October 2021 Bubble Coco 

2021 Review of Nancy Lang's Solo Exhibition'Bubble Coco’
Subject that Clashes with the Persona

From 'Taboo Yogini’ to 'Bubble Coco'  
Hong Kyung-han (Art Critic)

1. After witnessing Andy Warhol’s <Brillo Box>(1964), which was a copy of a detergent box that can easily be purchased at any grocery store submitted to an exhibition, Arthur Danto called it ‘the end of art’.

This was an announcement that meant what’s art and what’s not art cannot simply be distinguished by visual or cognitive experiences, and that art as mimesis based on traditional painting was over. It also meant that a product and art could no longer be distinguished visually.

Pop art best represented by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein was the outlet for modernism which was trapped in reproducibility and psychological reproduction, and it was a genre that readily accepted the pop cultural visual images, which are based on the characteristics of the public and the media, into the landscape of arts. It territorialized the points of intersection between art and pop culture, moved across the boundaries of the existing traditional art, humanities and sociology, and it transformed the foreign and heterogeneous into something that’s friendly and familiar.

At the beginning, pop art was “something popular, one-off, consumptive, cheap, and moreover, something that enables mass production, mass consumption, young, sexy, entertaining and attractive” (Richard Hamilton). It moved away from the abstruse that could be subrogated by the abstract and considered as realism aesthetics that can be recognized.

For half a century when pop art first started in England and America, pop art grew by consuming the complex mentalities, desire, preferences, defiance, order and disorder, life and death, and the fundamentals of life of the modern people of the past and the present. It sometimes seemed like a meaningless play in appearance, and sometimes was the act itself of objectifying private experiences. In terms of format, it captured the flesh of the contemporary times, expressing it in a symbolic and satiric, cute, bright and even shrewd manner through simplicity, distortion and exaggeration.
However, if pop art during the 60’s can be mostly characterized by ‘blurring the boundaries’ between fine arts and pop culture, the current pop of today after half a century is more complex, as it maintains the nature of the popular media and while combines the social emotions surrounding self-love(自愛). If pop art of the past responded sensuously to the superficial phenomena of the 50’s-60’s through contemporary icons, today’s pop is different in that it focuses on and resists the mechanism of suppression that operates behind such phenomena. In addition, this resistance is also against everything that disturbs our dreams and hopes, and captures criticism against the existing authority and system, and the trend of the times of misfortune and pain.

2. ‘Taboo Yogini’ Series and Scarlet Series, which represent Nancy Lang, belong to the latter. This is even more so as they do not reject the element of media and popular nature, and the materialistic nature(this is rather their characteristics) of pop which is art in the form of business is being passed down, but if pop art of the older generation was not critical about the reality and very volatile, Nancy Lang’s works focus on popularity, and although they can be classified as post pop in terms of their form of content and image hybridization, of combining the social emotions based on self-love, they are not hysteric or cynical. They are analytical, social and contain private preferences, unlike the other artists of neo pop which is the synonym for post pop, they are far from skeptical or futile responses. It would be right to say that they rather value positive and good influence.

For instance, Nancy Lang’s ‘Taboo Yogini’ that is being continued since 2003, is the taboo for what has been tabooed, and it is often interpreted as a guardian that realizes humans’ dreams. With Nancy Lang’s other self, Coco Chanel’, it also carries a footnote that it is a spiritual messenger that exists between God and humans. To borrow the artists words in order to further one’s understanding,

‘Taboo Yogini’ “has the meaning of living forever and not dying, and the artist captures inside her works the strong desire of wanting every human being on earth’s dreams as well as her own coming true.”

‘Taboo Yogini’ which is on the same line with the name Nancy Lang, expresses various characteristics. First of all, images of the gun and knife the yoginis hold, and the skeletons lying on the floor create a contrast with the ‘flower’ painted on one leg of the yogini, placing the yoginis themselves somewhere in the middle of good and evil. This is a symbolic device for the duality of humans.
Along with ‘Coco Chanel’ on the confusing and complex background, Gundam’s wings attached to the ‘Taboo Yogini’ stand out. The wings look as if they are hearts, and they deliver the feeling of queer anxiety, pain and the impression of fragility. That is why you can tell that ‘Taboo Yogini’ is an existence that has the duality of strength and fragility.

Together with the wings, another noteworthy element is the children that appear in the yoginis. These children who mostly have the face of a Caucasian girl is the symbol of innocence and fear hidden inside us. These girls who reflect just how innocent and immature we were in the past are the portrait of timid and feeble modern people as well as an image newly created in the world as they were crossbred with Nancy Lang’s sensibility.

Internally, 'Taboo Yogini' is not irrelevant to the monologue Nancy Lang shouts out to all of the world that is related to her. This is the part where we can recognize that the character 'Taboo Yogini' itself is a lonely existence, which strives to hide and suppress the agitation and fluctuation resulting from the inner dominant structure onto which the public eyes and autobiographical experiences are projected (therefore, it contains the meaning of discipline as well).

