Commonwealth and Council presents “Hermy,” an exhibition of recent sculptures and installations by Young Joon Kwak, as well as a selection of collaborative work. Kwak works through plaster, resin, and metal to arrive at a new art historical lineage informed by agency and resistance. Hers is a family chosen and a history claimed as a radical tactic. It is a lineage that begins with classical antiquity, specifically herma statues—square columns bearing only heads and genitals as figurative markers and hermaphroditus, a divine being of both sexes, often with the head, breasts, and body of a female and male genitals. This line continues into the expanded sculptural field, collapsing statuary traditions into Minimalism and contemporary queer formalism.
The multitude of strategies resist easy definition, insisting that it is as possible and valid to “pass” in art history as it is to embrace overt markers of queerness. With gestures as subtle as a shade of off-white to an “excess of the real” that bursts at the seams to reveal the fallacies of gender, Kwak dances in and around queer minimalism and maximalism. Melancholy coexists with utopia—we have here a cycle of death and rebirth in which the fear of failing to meet expectations of an identity is replaced with a position of active defiance. Carving out new forms and new ways of being, Kwak invites the viewer to a dance floor of radical bodies.
Kwak’s herma statues demand an engagement with the viewer; one must circle, slow down, look closer, longer, and deeper. Quick glances won’t suffice; they won’t reveal secrets or stories that easily. One side will reveal a protrusion and another a crevice; which should be taken as an identifying feature? The answer is neither and both; the question is ultimately irrelevant.
An exploded disco ball rotates at 1.5 rotations per minute, the beat of a slow jam. This melancholic rhythm allows for momentary flashes of light, illuminating fragments of bodies and objects. Defying instantaneous categorization of form becomes an act as radical as the defiance of gender. These objects hover at some intersection of sculpture, statue, functional, or fetish object. They move through states, transitioning; a trick of the light will elevate one to an archived relic, while another becomes the detritus of some unknown, unspeakable event.
This resistance against easy identification is evident in Kwak’s move away from the performative and collaborative work for which she is best known. Kwak, the object-maker steps in and out of the light, off and on the dance floor—slipping back into her role as collaborator in the creation of “a grotto of the celebration of the rebirth of the free-form creatures,” realized with Corazon del Sol. Within this room installation, we find a video made with Kim Ye, a photograph with Christopher Richmond, and sound work by Marvin Astorga. Sculpture, performance, and collaboration share the requirement of presence and of the other. A relationship is demanded, the agreement to look and be looked at.
If perception is fragmentary, so are we. Wounded, in pieces, in-between, in progress, we are at least graced with glimpses of autonomy, of potential and of becoming. To die and be reborn on the dance floor, again and again.
Young Joon Kwak (b. 1984 in Queens, NY) is a LA-based multi-disciplinary artist. Kwak’s sculptures reimagine the function, material, and form of objects, in order to create spaces and scenarios that propose different ways of viewing and interpreting bodies as mutable and open-ended. She is the founder of Mutant Salon, a roving beauty salon/platform for experimental performance collaborations with her community of queer, trans, femme, POC artists and performers, and the lead performer in the electronic-dance-noise band Xina Xurner. Performances and exhibitions include: the Hammer Museum, The Broad, REDCAT, and ONE National LGBT Archives, Los Angeles; Regina Rex and Smack Mellon, Brooklyn; Southern Exposure, San Francisco; Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver; and Pavillon Vendôme Centre d’Art Contemporain, Clichy, France. Kwak was recently awarded the Art Matters Grant and the Rema Hort Mann Foundation’s Artist Community Engagement Grant. She received an MFA from the University of Southern California (2014), MA in Humanities from the University of Chicago (2010), and a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2007). This is Kwak’s second solo exhibition with Commonwealth and Council.