I Love You I Mean – The Brooklyn Rail
Hercule Art/Studio program
i love you i think
From July 14 to September 4, 2022
Joan Oh wrote “I love you, I think” in a cursive loop, to be sent and analyzed by the pseudoscience known as graphology. He claims to be able to glean a person’s true character through analysis of the formal characteristics of their handwriting. The graphologist responded in 2019, attaching an annotated copy of her note, circling the connections her pen had made between the letters. Joan Oh passed away in 2021, and now those places where the letters connect seem changed. Or rather, what they might mean has changed. When a three-person collaboration becomes a two-person team, the ties that held it all together need to be reassessed. Through i love you i think Mika Agari and Carol Hu begin the process of discovering what it means to pursue a collaboration in the face of notable absence.
The layout of the exhibition is such that the exhibition divides Oh’s work and this collaboration into two contrasting but inseparable segments. The first, dimly lit and dedicated to Oh, mainly shows work she has done or is developing independently, alongside her projects with Agari and Hu. The other segment is pear-shaped items, at the far end of the space, brightly lit and set up like a pop-up store, displaying textile and crocheted garments, glass beads, ornaments and jewelry .
pear ware is the collaboration founded by the three artists in 2018. Its name is ripe with puns, hair-raising language to intertwine 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 a foam net to protect it from bruising. Or the homophone “pair”, as two corresponding elements, or destined to join. “Ware” as merchandise, or homophonically “wear” as support on one’s body, and finally as erosion. Indeed, much of pear-shaped clothing appears as erosions of consumer-oriented clothing. Made to look like mesh, with holes too large to cover the body or protect against the weather, and often irregular in shape.
Likewise, in the first and largest of the exhibits, two segments, pear ware Quilt (2022), a work made from Oh’s t-shirts, is sewn without favoring a uniform shape. Instead, each shirt gets its own treatment for its shape to show signs of wear. He rests on a thin mattress, with four mp3 players strewn across it. Three televisions and a projector are scattered across the rest of the floor, surrounded by an array of miscellaneous accessories. A glass pear rests on an electrical outlet, a cracked plate rests on the floor below, a clear plastic container in the shape of an apple sits among other glass containers, a porcelain goose sits on another electrical outlet. Many appear as keepsakes that lighten the room with feeling. Together they symbolize the many facets of Agari and Hu’s lives that Oh touched.
Sitting on Quilt you can listen to the recordings made by Oh. Like his 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 a serious tone while singing to the dark. She speaks of love, of Ovid, of his needs, of his impotence. The rhythm of his words is tempered. Long pauses suggest she’s waiting for the words to come to her, as if she’s sitting there with you in her thoughts. In other recordings, these pauses create self-aware anticipation, knowing that you are the listener, listening. Although this feeling is found in all his recordings, ICT Tac (DATE) concisely prompts this tete-a-tete between Oh and his listener in which the jerky movement of the hands of a clock can be heard for about a minute, only to abruptly conclude with a statement, “check, check” . The third overriding quality of these recordings is its self-correcting approach to its annunciation. As she slips, she begins the sentence again. In Why (DATE) she attempts to utter the line “My biggest fear is being too easy to digest.” Something is going on with her articulation of the last word, and she stops, as if the word is growing like a bubble in her mouth and jumping to escape. She repeats the phrase several times afterward, emphasizing the word “digest” each time. Although digital, each audio recording openly reveals its edits in this way, rather than making them in post-production. This makes the records singular. Each has its own Archimedean point, while being abnormally full of errors.
Much of the used electronics, mp3 players, CRT televisions, and most notably the collection of old phones that sit on top of the projector displaying the video Bed— lend a dated feel to the atmosphere of the show, and add to a generational sense of obsolescence at the dawn of cellphone ubiquity. In two of Oh’s video plays, Notebook and Flaming Hot Noodles and Oreo Rolls: an interview with Mukbang (2018), she takes her parents and grandparents as her subject.
Notebook features her parents reading a spliced part of the script for the 2004 romance of the same name. Shot in front of a sneaker display, it takes place in 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 stage demands of its performers. Oh videos are lovely that way. Her parents are first-generation, and American romance affections are a counterpoint to the pragmatic approach they take to the screenplay.