flour hat (floor)

2021

Dimensions variable


[4]-[5]

(wild geese) or all purpose flour or water or Korea Post box, 15 x 5 x 4.5 inches, 2021

(screen or fence or sifter) or maple or cotton sheer cloth or wood glue or hinges, dimensions variable or each frame 14 x 85 x 0.75 inches, 2021


[6]

(screen or fence or sifter) or poplar or cotton sheer cloth or synthetic organza or wood glue or hinges, dimensions variable or each frame 7 x 38 x 0.75 inches, 2021


[7]-[11]

(magpie or crow) or all purpose flour or water or USPS box, 18 x 4 x 5.5 inches, 2021

(crane or stork) or “is that bread?” or all purpose flour or water or DHL box, 19.5 x 5 x 3.5 inches, 2021

(pigeon or dove) or all purpose flour or water or direct mail advertisements, 12 x 5 x 5 inches, 2021

(screen or fence or sifter) or wood or cotton sheer cloth or synthetic organza or wood glue or hinges, dimensions variable or each frame 14 x 7.5 x 0.75 inches, 2020

and papers, silver balls or eggs


[12]-[19]

flour hat (floor), all purpose flour, paper maché, steel, tiles, six actions, 18 x 18 feet, 2021


[20]-[22][video]

flour hat (floor) video, single channel video, 7’22’’, 2021

performers: Lucas Yasunaga, Armando Cortés, Hyeree Ro; camera: Minhwan Kim, Hyeree Ro



Hyeree Ro

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On the white, snow-like powdered surface, shapes resembling letters and traces left by something passing over the surface overlap atop each other. Between these traces, there are objects here and there that look like either small hills or inverted vessels. The scene is reminiscent of complex roads, mountains, and hills of a city as they are seen from above. At the same time, it looks as if someone walked around a snowfield and made a playful sculpture. The objects existing in this quiet, bleached space do not directly refer to objects outside the work. The installation may be read as “poetic” to some viewers or to others like a formalist work of art where these objects gain autonomous meanings in silence.

In fact, Hyeree’s work is based on her own experiences rather than any sort of poetic or formalist ideas. Flour Hat (Floor)(2021) is based on her paternal grandfather who worked at a flour manufacturing factory, her father who made hats, and herself. The numerous traces and objects occupying the floor cite specific references rather than arbitrary decisions. For example, on the same spot of the white flour surface, she writes the name of her grandfather with her feet and hands then covers it with flour, her father’s name and covers it, and then her own name and covers it, repeatedly cycling through each name. She also marks figures including stars, hats, and palm lines closely related to the personal experiences of her grandfather, father, and herself and covered them with flour. The tracings of her intimate family stories that accumulate and overlap on the white surface appear like a large palimpsest, the tracings and erasures visible simultaneously. In this space, the past is neither completely erased nor remaining fully intact. Rather, as time goes by, the past continues to affect future events while transforming itself in its interaction with future events. Without providing many clues or much explanation, there is an opacity to the past envisioned in Hyeree’s palimpsest, making itself highly illegible to viewers. The objects almost look like an old archetype of objects; even though they evoke the viewers’ interpretation, it is difficult for viewers to specify particular referents that the objects and traces represent. It can even be said that these objects do not deliver any specific memories of Hyeree’s past. This raises a question: if the objects’ meaning is opaque, then why does she make and arrange these objects in such a specific manner? It seems that the objects and traces do not represent a certain past but question the ontological status of the past itself. And this question inevitably leads to another question: how do we “remember” things in the past, especially if the past is something that we have never experienced but only heard about?

In many artists’ works, the word “remembrance” is often associated with grand historical narratives. But before thinking about past events in relation to larger historical narratives, we might ask in a very fundamental sense, how do all past events exist in the present? All past events endlessly deteriorate while continuously lingering in the present. Certain past events do not necessarily claim any legitimate reason to be remembered nor do they hold historical importance within a “grand” history. The past envisioned in Hyeree’s work through the objects and traces is neither one of a precious collection preserved and curated in a museum, nor one of enlightening cultural heritage archived in a library for the future generation. Neither are her objects dead relics in an excavation site waiting to be discovered. Then what is the status of those objects? How do the objects function in her work?

