“I Am.” An Art Exhibition
Emerging artists showcase a constellation of artworks that revolve around the theme of identity, and how identity influences their perception and conception of art.
This year’s summer semester has undoubtedly marked our lifetime: in addition to precarious world politics and the widespread dissemination of conspiracy theories in social media, the coronavirus outbreak and the ensuing lockdown measures dramatically altered everyday life as we hitherto knew it. University seminars went digital, corporate work has shifted to the employees‘ homes, and social (or physical) distancing, a crucial hygiene measure during the pandemic, became the new buzzword. In light of these unprecedented events, we were and continue to be prompted to reflect on our pre-corona lifestyles, and, by extension, on our self before and during what has been aptly described as the “new normal.” During this time, nine artists from the Universität der Künste Berlin and the Weißensee Kunsthochschule Berlin, as well as a guest artist from the Haute école des arts du Rhin (HEAR) in Strasbourg created art pieces that focus on identity formation and artistic expression in the intersection of their own multicultural backgrounds and the uncertainty of the post-coronavirus era. This creative process culminated in the group exhibition “Ich bin.” (“I am.”), which was held at KUNSTRAUM Potsdamer Straße during Berlin Art Week.
The exhibition featured the works of Hara Shin, Alma Poursangari, Eunju Pi, Yehlin Lee, Paula Krause, Miji Ih, Elias Klein, Gaspard Hers, Mihail Ninov, Anneliese Greve, and Anke Dobberstein.
Amongst Eunju Pi’s exhibited works, most notable are her clusters of square and rectangle tableaus made of a creative mix of materials, such as canvas and diverse textiles, which are superimposed on each frame and painted over in abstract forms, often with vibrant colours. “Infinity Hotel” and “Lounge,” as these installations are called, consist in her most recent works, having been completed in 2020, but having been in progress since 2018 and 2019, respectively, they encapsulate the spiralling complexity of physical and virtual reality, in the midst of which the artistic self tries to create personal space. “Lounge” consists in mixed media on chiffon and silk, whereas “Infinity Hotel” makes use of materials as diverse as canvas, latex, and denim. “Infinity Hotel,” as its name implies, seems to be more than a stand-alone artwork; what the artist seems to suggest is that her other exhibited pieces, “Lounge,” “Seaside Hotel,” and “Sun,” are enclosed within the unlimitedness of the “Infinity Hotel.” In Eunju Pi’s own words, “Infinity Hotel” is the place of endless spaces. Amid societal rules and repressed emotions, it opens up a private space that offers the artist independence and stability, whilst allowing her to express her feelings and come to terms with her own vulnerability. “Infinity Hotel” becomes the artist’s sanctuary in a world where climate change and coronavirus have exposed the illusion of security and the fragility of human existence.
Miji Ih’s “A Seamless Loop” is a one-minute video artwork that illustrates Western stereotypes of Asian culture, and demonstrates the impact thereof on her own identity as a Korean contemporary artist based in Berlin. The frame is dominated by LED signs: “OPEN,” “SUSHI,” “NAILS OPEN,” “CHINESE TAKEOUT,” creating an amalgamation of Asian identities that echoes and simultaneously criticizes the frequent Western pigeonholing of diverse East Asian cultures into a monolithic, one-dimensional Asian culture. A supermarket trolley appears in the foreground: it contains a white polyester duvet, a physical counterpart of which is placed in front of the white-brick wall that serves as a screen for this video projection. These objects allude to homelessness; in this particular curation, they consist in the artist’s attempts to grapple with her feelings of dislocation as an Asian woman in a Western milieu, and how her identity is formed in this setting. Subsequently, a hand places a teacup in the foreground and attempts to smash it with a hammer. Here, the artist plays with the word “china” as a metonym for ceramic and porcelain tableware: in her artwork, the china cup becomes a mold that encompasses all East Asian cultures form a Western point of view. By finally managing to break it, there is hope that she can escape this narrow setting. However, this proves to be a Sisyphean task: as the title of this piece suggests, this is a never-ending circle of events, and she is brought back to square one. In the end, this loop mirrors the dynamic, never-ending process of identity formation: as an Asian artist in Berlin, she recognises that her identity is constructed at the crossroads of her own Korean background, the Western European setting in which she is based, and the stereotypes of Asian culture she comes across in her daily life and deconstructs through her art.
Installation by Eunju Pi, photo: BIANCA OTHMANN
Miji Ih, A Seamless Loop, photo: BIANCA OTHMANN
Miji Ih, A Seamless Loop, photo: BIANCA OTHMANN