If we expand and view this, 'Taboo Yogini' is connected to the complex landscape-relationship that is innate in modern people. They are interconnected to so many people but in reality, such relationships are a feast of absence where there is no single truth in them, closer to the fundamental loneliness hidden behind the fancy appearance. There is deficiency, and desire resulting from such deficiency from the social structure that is composed of fixed world of symbol here. It contains primitiveness such as the latent dreams, desires, power, defense mechanism in humans.

Among them, desire is well explained through the luxury brand 'Channel' bags or the logo of 'Louis Vuitton' that is carved in the background of the picture in every 'Taboo Yogini'. Luxury brand item itself is the sign of desire itself, the sign of image, and compared to the psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan, sign as an image touches upon the subject of the subconsciousness that clashes with the persona, which is defined by the other.
As such, 'Taboo Yogini' is the dual state that humans are in, always in conflict and having to make selections between good and evil, and it is also the reflection of ourselves who must live with a poker face in order to hide not only the artist's emotions as well as other things, and this is expressed through the double-sidedness of a child and a strong robot. Ultimately, it is an immortal being that fulfills dreams, but one the other hand, it is an image of a very human-like, frank and primitive desire. At the same time, it is a character that backs freedom and healing. This character gives courage and prevents misfortune so that we can get through the tough and harsh reality.

3. Hyperrealism refers to the new trend of painting and sculpture that appeared during the late 1960's to early 70's, when pop art that originated from England and bloomed in the US started to decline. This which is described from a neutral perspective which completely rejects subjectivity under extremely real techniques, uses expressions that are more real than photographs as its weapon.

Following 'Taboo Yogini', Nancy Lang disclosed her new work based on hyperrealistic techniques, the 'Scarlet' series since 2019. Her hyperrealistic work which will also be exhibited in this invitational exhibition basically has the flow of following the root of the Greek art style of basically materialistically abundant realism and instrumental realism, idea or the norms of objects, and expanding the stage to works that directly face the objects themselves.

The 'Scarlet' series which was borrowed from Director Roland Joffe's film 'The Scarlet Letter’ is based on the artist's personal experiences, just like the 'Taboo Yogini', whose central formative element is artist Nancy Lang's innermost thoughts and autobiographical perspectives. As the English word scarlet (dark red, crimson) suggests, the title itself conveys asking questions about social stigmas and answering them.

A media interview describes that these works made her look back on the excruciating pain she felt as an artist from the perspective of the socially weak 'women', and ask questions about the unfair pain and social perspectives women across the world are experiencing through her Scarlet, but can be characterized by the message of coexistence and not confrontation.

Professor Hak-Cheol Kim of Yonsei university wrote about 'Scarlet' in his 2020 review, and it is as follows: "We have a social term called ‘social stigma. The term is used to describe an identity that has received irreparable damages due to the socially negative reputation it received. The artist was a victim and not a perpetrator, but still, some people stamped this social stigma on her. What would be the reason? That is perhaps because she is not the kind of woman who keeps a low profile and conforms to the norms. The artist refuses them. The Taboo Yoginis Scarlet Series are the results of such refusal."

I agree partially to Professor Kim's argument that the character 'Nancy Lang' which is different from the real person exists in our society, and also think that we need to pay attention to another domain that lies behind the colorfully painted and energetic flower. That is, if the combination of conflicting images of the child and a mechanical robot is the 'Taboo Yogini', 'Scarlet' goes beyond the coexistence of the tender and feeble flower and machine, which also has wounds, anguish, emptiness and so forth that are hidden behind the desires, the brightly shining and beautiful figure that changes every moment, just like the real flower that changes with time.

Indeed, in Nancy Lang's 'Scarlet' Series, which take up a part of the artworks submitted for this exhibition, one can find the question about the finite life of humans, death and consciousness of existence. From a perspective, her works which reminds us of the flower and fruit series of Mark Quinn released from the mid-2000's also contain narratives about the origin and the essence of life. Moreover, every human being is like a flower that can easily be hurt, and the fact that 'Scarlet' is a scentless flower, the question and answer about the flower and its existence in the speaker's consciousness are simultaneous.

The 'Scarlet' series also contains Nancy Lang's own grammar. For instance, the queer mechanical structures including the gun, cannon and motorcycle is a direct description that casts doubt on ordinary rituals (including those regarding femininity), and shows the power or negativism that tries to bring down a system of order and symbols. This can fully be understood just by the fact that 'Taboo Yogini' appear in the 'Scarlet' series. Here, the activation of protection and defense mechanism is effective as well.

4. ’Nancy Lang's 'Taboo Yogini' and 'Scarlet' vary in terms of their format, but they commonly contain the unique warmth, happiness, positivism and goodness(善). The artist's attempt at trying to embrace others unconditionally and intention to fulfill something for someone can be detected. This is the same with 'Coco Chanel', the cat with whom she spent a long time with.

As can be confirmed in the new works exhibited in this exhibition (2021 Nancy Lang Solo Exhibition 'Bubble Coco'), Nancy Lang's cat 'Coco Chanel' was reborn as Bubble Coco that has been planned for 3 years, it can live freely forever, exist anywhere, and the intention of Nancy Lang spread to every corners of the world, which made the cat sublimate to a multi-layered image that can encourage the dreams and hopes of everyone in the world.

