Young Sun Han’s practice is steeped in performance and the investigation of identity, often through acts and their translation into images and often in a manner that unapologetically foregrounds deeply personal concerns.
In the series, sooner later, which focuses on themes of family, death and memorialisation, one of the central images, A Slow Walk, capturessome of the essence of Han’s work. The artist faces the camera, dripping in what might be glue paste but also resembles a sort of afterbirth, while behind him his father lies in a hospice bed and his mother sits in a wheelchair. In this image the artist’s striking presence is contrasted with the unfocused figures in the background, forming a loose map of the ties between generations and the links and relationships that shape identity.In Belated Ceremony, from the same series, Han’s Korean heritage is displayed in an elaborate and colourful tableau of traditional food, clothes and decorative objects, forming a memorial, an offering to death and a celebration of life.
The representation of bodies is a thread that weaves throughout Han’s practice, most noticeably in the exhibition InvAsian! in which the bodies of Asian men are foregrounded in large format digital prints. With blinding light emitting from their eyes, the men in these images are imbued with an agency and sexual force that both welcomes but also refracts the objectifying gaze. In a similar fashion, Han’s 2010 work Dance of the Cockatrice, draws attention to practices of looking and the power that can reside in images through a performance of gestures, named after the mythical beast whose stare could turn one to stone.
Han also translates his infatuation with looking into object based works. In The Trespasser, peepholes are drilled into a found, lacquered cabinet that echoes with 19th century Orientalism. However the peep holes display not titillating scenes of exoticism, but foreclosed buildings in depressed areas of Chicago. Han displaces our expectations to observe something different and other – as viewed from a set of white and Western value-preferences – and instead offers an emptiness, a void, that refuses or confuses the othering look.
The artist’s recent work investigates the practices and rituals of bathing, through enacting and photographing himself washing strangers. This body of work speaks to earlier pieces where Han facilitated performances in which strangers embraced for long periods of time in public gallery spaces. His wish to connect with strangers alludes to the paradoxes of desire – and sometimes, specifically to queer male paradigms – where the ‘random hookup’ or experience of voyeur are fetishised yet always disrupted by yearnings for ‘real’ intimacy.
In Peripheral Fantom Index, Han explores new histories of image-making through the lens of tumblr and Instagram alongside the use of found and vintage photographs from North Korea, continuing a practice that is immersed in the very making (and re-making) of representations.
Essay by Henry Davidson
Born: Illinois, USA
Lives: New York, USA
Education: Kunsthochschule fuer Medien, Cologne, Germany; Bachelor of Fine Arts, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Goldsmiths College, University of London
Awards/Distinctions: Windy City Times, Chicago - 30 Under 30 Award (2012); Bravo's Work of Art, Season 2, USA – Runner-up (2011); ONE DAY SCULPTURE curatorial bursary, Litmus & Creative NZ (2009); Trust Waikato National Contemporary Art Awards - Finalist (2008); Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange scholarship, Germany (2006); Union League Civic and Arts Foundation Scholarship (2005); Annual Collegiate Artists Competition - 1st Place in Photography (2005); Fred Endsley Fellowship (2004)
Collections: The James Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland
Public Exhibitions: Male Nudes, Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, Auckland (2013); bool-sa-jo, Finalists Exhibition, Bravo’s Work of Art, Season 2, Phillips de Pury, NY (2011); Featured Artist, NY Times Headquarters (2011); Con/struct, Pigment Gallery, Midsumma Festival, Melbourne (2011); Sliding Mirror: 24 Hour Embrace, 4A Centre of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2010); Last Words, Phase 2, 4A Centre of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2010); Without Expectations of Comfort, NEXT Art Fair, Chicago (2010, 2009); Skins, Outdoor Billboard Project, Auckland (2009); 24 Hour Embrace, Swimming Pool Project Space, Chicago (2008); Mr. Universe, Wallace Trust Feature Artwork, The Dowse, Wellington (2008);TheMaui Dynasty, The Suter, Nelson (2008); Bridge Art Fair, Miami and Berlin (2008); Trust Waikato National Contemporary Art Awards, Waikato Museum (2008); Schaetzchen (Babe), Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne (2006); Finding Father, Gallery X, Chicago (2005); Art Futura: Exhibition of American Art, RIC Center, Chicago(2005); Photography, Renaissance Society Annual Benefit, Chicago (2004)
Publications/Articles: ‘30 Under 30’, Windy City Times, Jun 2012; ‘Breaking the Door’ by Nayun Lee, First Look, Korea, Spring 2012; ‘Finale Recap: The Drama's Done’ by Jerry Saltz, www.vulture.com, Dec 2011; ‘Bravo's Work of Art’ by Michael Workman, Flash Art, Nov-Dec 2011, pp 36-38; ‘'Work of Art' Goes Pop’, Entertainment Weekly, Nov 2011, Issue 1179; ‘Art Notes’ by Sue Gardiner, Art News NZ, Winter 2010; LAST WORDS Exhibition Catalogue, Essay by Sam Zammit, 4A Centre of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2010; ‘Talent Show’ by Rose Hoare and Sarah Murray, Sunday Magazine, May 2010, pg 21; ‘Young Sun Han Performance’ by John Hurrell, EyeContact Blog, 18 Apr 2010; ‘Newcity's Top 5 of Everything 2009…’ by Jason Foumberg, New City Chicago, Dec 2009; ‘A '24 Hour Embrace' with Young Sun Han’, Juxtapoz Magazine, May 2009; ‘Space invader: Young Sun Han pushes us together’ by Felipe Delerme, The Fader Magazine, May/Jun 2009, No. 61; ‘Young Sun Han’, They Shoot Homos Don't They, Issue 5, 2009, pp 78-80; ‘Artist Profile’ by Jason Foumberg, New City Chicago, Jan 2009; The Maui Dynasty Exhibition Catalogue, The Suter, Nelson, 2008; Unlimited: A Year of City Art Rooms, Auckland: City Art Rooms, 2008; ‘Spanish touch still resounds 200 years later’ by Terry McNamara, The NZ Herald, Nov 2007