This November, a wonderful confluence occurred. Three artists, Aniahs Gnay, Jin Hee Kwak, and Dana Davenport shared the stage and blew the roof off of the Miranda Kuo Gallery with an original, spirited and socially spot-on group show called “Seeing You See Me”.
Walking into the gallery for the first time after the show was installed, I felt that this was a truly collaborative moment: the three artists, to me, meshed work thoughtfully and organically together, and I saw it as a process that could be (and should be!) revisited.
Initially, you are invited into the space by Dana Davenport's painting, "Heugin", a vast red swath of canvas draped on the wall like a red carpet. The title of the work means "Black Person" in Korean, and was made with the artist painting the word heugin in Korean characters across a canvas and spreading the paint with her body, naked. When I see this in the canvas, where the characters are blurred and blended into a sea of red, and also in the live video performance of a similar work being displayed at the gallery, I think about the relative easiness with which words are thrown around and expressed, and the reality that life itself is sometimes incompatible with words. Especially those which try to typify identity. Perhaps a little facile on my part, but I see an optimistic transformation at work here, when the words blend into red, signifying that blood looks identical between all people. Where text is an abstraction, like a syntactic brick used to build verbal structures, the author, the reader, the artist, is a person organically interacting with it.
We turn to Aniahs Gnay's charcoal drawings, with their windswept crowded scenes, and faces turning into abstraction, conveying a sensation similar to rush hour traffic on the subway, and reminiscent of Roman relief sculptures. These crowded places are a unique version of seeing, and being seen, and the textural appeal of the charcoal on paper, and the lightly impastoed paint, corresponds to the inevitability of (difficult to avoid) physical contact in crowded places. Similarly, Gnay's mixed-media sculptures which depict paper-plaster people huddled inside of suitcases speak to another type of confinement. To me, they speak about immigration/migration, because they depict people who are bound by the shape of the luggage, or bag they are encased in, which is symbolic of travel. But they also give life to the light-hearted expression that close friends often relate to one another, that when one is travelling, the other could hide in a suitcase to make the trip along with them. Also symbolized is the concept of property, and that people are still viewed as such, whether it is through outright buying and selling of people, or whether it is through the deeply ingrained capitalistic superstructure. All these thoughts bouncing in my head lead me to the inevitable conclusion that these sculptures exist beyond and beside these notions, and don't want to be defined in such terms. Huddled and encased and balled up, these sculptures seem to have self-love.
Jin Hee Kwak's fiber pieces depicting (usually) pierced female genitalia represent the final series of works in the show. Viewed through the lens of art history, these might be seen in light of fiber art, especially samplers, which evoke a certain model of gendered-identity in the popular imagination. Where those are conservative, often containing innocuous sayings like “Home is Where the Heart Is”, Kwak's are comparatively explicit, and expose the underlying gender-bias that perpetuated the former. Interestingly, some of the rings can be so numerous in the pieces, that my thoughts turn to chain-mail, which speak to medieval knights, and thus masculinity. Male and female reunited in one piece is all well and good, but I can’t help but feel there is something much bigger at play here, that perhaps these vaginas are smiling, in a knowing, mysterious way.
These pieces clearly say very much as individual works, and together, they resonate powerfully. Seeing you see me is an act of noticing. When someone looks your way it feels like an instantaneous heightening of awareness. It is a strong transition, perhaps an intrusion,to go from solitude, or stealth, to being noticed. Each element in the show reflects varying parts of identity, like the exploration of the physically private of Jin-Hee Kwak’s fiber works, or the individual washed out in the sea of the collective, like Aniahs Gnay’s paintings, or the ambivalence to being seen, shown in the paper-plaster sculptures, or Dana Davenport’s insistence in using her own self to symbolize the chasm between the words we use and the people we are.
“Seeing You See Me” was visible at the Miranda Kuo Gallery October 29th – November 11th 2017