Yunmee Kyong creates sculptural installations, paintings, prints and performances which explore ideas of ritual, religion, and cultural identity. Her Korean heritage fosters her interest in the circumstances and characteristics of other cultures, her country’s own history of colonization and resistance in the shadow of “super-powers” an integral part of her identity. For the Gowanus residency, she focuses on the inherent violence in both nature and mankind, and the ways in which beauty and violence are intertwined. The sacred sublimity of nature is belied by a long history of destructive seismic activity; ceremonial traditions and elegant military dress are unable to disguise war’s unavoidably bloody reality. Kyong explores the idea that human nature—its discord and brutality balanced by compassion and love—is reflected in the earth’s own evolution, its powerful geographical transitions balanced by decades of peaceful harmony. Using silkscreen and a lithographic technique with polyester “pronto plates,” she constructs a mountain peak out of individually screened “sections,” collaging them together directly on the gallery wall. Individually abstract, like creviced rocks, the composition is revealed when all hang together, her process evident in the still-rectangular format of the printed page. Silkscreened fabric (which can reference the frequent commercial use of silkscreen for textiles), drapes from the mountain’s base to the floor. Leaning against the landscape is a pair of wood-backed wrestlers, locked in conflict, their bodies reflecting the same ragged texture of the peaks above.

Individual prints and collages continue Kyong’s exploration of the theme, but provide additional evidence of her fascination with the customs and costumes of native culture. Pre-Columbian history and the subsequent arrival of Columbus in the New World are of particular interest; Kyong uses the theme to question the positive and negative effects of cultural change. In this case, the welcome exchange of goods and trade ultimately leads to unwanted colonization. One of Kyong’s images exemplifies this dichotomy, featuring a European brandishing a “Small Pox” blanket, like a toreador’s cape, in front of a Native American strapped with a huge husk of corn. Kyong also creates a ritualistic display of potatoes and candles, referencing the vegetable’s introduction to European culture and the interchange of ideas between the two worlds. Her concern with the social constructs of religious violence, and the effects of proselytization, are evident in large-scale collages, where figures seem on the verge of colliding, silkscreened shards of paper invading the compositions at sharp angles. Kyong’s use of printmaking supports her imagery—the inky impressions deny fragility or fussiness, enforcing the strength of her subject matter and providing cohesiveness to her forms. Printmaking provides Kyong with a tool associated with dissemination of knowledge and, therefore, an exchange of information, echoing her concern with cultural progression and identity.

- Maggie Wright