In Hyeree’s previous performances, “objects” played no less of a crucial role than her body. An art critic described that in LA-sung(2016) “objects are both a tool to help narrate a story and evidence of memories.”1 In Flour Hat (Floor), however, the status of objects radically changes. Objects do not merely exist as a tool to deliver specific events. In this performance work, the materiality, characteristics, origins, and socio-political conditions of the main objects, that is flour and hats, generate countless meanings that exceed a mere representation of her personal memories. For example, flour and hats can enable viewers to think of numerous pairs of concepts such as daily necessities vs. decorative items, post-Korean War economic conditions in the 1950s vs. South Korean economic conditions in the 1980s, food inside of a body vs. clothes covering the outside of a body, and so forth. Exploring the various tactile qualities of flour and hats and thinking about possible meanings generated from the two objects, Hyeree makes dough, sprinkles flour, writes on flour, and hides herself in a big hat during the performance. She is not a storyteller who utilizes objects as instruments for addressing her memories; she is an activator who creates a site in which various meanings of the objects and their pasts can emerge and interplay.

Differing from the somewhat ambiguous and opaque installation, the video seems to explicitly address the theme—the story of three generations—of Flour Hat (Floor). Wearing a long, connected hat together, braiding each other’s hair, and placing the long hat on their stomachs, the three actors infer a strong familial connection. They also create a star-shaped string figure together, and in the next sequence, stars appear in a person’s destiny on the palm lines of their hand. In the other scenes, which likely connote the stories of Hyeree’s grandfather and father, a person’s hands handle wet and soft flour dough, and another person outside hides her body under a big, dry, and thin hat-like object. Paralleling the two objects with each other explicitly reveals their contrasting tactility. Another person’s hands make noodles and braid them as if the noodles are hair. The motif of the line repeats, as hair, noodles, and string, while the various shapes of a star continuously appear. Even though the video follows a relatively clear narrative and theme, it is written in a folkloric style with a universal and archetypal quality, rather than demonstrating/illustrating concrete details from her family’s stories. Watching the video almost feels like reading an old folktale transferred from generation to generation in one’s region. It seems that Hyeree wants to refer to her family’s history, but at the same time she does not want her story to be confined in the realm of the “personal” or “particular.” What is seen in her work is somewhat contradicting impulses: impulses of narrating the particular and the universal. To what extent can her story be particular, and to what extent can it be universal? To what extent can it be personal, and to what extent can it be familiar for others? Can a “personal narrative” ever really exist? Flour Hat (Floor), covered by, overlapped with, and made of white flour, embodies an ambivalent and yet porous space with multiple entrances. Now it unfolds itself waiting for other stories to emerge.

(Text by Kaeun Park)

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[1] Haeju Kim, “What Fills Time: Object, Body, and Word,” http://www.hyereero.com/text/hjkim/

To encounter Hyeree Ro’s flour hat (floor) (2021), an installation that continually reorganizes its material assemblage into multiply entangled operations of psychogeographic mapping, is to attempt an exercise in navigating zones of contact that never quite reaches a conclusion. You are struck, first, by the simplicity of its formal organization: geometric arrangements of translucent standing screens, variously oriented, loosely triangulate an immense mass of flour that rests on the floor––not quite a perfect circle, but close. On the wall closest to the flour, a single-channel video plays in a silent loop: the artist, with performers Lucas Yasunaga and Armando Cortés, engage in a series of task-oriented performances including braiding each other’s hair, a game of Cat’s Cradle, rolling out and braiding strands of dough, and so on. Off in a corner of the installation space, a series of ankle-height screens cordons off a small rectangular space; upon a stack of papers in this enclosed space rest three bird-like forms.

flour hat (floor) unapologetically insists on and rewards close attention. Each element of the installation is in dialogue with another element; to walk in and around the whole of it (careful not to step onto the flour!) is to set off a series of significations. It is montage-like, this associative process, yet never so simplistic as to “add up” to something definitive. Like geopolitical zones of contact, which the literary critic Mary Louise Pratt once defined as spaces where “cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today,” the different forms that collectively make up flour hat (floor) each differently organize relations in (psychogeographic) space.1 To insert one’s self into these zones of contact is to allow oneself to enter a re-enchanted spatial system.

