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Reviews / February 12, 2009

Jin-me Yoon: Passages through Phantasmagoria

Jin-me Yoon As It Is Becoming (Beppu, Japan): Kannawa District 2008 Video still

Identity politicking in art is a contentious issue. It is never trendy, yet always necessary in considering one’s subjectivity as a non-white, non-male artist. Add an element of the diasporic, and identity becomes an even more layered construct.

Where is home in today’s transnationalism? Does one have to choose only one home, or can there be many? The false yet naturalized home of nationhood can be disputed. Consider Jin-me Yoon, a Korean-born Canadian artist who goes back to the motherland as an alien (figuratively and physically in her bug- and assassin-like costume) and an outsider within. Her exhibition at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris, titled “Passages through Phantasmagoria,” features the works The dreaming collective knows no history (US Embassy to Japanese Embassy, Seoul) and As It Is Becoming, and follows the artist’s fall 2008 solo exhibition at Catriona Jeffries Gallery in Vancouver. The historically racial-backwardness of Europe could not be a more different backdrop than Vancouver. It seems Paris would need this kind of challenging identity-based work more in its public spaces.

Yoon explores identity very physically. In the series of works As It Is Becoming (carried out in Korea and Japan), she takes a cue from William Pope.L‘s many crawls, struggling while paddling with her hands and lying stomach-down on a skateboard. In various states of discomfort, Yoon crawls uphill, downhill and every which way in a black outfit only sometimes adequately padded for the ride. The world carries on around and away from her. Yoon makes contact with the earth in the most basic way. Emotional pain is replaced with the sheer physicality of endurance. Who has time to worry about a sense of belonging if one’s entire body aches? One thing is clear: being in this world is a struggle.

While Pope.L’s plight illustrates the black and white polarity that is distinct in American race politics, Yoon’s work is another example of how each person of cultural otherness must make their own journey to some form of self-realized identity. In the end, everyone has got to do it. Race and identity are never irrelevant. (5 rue de Constantine, Paris France)

Charlene K. Lau

Charlene K. Lau is an art historian, critic and curator who has held fellowships at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Parsons School of Design and Performa Biennial. Her writing has been published in the Atlantic, the Brooklyn RailC Magazine, Canadian Art, Critical Studies in Fashion & BeautyFashion Theory and Journal of Curatorial Studies, among others. Her research interests include the avant-garde in art and fashion, Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), politically and socially engaged practices, and the pornographic.