The area also expanded under the exuberant passion for aesthetic experiments including the challenges of combining art and business, to include canvas oil painting, canvas acrylic painting, sculpture, art toy, 3D video, 3D plane, drawing painting on paper, photograph and illustration. In particular, the artist created 'Coco Chanel', which is originally a female cat, as a couple so as to express her intention in details that it is no longer lonely and can be united in one.

The 'Coco Channel' couple has a more expanded meaning of pop, an alternative benefit. The benefit here includes the popularity, commercial quality and desire of pop art. To add a little more about this, pop adds commercial values to the sign values art typically holds, and since the sign values create desires for marketability, that can definitely be called a pop element.

A new work that outstands among the works that used 'Coco Chanel' is the Bubble Coco Duchamp hommage. This work which appears with Marcel Duchamp's ready-made work ‘Fountain’(1917) not only expresses respect for Duchamp but also Nancy Lang's intention to position her work as not a simple listing of borrowed elements but as a result of learning and studies in the context of art history.

Nancy Lang's Duchamp hommage uses concept art as its body while combining various fields such as pop art, which announced ordinary objects as art, hyperrealism in her 'Scarlet' series, and as can be seen in her new works, the paper drawing, illustration, photograph and sculpture. In other words, through ready-made, intervention of placing objects or images in an irrelevant context, and documentation such as the sketch work submitted in this exhibition, it experiments the possibility of expansion toward concept art.

Of course, the familiar characters of the new works such as Doraemon, Mickey Mouse, Kaws and Atom move beyond their original meaning to continue the characteristics of pop and are used as examples that shows how the culture of foreign countries, the culture of individuals can have other meanings when moved to a different location. This is the same with the huge 'Bubble Coco' oil painting that floats as if swimming with air bubbles in the sky.

However, what draw's my attention is not the behaviors or shape of 'Bubble Coco' that is spread everywhere like Sonokong's other selves. It is the 'substitution(代替)’ of human nature, the floating and the desiring of something that lies behind. Humans are existences of 'plus de jour', and plus de jour faces yet another 'circulation of desires' that renders it meaningless once the object is achieved.

Therefore, 'substitution' has continuity under infinite deficiency. And needless to say, this continuity of 'substitution' served as the motivation that connected the experimental processes which continued for more than 20 years since her performance project titled 'Uninvited Dreams and Conflicts-Taboo Yogini' exhibited in the Venice Art Biennale 2003 in Italy. From my perspective, this is the element that is the most charming in Nancy Lang's works but the one which could not be revealed the most at the same time.

5. Whether it be celebrities or art stars, media report was the prerequisite for them to surpass their actual performance and become popular. The media moved beyond their uniqueness and essence and dealt with creating images, captured the targeted under the name of information, exaggerated, decorated and advertised. That is why the artworks created by celebrities serve as the reason for fame but one cannot deny that they are the by-products of fame.

The structure of the modern industrial society which enables the attitude of accepting images of pop culture as art still remains solid. In addition, the system which creates famous artists through fame is effectively being operated. That is not bad.

However, celebrities who paint go mostly unrecognized in terms of freshness in style and aesthetic differentiation. Their works are nothing but self-comfort without any stimulation and often a proof of poor ideas. Furthermore, their paintings make it difficult to expect that they will make some sort of special contribution to the course of modern art, and while they can be more valuable since they were made by celebrities, they tend to tilt toward economic values and not artistic values, and so they cannot avoid getting distanced from the authenticity of art.

Nacy Lang has been recognized as a figure in the broadcasting and entertainment business rather than in the art scene. She was definitely an existence between a celebrity and an art star, as well as someone, an image that was most frequently spoken of in terms of popularity, artistry and marketability.

However, Nancy Lang is different from the other 'celebrities who paint'. When artists become popular, they obtain a group who control access to them, but Nancy Lang was originally an artist before she became a celebrity, and her painting history(畵史) as evidenced by more than 20 solo exhibitions and numerous special exhibitions differentiate her from some of the other artists who were celebrities, as such painting history was not fabricated but a natural course of life (if there was no such differentiating point, I would not have accepted the request of writing this review).

She is open to reviews, which is an institutional bar of sort (an absolute majority of celebrity-turned-artists cannot pass this bar), and has pursued unique formative methods using various media such as performance, painting and dimensions on the stage of pluralism where communication with the audience is emphasized. The most successful example among them all is the 'Taboo Yogini'. 'Taboo Yogini' is the most symbolic art series of 'artist' Nancy Lang (that is why I allocated most of my review on 'Taboo Yogini' and the 'Scarlet' series. Even today, 'Taboo Yogini' is the identity of artist Nancy Lang).

What you can feel is not a listing of amateur techniques limited to formality but classification of learning the rules of the history of art, having the emotions of the others in the world, simplifying and organizing their essence and forming directions. This provides a clue as to how we can interpret Nancy Lang's works in the future.

It may not seem satisfying at first, but noble beauty can be created and complex works achieved. The new works exhibited after years of preparation are the results. This is a venue which delivers the message that "it is not the idea which create works that is important, but the idea of defining an artwork as a work of art holds the most meaning".