MMCA Hyundai Motor Series 2020: Haegue Yang – O2 & H2O
September 29, 2020 – February 28, 2021
National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, Seoul, South Korea
Installation view of MMCA Hyundai Motor Series 2020: Haegue Yang – O2 & H2O , National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, Seoul, South Korea, 2020
Photo: Cheolki Hong. Image provided by MMCA
Video: Hyundai Motor ARTLAB
“The condensation of water that occurs due to temperature differences is a model of quiet and discreet communication. We can coexist when we acknowledge and maintain differences, even if it takes some tears and sweat.” – Haegue Yang
Like the vapor from warm air condensed into water on the surface of a chilled bottle, most substances differ in appearance with temperature and other conditions. Haegue Yang focuses on the meanings of substances that change with their context. Once, the artist was visiting a gas station when she saw a sign that read “air and water,” referring to a section for inflating tires and filling up wiper fluid. By having this uttered in an entirely different situation, she alters or “slides” their meaning. For this exhibition, Yang uses the chemical symbols for air and water rather than the words themselves. As combinations of pure molecules, O2 & H2O can be sensed in abstract terms. Science today goes back and forth between the micro and macro, seeking a more sophisticated understanding of things through the languages of mathematics and chemical formulas. But in our lives, most of us are obliged to interpret them through similes, metaphors, and other forms of cultural epistemology.
O2 & H2O metaphorically represents the reality formed by scientific facts and knowledge, as well as our experiences and sensory systems that are unable to fully perceive such reality. In her past works, the artist has used intangible sensory experience to reflect upon the abstractions inherent to historical narrative; with O2 & H2O , she attempts to reach a leap by raising the question of the “abstraction of reality.” Phenomena that we encounter yet find ourselves unable to handle – substance and symbols, energy and technology, climate and social polarization, disasters and national borders – have been entirely collapsed in different ways from before. An exhibition filled with representations that are based on these methods of juxtaposition, O2 & H2O is the product of what may be called realistic insights into civilization. What happened during the time that air and water became O2 & H2O ? Can it be that nothing happened at all – since they are both of the same substances?