Although Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence is no longer on view at MMoCA, this teaching page is valuable as an ongoing classroom resource. Here, you can find information on the art, the artist, key ideas, discussion questions, and additional resources.
Visually arresting and infinitely interesting, the work of Jason S. Yi compels viewers to take a closer look, and in doing so, become physically and conceptually aware, both of work itself and also of their relation to it. Working in a wide-ranging practice that spans various disciplines including photography, video, sculpture, drawing, multimedia, and interactive installations, Yi is able to convey conceptually complex ideas in engaging ways. Such is the case with his current project, a site-specific exhibition titled Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence. Though he uses utilitarian materials, his installations allude to traditions of 19th century Western European Romantic and East Asian landscape painting, the physical forms of land masses, and predispositions of human perception.
Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence is comprised of four main components, the whole of which spans an approximately 2000 square foot gallery and the museum’s lobby. Over a three-week period during which curious passersby could watch the work develop, Yi unveiled four works that are unified in concept and visual form. The major component of this exhibition is a massive structure resembling a snow-white mountain range emerging from the gallery floor and engulfing three center walls. At first imposing and majestic, a closer look reveals that this “mountain” is made of wooden slats nailed together in a seemingly chaotic and precariously fragile way, and meticulously covered with thin strips of white duct tape.
Surrounding the mountain form is a series of line “drawings” made with highly reflective, metallic tape that weaves a jagged path across the gallery walls, windows, and floor, resembling lightning bolts striking from above. The mirror-like surface of the tape reflects ambient light, activating the space and distorting viewers’ reflections in the gallery. Brightly lit flood lamps placed around the gallery further enhance the environment. As a viewer follows the “drawing” around the gallery, the shifting and shimmering of the tape’s surface creates a sense of motion.
In the lobby of the museum, Yi presents two more works that hint at natural geologies while seeming to defy earth’s physical constraints. A large silver sculpture rests on two thin, red brackets, appearing to have significant weight and be impossibly weightless at the same time. The artist noted that the sculpture could be rearranged into a large mountain form, but he instead presented the mass as collapsed and bound. Next to and below this sculpture are four square pegboard panels, painted white. On the panels, intricate line drawings evoking topographical maps contrast with textured foam shapes resembling islands as seen from above.
Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence demonstrates the artist’s remarkable ability to transform familiar, functional materials into beautiful and complex environments. Yi is able to activate space with as little visual information as possible, creating an environment in which people also feel activated, both physically and mentally. The environments Yi makes are reminiscent of landscape, but are not like any naturally occurring landscape, so viewers may feel somewhat disoriented. He writes, “A sense of location within one’s physical space and culture plays a crucial role in the creation of my work.” His work is riddled with complexities that reflect the tension of cultural displacement and the issue of identity, presented in a sophisticated and engaging aesthetic form that everyone can relate to.
Jason S. Yi was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1963. When he was eleven years old, his family emigrated from Korea to begin a new life in the United States. Yi was able to assimilate to American culture more easily than his parents, who were keen to hold on to their Korean traditions. Growing up in a culturally Asian household on American soil made Yi acutely aware of the complexities surrounding place and identity, and also raised questions about his own heritage and past. His father was an artist as well, who was equally adept at making traditional Asian style landscapes and Western style oil paintings. Seeing both styles while growing up inspired Yi to take an interest in landscape as a metaphor, an idea which later surfaced in his own art. He states, “This early childhood fascination with depictions of landscape attuned my sensibilities toward natural environments and their ability to influence and reflect perceptions of culture, history and place.”
Yi received a master of fine arts degree with an emphasis on sculpture from the University of Georgia and a bachelor’s degree in architecture at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. As his work gained the attention of galleries and museums, he moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to begin teaching at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, where he is now a professor. He has received numerous fellowships and his work is represented in public collections in the United States and Japan. In 2006, the Milwaukee Arts Board named him Milwaukee Artist of the Year.
- Art made from everyday materials
- Balance between form and content
- Cross-cultural identification
- Activating the viewer’s orientation to landscape
- Self-awareness of the processes of understanding and creativity
- Do you recognize the materials that Jason S. Yi uses in his work? What do you think of the way the materials relate to what they depict or represent? How can the material change the way you think about a work of art? What materials might you use to create your own art?
- Why do you think landscape is so important to the art that Jason S. Yi creates? Does landscape have a special meaning to you? Does being around Yi’s work make you feel the same way you would feel in a real landscape? How does it feel similar to or different from other landscapes you have been in?
- In what ways do you think your physical environment affects you? How do the things you see every day influence you? If you made art that reflected landscapes that are important to you, what shapes might you use? What landscapes have been a part of your own life?
- Yi is interested in making art that helps people realize they are using their imaginations and creativity while looking at it. How would you describe the way your mind was working while looking at and analyzing his work? Did you come to any realizations about the work, yourself, or others? Why might this have happened?