Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence
August 23, 2014 to November 9, 2014

A site-specific exhibition by Jason S. Yi will be on view in the State Street Gallery and lobby of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art from August 23 to November 9, 2014. Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence draws on phenomenology, contemporary installation, and the art historical tradition of landscape painting. From the spiritual significance of East Asian mountain peaks to the rugged sublimity of the American West, Yi taps into cultural mythologies of landscape as a point of departure to address visual perception, physical experience, and cognitive uncertainty.

Jason S. Yi is known for his remarkable ability to transform utilitarian materials into awe-inspiring installations that resemble mountains and other tectonic landforms. He has exhibited nationally and internationally in places such as New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, Japan, China, South Korea, Vietnam, Italy, and Austria. MMoCA has long been an enthusiastic supporter of Yi’s artistic practice: his work has appeared in numerous WisconsinTriennial exhibitions, and his iconic sculpture made from PVC tubing and connectors, Legend of the White Snake, was installed for two years on the museum’s rooftop sculpture garden.

As a major component of the exhibition, Yi is building a massive three-dimensional structure spanning the length the museum’s State Street Gallery. From a distance it will look like a mountainous, snow-covered landform emerging from the floor. As visitors approach the imposing sculpture, its humble materials and seemingly unstable construction will become increasingly apparent. With an internal network of wooden slats haphazardly nailed together and vertical strips of white Duct Tape overlaying the surface, this regal monolith, white and pristine from afar, gradually morphs into an odd jumble of everyday materials. The perceived fragility of the work’s physical structure further undermines the symbolic gravitas of its impressive monumentality, thereby complicating the symbolic purity, endurance, and power of the natural world. In purposely subverting our assumptions, Yi surprises and bewilders; his work exposes the experiential effect of expectation on how we subsequently interpret the world.

The exhibition also includes a series of extensive line “drawings” made with highly reflective, metallic tape. Angled and geometric, the tape wends a jagged path across the surrounding walls and windows, even extending onto the gallery floor to interrupt the path of visitors. The tape’s mirror-like surface offers viewers a distorted image of their own reflection, thereby prompting a heightened awareness of one’s physical presence within the space. Refracting both ambient and artificial light, the shimmering drawing, though static, creates an environment that appears to be in a constant state of flux. Yi even pushes the scope of his project beyond the gallery, moving onto the lobby’s prominent front wall. Again, he presents a series of artworks that hint at natural geologies while seeming to defy earth’s material constraints. A large silver sculpture, impossibly heavy in appearance, rests easily on top of a thin, wall-mounted shelf. The object’s apparent weightlessness is in direct conflict with its substantial heft.

From the rigorously erected yet rickety wooden structure, to the immobile but ever-evolving drawing, and to the anti-gravitational mass of the lobby sculpture, the physical contradictions embodied by each of the altered materials elicit a momentary disconnect between perception and cognition. Mistaking appearance for reality, our confidence in the world around us becomes destabilized.

During the entire three-week installation period, from August 4 through August 21, the artist’s relationship with museum passersby is serving as an integral part of the exhibition. The gallery’s huge windows onto State Street render the space literally transparent, prompting Yi to engage with the psychology of curiosity and audience expectation. Visitors are invited into the gallery during the museum’s hours of operation to observe the artistic process unfold and talk with the artist and his crew. Further playing with this push and pull of exposure and anticipation, videographer Aaron Granat is creating a series of short videos that offer an enticing glimpse into installation process. Released in periodic succession, the videos are being screened on the lobby’s flat screen monitor and uploaded onto the museum’s website (see below for videos).

Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence demonstrates the artist’s remarkable ability to transform materials and their surrounding architecture into an enveloping perceptual experience. On a deeper level, however, the exhibition interrogates the ambiguous domain of cultural identity. Yi and his family immigrated to the United States from South Korea when he was eleven years old. Growing up in a culturally Asian household on American soil made Yi acutely aware of the complexities surrounding place and identity. The simultaneous push toward American acculturation and nostalgic pull of his Korean heritage culminates in an unresolved tension, placing Yi in space of cultural displacement or in-betweeness.

A sense of uncertainty pervades his work: fusing the synthetic with the organic, he defamilarizes both the common materials he uses and the recognizable imagery to which his installations allude. Yi’s constructed landscapes are not just conceptual plays on the visible world. As disorienting spaces full of visual contradictions, they convey the shifting inner landscape of the artist's hybrid identity.  

An MMoCA Night’s opening celebration for Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence will take place on Friday, August 22 from 6 pm to 9 pm. The evening will include a gallery talk by the artist at 6:30 pm in the museum’s lobby. 

Generous funding for Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence has been provided by Perkins Coie, LLP; BioSentinel, INC.; MillerCoors; the Terry Family Foundation; The Home Depot; Identi-Tape Inc.; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers. 


Friday, August 22 6:30–7 pm
Jason S. Yi on A Fragile Permanence
Jason Yi is fascinated by human perception. His works call attention to how we first sense and then comprehend our surroundings, and often contain a contradiction. Although his recent sculptures appear at first to be imposing and powerful, they are in fact formed in part by materials such as snow fencing or tape. Yi transforms these ordinary materials to explore life’s incongruities and conflicts. State Street Gallery. $10 MMoCA Nights admission; free for MMoCA members.


Kids' Art Adventures
Kids’ Art Adventures invite families to make art together in MMoCA’s classroom following guided discussion of art on view in the museum’s exhibitions. Six- to ten-year-olds and their families should meet promptly at 1 pm in MMoCA’s lobby; children must be accompanied by an adult. Space at Kids’ Art Adventures is limited to thirty children and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Kids’ Art Adventures is generously funded by American Family Insurance. more »

October 12 · 1–2:30 pm
Jason S. Yi makes mountains from everyday materials like wooden slats and duct tape. Use duct tape to see what you can create.


Teaching Page
The Jason S. Yi teaching page provides analysis of A Fragile Permanence, biographical information on the artist, discussion questions, and links to additional resources. Effective as an introduction to a museum visit, the page also is valuable as an ongoing classroom resource.

Bring your students to MMoCA to engage with Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence. Learn more about tours here.


Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence; glimpses of the installation, part I. from MMoCA on Vimeo.

Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence; glimpses of the installation, part II. from MMoCA on Vimeo.

Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence; Libby and Tristan (Extended version) from MMoCA on Vimeo.

Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence; Portrait of Rick and Chloe from MMoCA on Vimeo.

Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence; Portrait of Jill & Will from MMoCA on Vimeo.

Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence; portrait of Ian & Claire from MMoCA on Vimeo.

Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence; portrait of Alex & Katy from MMoCA on Vimeo.

Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence; Portrait of Fred & Catie from MMoCA on Vimeo.

Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence; Portrait of Derrick and John from MMoCA on Vimeo.