Double Take

Double Take

Installation artist Haegue Yang immerses herself in Copenhagen to explore ideas of location and duality
Installation artist Haegue Yang immerses herself in Copenhagen to explore ideas of location and duality

H aegue Yang is interested in places. Before certain exhibitions, the South Korean artist visits her host city or town, then reflects her impressions in new work.

Haegue Yang. Photo: Cheongjin Keem

Strange Attractors, her 2021–2022 exhibition at Tate St Ives, Cornwall, included sci-fi motifs embroidered onto cushions. They were Yang’s interpretations of cross-stitched prayer pillows she encountered in a Cornish church; folk-art made by parishioners, some with secular images that reflected the coastal landscape: sea, sky, an eclipse.

Her reimaginings of local curios are art “rendered through the locality, the landscape, the history – and with a stake in the community,” she says. For Double Soul, which opened on 5 March at The National Gallery of Denmark (SMK), Yang visited SMK’s Arctic collection of Greenlandic Inuit artefacts, where she was struck by sealskin mittens with curious double-thumbs.

“Art rendered through the locality, the landscape, the history – and with a stake in the community”

She asked the curator: “Why two thumbs?” He explained they were hunting mittens. “The mittens get wet and the thumb disintegrates, so they turn it around – dualism that comes together from one whole.” The mittens feature on wallpaper and are drawn on in the exhibition’s centrepiece work.

Yang’s exhibitions are immersive; room-sized landscapes that are meditations on global themes including human migration, colonialism and the natural world. Wallpaper collides with a parade of headless forms; creatures wearing straw costumes; spheres covered in skins of tiny bells and dangling from the ceiling; audio recordings drifting in and out of earshot.

Haegue Yang, Non-Linear and Non- Periodic Dynamics, 2021 at Tate St Ives, 2021. Photo: Tate (Matt Greenwood)

There is a political slant. In Denmark, she explores the theme of duality in context. “I became very aware of the asymmetrical power relationship between Denmark and Greenland,” she says. Inuit-majority Greenland is a constituent country of Denmark, which is a point of tension.

Haegue Yang, Sonic Rampant Obscure Turbine Vents, Double Decker – Brass Green, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City / New York. Photo: Anders Sune Berg

For the show, she has created Sonic Intermediates – Double Soul, a centrepiece sculpture of two headless forms. The first, Tripodal Shapeshifter after Ferlov Mancoba, is a riff on the multi-legged sculptures of Danish artist Sonja Ferlov Mancoba. The second, Six Fingered Wayfarer after Arke, is a shaman-like figure that references the work of Greenlandic-Danish artist Pia Arke. And as a nod to the mittens, the Arke sculpture has two thumbs. Both are made from disparate materials: plastic twine, bells, artificial plants and grab handles, which are a recurring motif with significance.

Yang, who was born in Seoul in 1971 and moved to Germany in the mid-1990s, is concerned with human migration. Often her sculptures are presented on castors with grab handles, implying the possibility of movement, although they are not always for visitors to push around.

They reflect an act of will. “The handle as metaphor between limbo states,” Yang says. “They represent pure action – the imagining of mobility. For me, potentiality is more important than the possible.”

Haegue Yang: Career Highlights

Haegue Yang: Double Soul, is on view at SMK, Copenhagen, until 31 July

Cover image: Installation view of Haegue Yang: Double Soul, SMK National Gallery of Denmark, 2022. Photo: Jan Søndergaard

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