Four Pillars at L’INCONNUE / Montreal

Four Pillars
With: Hanna Hur, Laurie Kang, Maia Ruth Lee and Zadie Xa

3/2-30/3 2018

L’INCONNUE 
233 Blvd. Crémazie O.
Montreal QC Canada 
H2N 1L7

HANNA HUR

HANNA HUR

MAIA RUTH LEE

 MAIA RUTH LEE

MAIA RUTH LEE

MAIA RUTH LEE

HANNA HUR

LAURIE KANG
HANNA HUR

LAURIE KANG

LAURIE KANG

In alchemy, the
moon is symbolized by a crescent, drawn sometimes as a scythe but just as often
in the orientation of a vessel. Whatever the form, its symbol points to the
moon’s essential quality as neither weapon nor womb but continuous change. Four
Pillars presents work engaged in moments of metamorphosis. For the works on
view, stillness is illusory, from Maia Ruth Lee’s scrap iron altars, whose
ceremonial rice absorbs and transforms the energy of its surroundings, to Hanna
Hur’s nearly translucent drawings on silk, which surrender their visual clarity
to the changing conditions of its installation. In Laurie Kang’s Soup, an impression of lotus roots on unfixed
photochemical paper migrates to Roots, where
the lotus re-appears in charcoal as a material negative and above which a
single stem of incense slowly dissipates. Roots take on a different referent in
Zadie Xa’s propositions, where symbols of her personal and collective history are
utilized to charge the clothing of an imagined shamanistic avatar.
A
provisory wall by Kang bisecting a portion of the exhibition acts as a nucleus
around which the show orients.
 “Many stories of the wall have been
told,” writes Trinh T. Minh-ha. We know these stories. Divisions “between West
and the Rest, …materiality and spirituality, masculine and feminine, or more
intimately, between outside and inside, self and other.” Boundaries of
distinction built upon a language of difference. But Kang’s structure disturbs
the language of the wall. Rendered as open netting on construction scaffolding,
the boundary doesn’t just divide one space from another—it is a haptic surface,
a skin as screen, a porous woven membrane stretched taut against a skeleton of
steel in imprecise, undulating tension. The wall is its own body, or bodies,
intertwined. In Skin on Skin, Kang captures
the boundary as an electric moment between two bodies whose meeting indelibly
alters the other. Unfixed and unprocessed, the image holds on to its touch,
even as its surface continues to evolve with the conditions of its environment.
Framed within the structure of the wall, we confront the nature of these charged
exchanges, between outside and inside, self and other. With its layer of woven
netting, the scaffold also begins to entangle the works on view around it,
ensnaring Hur’s delicately rendered drawings and Xa’s speculative fantasies in
a web of relation. Hur’s Mother ii, a
copper chainmail spider, sprawls nearby as a kind of diaphanous armor, suggesting
alternative terms of empowerment that derive strength from fluid morphology
rather than hard monumentality. Copper is associated with the planet Venus, and
its appearance in the form of a predator nods to Louise Bourgeoise as well as
the history of women whose sexuality has been both revered and reviled.
Like the
structure that supports it, Kang’s photosensitive pictures continually shift
between surface and skin, image and embodiment, to claim an in-between space of
resistance that escapes naming and lays the conditions to reclaim ontological
agency. In She Unnames Them, Ursula
K. Le Guin describes unnaming as a form of empowerment. “Their names had stood
between myself and them like a clear barrier,” she writes, “…
And
the attraction that many of us felt, the desire to smell one another’s smells,
feel or rub or caress one another’s scales or skin or feathers or fur…—that
attraction was now all one with the fear, and the hunter could not be told from
the hunted, nor the eater from the food.”
Unnamed, Xa’s
speculative avatar reclaims its shamanistic power to shapeshift. Clothed in a
field of symbols gathered from her own past and Korean mythology, the referents
in Xa’s work are summoned in order to interrogate and to be interrogated. But
Xa’s avatar isn’t just a shapeshifting shaman, and neither is the in-between in
which she operates an escapist fantasy. Xa’s avatar is a woman who code-switches
at the fraught sociopolitical boundaries between self and other. Unnamed, she
occupies a third space from which the in-between casts a numinous shadow on the
wall separating our experience of reality and the possibilities that lay beyond
material understanding. “The direction of escape is toward freedom,” writes
Ursula K. Le Guin, “So what is ‘escapism’ an accusation of?”
In the numinous
world of the in-between, Hur’s unnamed figure in Endless Spring vii resurrects under three black suns. Endless Spring vii constitutes the
seventh iteration of a painting from Hur’s archive which reinvents itself each
time it is reproduced. Here, its remaking as a drawing on silk proposes an
image whose meaning lays less in visual clarity than in its dissipation. Silk
serves as a surface on which the drawing can appear in order to disappear—a
veil beyond which we are meant to peer. And while Endless Spring vii shows a figure suspended in the process of dissolution,
it also carries with it the history of each embodiment that came before.  
Many of the
works in Four Pillars carry traces of its making and the artist’s personal
history. In Soup, Kang’s photograms are
marked by the residue of its process as part of the pictorial surface. Leftover
silicone, wire, and cast aluminum gather with bits of bronze on photosensitive paper
alongside fingerprints from a messy studio process that encourages material
infections. In Mother’s Knot, Lee arranges
banana leaf bowls from Nepal with welded scrap metal scavenged from Gowanus, a
notorious industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn. The materials are anchored with bowls
of ceremonial rice, thought to purify energy and invite abundance in Nepalese
tradition. Mother’s Knot is a site of
transformation, elevating industrial detritus with the rarified aura of an art
object, and imbuing it with ritualistic significance. But it also functions as
a personal altar, where Lee releases her own experiences of adversity to the
rice’s magical absorbency. In Mother’s
Knot,
as with many of the works on view, Four Pillars demonstrates a sense
of hopefulness in the potency of transformative power, and gestures to the
possibility of manifesting the numinous other world in our tangible experience.

Sarah Chow