their exterior shapes. These formal abstractions reflect the artist’s desire to question the border between inside and outside, between our sense of alienation and community.
Despite the generally positive social implications it holds, the idea of community is at once complex and simplistic, strong and fragile. While it is most often defined via categories such as nation, race and ethnicity, profession, or religion, it can exist on many other levels, even negatively by exclusion or absence. Yang interprets this “community of absence” as a “community of the plural that shares nothing but ongoing self-examination and a strange kind of optimism.” Her ongoing exploration of community is also deeply connected to the ambiguous biographies of certain historical, political, and literary figures from various times and places, including underground Korean revolutionary Kim San, German politician/activist Petra Kelly, and French novelist/filmmaker Marguerite Duras.