Art review: 'Everyday Miracles (Extended)' at the Gallery at REDCAT
At first, the premise of "Everyday Miracles (Extended)" seems a bit bland. It features works by seven artists who, according to curators Hou Hanru and Clara Kim, transform the everyday into "expressions of the extraordinary." Don't most artists do that, to a certain extent?
Yet "Everyday" is based on an exhibition that Hou curated for the Chinese pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale (hence the "Extended"), and the REDCAT incarnation frames these "miracles" in relation to globalization, which is the more meaty subject of the show. The seven women featured hail from China, India, South Korea, Pakistan, the Philippines and Taiwan.
It's therefore not surprising that the exhibition feels a bit diffuse. But as one winds through the rather crowded gallery, tenuous connections emerge – an affinity for found materials, an acute awareness of loss and a fascination with neglected spaces. The show's strength is that these connections are allowed to percolate across national and cultural lines without erasing them.
Ringo Bunoan's deceptively simple bridge made of wooden shipping pallets is rich in local and global associations. On one level, it's an inventive use of discarded materials, reminiscent of the vernacular architecture of shantytowns in the Philippines and elsewhere. As a bridge, it's also a hopeful symbol of transition and connection built out of the detritus of global shipping. The pallets bear the names of U.S. corporations Owens Corning, Coca-Cola, etc.
This makeshift aesthetic also appears in the work of Jewyo Rhii, whose flimsy plywood and found-object sculptures are so understated as to tread a fine line between art and trash. Each piece is accompanied by several handwritten pages documenting the work's creation, travel and storage locations (mostly in private homes). The reading is a bit of a slog, but the stories also recount Rhii's reckoning with the death of a role model, fellow Korean artist Yisoo Bahc. In combination with their transient objects, the texts are a touching reflection on loss and impermanence.
Minouk Lim's 45-minute video, "S.O.S. – Adoptive Dissensus," deals with similar themes on the scale of the city. It documents a nighttime performance she staged on a cruise ship on the Han River in Seoul. The trip is narrated (in Korean with subtitles) by the ship's captain, whose descriptions of various landmarks eschew tourist pabulum to delve into some of the darker moments in Korean history and the country's current explosive growth.
The boat encounters three sets of riverbank performers who communicate with the captain and passengers via walkie talkie. A group of demonstrators protests the disappearance of "the place with no name"; a couple frolics in a popular make-out spot that will soon be turned into an opera house; and a political prisoner (out under "security monitoring") uses his car headlights to signal "S.O.S."
Throughout the trip, the lights of the cruise ship scan across the darkness, pausing only momentarily to highlight these vignettes. The effect, which alternately resembles searchlights and dance-club strobes, is a lovely metaphor for the incompleteness of any story. The ship's journey is just one version of the river's many narratives, leaving much in darkness. "S.O.S." captures and mourns this sense of mystery, embodied by the unnamed, unknown spaces rapidly disappearing from Seoul's urban infill.
Whereas Lim's meditation on the unknown is elegiac and sprawling, Kan Xuan's video, "Nothing!" is hilarious and compressed. Just short of two minutes, it's a rapid-fire, extreme close-up tour of some rather unremarkable holes in a concrete surface. Narrated by what sounds like a frustrated elf –repeatedly exclaiming "Nothing!" (in English) with increasing agitation – the piece pans and zooms so quickly it's disorienting. But in between, we find glimpses of what is clearly something, whether trash, green plants or a stream of bugs. Kan's attention to these details, however fleeting, slyly asks us to rethink our shortsighted fascination with speed.
In the end, what comes through in these works, including others by Hamra Abbas, Shilpa Gupta and Chen Hui-Chiao, is a highly personal reckoning with the forces of globalization in its many guises – political, economic, and cultural. In addition to commemorating what has been lost, "Everyday Miracles (Extended)" also hints at what a new, truly global culture might look like: more homogenous, Westernized, to be sure, but also shot through with local histories and, hopefully, a little bit of nothing.
– Sharon Mizota
The Gallery at REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., L.A., (213) 237-2800, through Jan. 17. Closed Mondays. www.redcat.org
Image: Minouk Lim, S.O.S—Adoptive Dissensus (2009). Credit: Video still, courtesy of the artist.