– Autumn/Winter 2013

Haegue Yang: Untimely Histories

Tags: Haegue Yang

The Malady of Death — Monodrama with Jeanne Balibar, 2012. View of the performance, Staatstheater Kassel, 7 June 2012. Photograph: Krzysztof Zielinski. © 2012 documenta and Museum Fridericianum Veranstaltungs- GmbH. Courtesy the artist

Something untimely (an event, an action or a set of arrangements) happens at an unsuitable time; it occurs too late or too early, and causes an interruption in the flow of time, a dissonance with the present. The Latin root of the word is intempestivus, a composite of the negative particle in and the root tempestas (‘time’ or ‘season’), thus referring to something that is literally ‘out of time’.1 Contemporary authors interpret untimeliness as a form of anachronism, albeit one that ‘does not simply take place in chronological time; but that, working within it, urges, presses and transforms it’.2 Whereas anachronism has often been considered one of the greatest sins a historian can commit — a mistake in the chronology — for a number of modern conceptions of history such affront to temporal linearity became a useful tool with which to understand the present through the past and the past through the present. In his ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ (1940), for example, Walter Benjamin argued that historical materialists had to be aware of ‘a secret agreement between past generations and the present one’.3 More recently, Michel Foucault took inspiration from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Untimely Meditations (1873—76) to shape a genealogy outside of conventional historical continuity. For Foucault, untimely events such as ‘the errors, the false appraisals and the faulty calculations’ help us to search in the most ‘unpromising places, in what we tend to feel is without history — in sentiments, love, conscience, instincts’.4

Haegue Yang’s practice can be understood to approach history in an untimely manner. Accommodating the Epic Dispersion —

  1. The military rule that General Park Chung Hee instated in South Korea in 1961 became increasingly dictatorial in the early 1970s, following the implementation of Martial Law in October 1972 and the passing of a new authoritarian constitution in November of that year. The country was in a state of social and political turmoil until Park was assassinated in the midst of massive anti-government demonstrations in 1979.

  2. ‘Wessen Geschichte’ (‘Whose (His)Story’), Kunstverein Hamburg, 12 January—23 March 2008, curated by Yilmaz Dziewior and including work by, among others, Mircea Cantor, Diango Hernández and Gabriel Kuri.

  3. See Nym Wales (Helen Foster Snow) and Kim San, Song of Ariran: A Korean Communist in the Chinese Revolution (1941), San Francisco: Ramparts Press, 1973.

  4. Conversation with the artist, 16 July 2013.

  5. In spite of having fought on the side of the Chinese Communists for the liberation of Korea from the Japanese occupiers, Kim San is thought to have been executed in 1938, accused of being a Trotskyist and a Japanese spy. Nym Wales didn’t publish her book until she returned to the US in 1941, respecting San’s request to wait two years before publishing his story. See Doryun Chong, ‘A Small Dictionary for Haegue Yang’, in Karen Jacobson (ed.), Asymmetric Equality (exh. cat.), Los Angeles and Bilbao: Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) and sala rekalde, 2008, pp.149—50.

  6. Yang refers to the relationship between aesthetics and history in terms of an aporia of form and content, material and subject, abstraction and history — an aporia that she believes should be maintained rather than resolved. See T.J. Demos and Haegue Yang, ‘Accommodating the Epic Dispersion: Haegue Yang in Conversation with T.J. Demos’, in Julienne Lorz (ed.), Haegue Yang, Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2013, pp.56—84.

  7. ‘Lethal Love’, Cubitt, London, 22 February—5 April 2008.

  8. D. Chong, ‘Movement Studies’, Parkett, no.89, 2011, p.72.

  9. See Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text (1973, trans. Richard Millar), New York: Hill & Wang, 1975.

  10. Ibid., p.52.

  11. ‘Siblings and Twins’, Portikus, Frankfurt, 17 May—29 June 2008. This exhibition was part of a travelling project that Yang realised in 2008 across a series of venues, including the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (‘Life on Mars: the 2008 Carnegie International’, 3 May 2008—11 January 2009); REDCAT, Los Angeles (‘Asymmetric Equality’, 28 June—24 August 2008); sala rekalde, Bilbao (19 December 2008—15 April 2009); and Hamburger Kunstverein and Cubitt, mentioned above.

  12. See Marguerite Duras, The War: A Memoir (1985, trans. Barbara Bray), New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.

  13. See Maurice Blanchot, The Unavowable Community (1983, trans. Pierre Joris), Barrytown, NY: Station Hill, 2009.

  14. See François Dosse, ‘From Explosive Literary Mourning to the Pleasure of the Text’, in History of Structuralism. Volume 2: The Sign Sets, 1967—Present (1992, trans. Deborah Glassman), Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, pp.206—07.

  15. The book Community of Absence (2007), for example, which accompanied Yang’s presentation of Series of Vulnerable Arrangements — Version Utrecht (2006) at Basis voor actuele kunst (BAK) in Utrecht, brings together texts by a number of authors that refer to philosophical discussions around the notion of community, its role within contemporary art and, more concretely, within Yang’s practice. See Binna Choi (ed.), Community of Absence: Haegue Yang (exh. cat.), Utrecht and Frankfurt a.M.: Basis voor actuele kunst and Revolver, 2006.

  16. See M. Duras and H. Yang, The Malady of Death (trans. Heekyoung Chung and Doryung Chung), Seoul: Insa Art Space of the Arts Council Korea, 2008. The project unfolded progressively: first as a seminar at the New Museum, New York (4—5 December 2009); later as a dress rehearsal at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2 February 2010); and finally as staged readings in Seoul (2010) and Kassel (2012). In the last staging, as part of dOCUMENTA (13), the text was read by French actress and singer Jeanne Balibar.

  17. R. Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, op. cit., pp.66—67.

  18. M. Foucault, ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’, op. cit., p.148.

  19. See T.J. Demos and Haegue Yang, ‘Accommodating the Epic Dispersion: Haegue Yang in Conversation with T.J. Demos’, op. cit.