On ViewHercules Art/Studio Program
I love you, I think
July 14–September 4th, 2022
Joan Oh wrote “I love you, I think” in looping cursive, to be sent off and analyzed by the pseudoscience known as graphology. It claims to be capable of gleaning a person’s true character through analysis of the formal characteristics of their handwriting. The graphologist replied in 2019, attaching an annotated copy of her note, circling the connections her pen had made between the letters. Joan Oh died in 2021, and now those places where the letters connect seem changed. Or rather, what they might mean has changed. When a three-person collaborative becomes a two-person team, the connections that bonded the whole need to be reevaluated. Through I love you, I think , Mika Agari and Carol Hu begin the process of discovering what it means to continue a collaboration in the face of notable absence.
The exhibition layout is such that the show shares Oh’s work and this collaboration in two contrasting yet inseparable segments. The first, dimly lit and dedicated to Oh, primarily shows work she had completed or was developing independently, parallel to her projects with Agari and Hu. The other segment is pear ware, at the far end of the space, brightly lit and installed in pop-up shop fashion, displaying textile and crocheted wearables, glass beads, ornaments, and jewelry.
pear ware is the collaboration founded by the three artists in 2018. Its name is ripe with wordplay, ruffling language to interweave the national and the cultural, and the concepts of craft and art. “Pear” as in Bartlett and Bosc or the Asian pear often sold wearing foam netting to protect it from bruising. Or the homophone “pair,” like two corresponding items, or meant to join. “Ware” as in goods, or homophonically “wear” as in resting on one’s body, and finally as in erosion. Indeed, much of pear ware’s clothing appear as erosions of consumer-driven apparel. Made such that they are mesh-like, with holes too large to cover the body or protect from climate, and often irregular in shape.
Similarly, in the first and larger of the exhibitions two segments, pear wares’ Quilt (2022), a work made from Oh’s t-shirts, is stitched-together without prioritizing a uniform shape. Instead, each shirt is given its own treatment for its shape to display indications of wear. It lays on a thin mattress, with four mp3 players strewn on top of it. Three televisions and one projector are dispersed on the rest of the floor, surrounding it all is an array of diverse paraphernalia. A glass pear rests on an electrical socket, a cracked plate lays on the floor underneath, one transparent plastic container in the shape of an apple sits amongst other containers of glass, one porcelain goose placed on another electrical socket. Many come across as mementos that clarify the room with sentiment. Together, they symbolize the many facets of Agari’s and Hu’s life that Oh touched.
Sitting on Quilt you can listen to recordings made by Oh. Much like her video works, the exact date of their making is unknown, and the status of their completion unverifiable. They give the impression of being a mixture of poems, notes, confessions, dialogues or letters. Oh’s speech has an earnest tone while lilting to the somber. She speaks of love, of Ovid, of her needs, her powerlessness. The pacing of her words is tempered. Long pauses suggest she is waiting for the words to come to her, as if she were there sitting with you in thought. In other recordings these pauses build to self-aware anticipation, knowing you are the listener, listening. Although this sensation comes across in all of her recordings, TikTok (DATE) concisely arouses this tête-à-tête between Oh and her listener in which the jolting movement of a clock's hands can be heard for about a minute, only for it to abruptly conclude by an utterance, “check, check.” The third overarching quality of these recordings is her self-corrective approach to her annunciation. Upon slipping, she begins the sentence over. In Why (DATE) she attempts to speak the phrase “My greatest fear is being too easy to digest.” Something happens with her articulation of the last word, and she stops herself, as though the word grew like a bubble in her mouth and popped to escape. She repeats the phrase several times afterwards, emphatically pushing out the word “digest” each time. Despite being digital, each audio recording openly bares her edits in this way, instead of making them in post production. This makes the recordings feel singular. Each their own Archimedean point, while anomalously filled with mistakes.
Much of the electronics used, from the mp3 players, CRT tvs, and specifically the collection of old phones that rest on the projector displaying the video Bed—give a dated quality to the show's atmosphere, and add to a generational sense of obsolescence at the dawn of the cellphone’s ubiquity. In two of Oh’s video pieces, The Notebook and Flaming Hot Noodles and Oreo Rolls: A Mukbang Interview (2018), she takes as her subject her parents and grandparents.
The Notebook features her parents reading a spliced portion of script from the 2004 romance of the same name. Filmed in front of a display of sneakers, it takes place at Oh’s parents’ shoe store in Chicago. They do several takes, each with slight variations in their reading, clearly challenging them to express the intimacy the scene asks of its performers. Oh’s videos are charming in this way. Her parents are first generation, and the affections of the American romance are counterpoints to the pragmatic approach they take to the script.