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Review: Haegue Yang’s surreal escape at Tate Liverpool

Haegue Yang’s surreal escape at Tate Liverpool

Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith

On my way in to Tate Exchange to visit our writers-in-residence this month I stumbled across a jungle. Concrete, green, all of it. It was unexpected. I missed the usual press previews for Liverpool Biennial this year, so I keep getting this warm fuzzy feeling that you only get when you stumble across things. And Haegue Yang’s installation on the ground floor of Tate Liverpool is exactly that.

It’s a joy to stand within. Regardless of the artistic integrity, contemporary thought, folk tradition etc. that has gone into it, it’s an inspiring place to be. While I was there, three visitors were sat with notepads, not drawing, but writing. One was writing a story about something she had imagined in the space, forest creatures mingling with city dwellers, finding love, enjoying life and blending cultures.

The Intermediates form the base of the exhibition, a sculpture series based on folk craft traditions & modern industrial methods. They are built from artificial straw, and based on traditional wicker sculpture, partly inspired by paganism, so would probably do a fair job of inspiring stories without the rest of the installation. But the beds of artificial plants, imported sand, and imagined floor-to-ceiling landscapes surround these outlandish creations build a voice for the occupants of Tate Liverpool’s Wolfson Gallery.

Folk as a strand of this installation that speaks the loudest, because of its vagueness – what traditions are being observed is unclear. It helps. The disparity between the appearance of urban folk, and forest crafts is intriguing, and part of the exploration you find yourself undertaking here. Maypoles lead up to the ceilings around the sturdy industrial pillars of the docks, twisted into a reverse product of a morris dance gone slightly wrong, speak of England, perhaps a slight dig at the questionable traditions of the dance which pulls you up and away from the green and diverse walls.

The space feels fast, but not fluid. And has an energy like nothing else in the Biennial.
Haegue Yang is an artist who is interested very much in the passage of time on a grand scale. Born in South Korea, she now works between Berlin and Seoul, but her personal history doesn’t seem reflected here. This is different to many other responses to this year’s Biennial theme in that her ‘Beautiful World’ is observant rather than reflective.

Upstairs at Tate there are more Liverpool Biennial installations to explore, but they have a different sense of identity entirely. Dale Harding takes inspiration from his own genealogy for his world, inspired by rock art sites in Queensland; Duane Linklater focusses on Canada’s indigenous communities, their fur trade, their beliefs and their traditions in the modern day; Annie Pootoogook’s are autobiographical, very violent, very prying drawings of Inuit communities; and Joyce Wieland draws on her own anxiety about Canada as an unfortunate neighbour to Trump’s America.

The vast separation to outward looking work downstairs in Haegue Yang’s installation, from upstairs in the collective exhibition is fascinating.