The standing screens triangulating the flour and video offer an early hint. In pre-cinematic times, particularly within South, Southeast, and East Asian cultures, screens were understood in architectural and spatial terms: screens partitioned spaces of privacy and publicity.2 They offered shelter from the unwanted advance and the intrusive gaze. Screens were literal physical barriers, organizing spaces of visibility and modulating the visual field. And indeed, in a map of the installation, Ro identifies the three screen-like components as “screen or fence or sifter” (emphasis mine; more on the artist’s naming of the installation’s components shortly). Then, the mass of flour that dominates so much of the installation’s space. This mass of flour bears traces: a footprint, marks such as those that might be left by large calligraphic sweeps, some clearly-defined pyramidal structures, other tracings retracing earlier traces. It all appears so dynamic, landscape-like––an effect enhanced by its projected backdrop, flour hat (floor) video, occupying the lower half of the wall.

Traces, hands, the (cultural) memory of forms: between the flour on the floor and the dough being kneaded in the video opens up a cultural history of nationalism, immigration, globalization, and the inheritances of cultural memory and diaspora. During the United States’ post-World War II occupation of Korea (1945–48) and long afterward, American wheat and wheat flour were, and remain, indelibly associated with concepts of foreign aid and occupation. America’s exportation of its surplus wheat flour to US-occupied Korea and the spread of wheat flour in South Korea traces a precise movement within processes of postwar globalization––namely, the shift from Japanese colonial rule to the emergence of global US hegemony. Thus, even today, flour and flour-based foods continue to evoke memories of poverty, war, and food rations to surviving South Korean elders.

Ro tells me that her grandfather worked in a Korean flour factory, processing US-donated surplus wheat. Her father immigrated to the US late in the 1990s. She herself lives and works between continents. She (her website says) “thinks, speaks, writes, dreams in both English and Korean, many times in a mixture of the two.”3 As art historians and critics, we’re often cautioned against reading biographically. But when you live in the in-between, like her, living and working between formations of subjectivities and languages, thinking, dreaming, creating in ways that elude nation-state affiliations as fluidly as they do formal definitions, doesn’t the personal inevitably leave its traces on the political? Or is it the other way around?

Back to those almost-but-not-quite legible markings, which seem to trace the complex temporalities of diaspora across the surface of the flour massed on the floor. The flour that is, in the video, braided carefully by hand, a sequence itself echoing a preceding scene of hair being braided carefully, lovingly, by hand. Or the bird-like forms (will they, like their animate counterparts, migrate beyond their enclosures?) that look strangely like masses of wet, worked dough?4 Form and material is here reworked endlessly, entering into contingent relations within different zones of contact. Always being remade, always-becoming. Each element within the installation, aside from the mass of flour and the video, is named by the artist in a series of alternatives: (magpie or crow) or all purpose flour or water or USPS box. Or (screen or fence or sifter) or maple or cotton sheer cloth or wood glue or hinges.

I’m enthralled by this play of deferral that is, itself, always a difference.

(Text by Swagato Chakravorty)

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[1] Mary Louise Pratt, “Arts of the Contact Zone,” Profession (1991): 33–40.

[2] Wu Hung, “The Painted Screen,” Critical Inquiry 23, no. 1 (Autumn, 1996): 37–39.

[3] http://www.hyereero.com/about/

[4] These forms are constructed out of shipping (USPS, DHL) boxes.