Kukje Gallery is pleased to announce the launch of Mesmerizing Mesh, a new work by Haegue Yang at Kukje Gallery’s K1 space on August 24, 2021. In production since last year and based on extensive research, 12 pieces of the new series of hanji (traditional Korean paper) collages from Mesmerizing Mesh will be presented in the K1 gallery space, with its window facing the iconic streetscape of Samcheong-dong, through September 12. This launch will then continue in the viewing room of Kukje Gallery’s soon-to-be inaugurated Rizzoli Studio from September 15 and feature approximately six additional pieces from the series of Mesmerizing Mesh.
Making shamanistic objects out of folding and cutting hanji is a significant part of gut (Korean shamanistic ritual) tradition, particularly that of a sitting gut performed mainly in Taean County of Chungcheongnam-do Province. When performing a gut, shamans of the Taean region decorate the ritual site with Sacred Paper Cutting and recite the sutras. The act of folding hanji multiple times and cutting out certain patterns is referred to in Korean as kkasunda or basunda. The tradition of making shamanistic objects out of hanji is witnessed not only in Chungcheong-do region but also in various rituals around the nation, including gime of Jeju Island.
Yang focuses on the spiritual act of blowing a soul into feeble materiality, such as a sheet of paper. This has led the artist, a sculptor normally working with physical space, to develop a focal interest in the various sacred paper objects employed in shamanistic rituals, such as cutting a human figure out of hanji and blowing a spirit into it in order to console the ghost and resolve its han (sorrow). A paper figure in this ritual is called nukjeon (Soul Sheet) and is an example of traditional sacred paper objects in which the matter and the soul resonate with each other. Yang seeks to experiment with and further develop relevant methodologies of punching holes in the paper to let it breathe, highlighting the elaborate translucency of hanji through its folded layers, and cutting out patterns and forms with a knife. The methodology of forming layers and dimensions out of patterns and ornamentation is in accordance with the artist’s way of molding space by weaving planes out of various materials including venetian blinds, artificial straw, and metal bells. Such modeling of space ultimately suggests an inextricable relationship between the material and the mind.
Mesmerizing Mesh is largely categorized into two groups: one that employs graph paper alongside hanji can be read as an extension of the Trustworthies, and the other is composed only of hanji. The latter can be divided further into subgroups according to its focus. One deals with abstract patterns employing ‘Formation’ or ‘Sacred Wire Mesh’ designed to drive out evil spirits, and the other subgroup is centered around the figurative motif of nukjeon, which symbolizes the soul of the deceased. The artist has persistently explored craft traditions employing patterns and ornaments, and in Mesmerizing Mesh, Yang presents paper as more than a mere means of representation, introducing the medium as a spiritual material narrating the passage of life.
Such methodologies of Sacred Paper Cutting can be similarly witnessed in the traditions of Mexico’s papel picado, the Philippines’ pabalat, China’s jiǎnzhǐ, Japan’s kirigami, India’s sanjhi, the Slavic wycinanki, and the Jewish kebutot and mizrahs. Much like the tradition of Sacred Paper Cutting in Korea which utilizes hanji, the spiritual foundations upheld by the paper cutting folk art traditions of these discrete cultures, despite their aesthetic differences, share an anthropological trajectory of projecting the soul, spirit, and value of life onto objects. Mesmerizing Mesh aims to embrace such diverse traditions.
Yang has consistently produced flat works: Lacquer Paintings (since 1994), her ongoing paper collages Trustworthies (since 2010) employing the security patterns of envelopes and sandpaper among other materials, wallpapers (since 2011), spice and vegetable prints (since 2012), and her various works with origami objects. Her enduring interest in the notion of flatness is often expressed through the very collapse of the two-dimensional plane and three-dimensional space. At her solo exhibition O2 and H2O at the MMCA, she presented Five Doing Un-Doing (2020), a work consisting of five banners, each with the bottom edge adorned with objects made of Sacred Paper Cutting. Ever since, Yang has focused on collages using hanji by folding and cutting, and this methodology has now been developed in Mesmerizing Mesh. With this new work, the artist seeks to sum up her journey of flat works and envisage its next steps.
Selecting Seoul as the site to launch Mesmerizing Mesh is a culmination of the entire research process, having consulted numerous individuals and organizations involved in the tradition of Sacred Paper Cutting in Korea. This includes Hayong Shim/Korea Folk Drama Museum, Jisoo Jeong/Taean Cultural Center, shaman Jaesun Lee, shaman Yeounghee Lee, shaman Nosim Kang, Dr. Jongsung Yang/The Museum of Shamanism, and Yunju Chang/Wooran Foundation, in addition to the countless scholars and research institutes devoted to shamanistic studies.