Haegue Yang’s recent genre-defying exhibition at the MoMa, “Handles” is her silent protest againsther view of intolerance in society. The multimedia installation incorporates a variety of materials and methods, historical references, and sensory experiences through open-source designs, active sculptures, dazzling geometries, and a play on light and sound. In consequence, Yang has created a ritualized and complex environment for display.
The mounted sculptures represent free-standing bodies in distinctive shapes and sizes, with bells attached to represent the sound of Shamanistic rites from her Korean background. In this way, Haegue Yang is demonstrating the cohesion between spiritualism and realism. The sculptures are interactive and maneuverable, with handles attached to add movement to the experience. The handles, as told by Yang “are points of attachment and material catalysts for movement and change”, they represent the everyday boundaries between people and things. Another important aspect of the exhibition is the recording of birdsong played in the background, which was taken from the North and South Korea Historic Summit in 2018, representing political strife and the current environmental crisis, integrating dissimilar narratives in her own artistic language.
Yang is able to use sensorial experiences to trigger memories onto the museum patrons and deliver her overall message: migration. The topic of migration symbolizes movement, which can be physical, emotional, and even sociopolitical. An issue she has been faced with her whole life was the feeling of ‘belonging’, and the handles in the exhibition are intended to represent beings between borders or distinct belongingness. In order to confront this feeling, Yang is pushing people to maintain their differences, whilst communicating and accepting division amongst ourselves and promoting non-binary models.
The installation is uniting different forms, cultures and situations, developing a fresh take on modernism in society. Haegue Yang uses personal and political resonance to relate to her overall theme of migration, showing the importance of movement when there is misunderstanding and tension holding you back.
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By Nina Clements
Founder and CEO of ROOTS Magazine