Verging on the sociological, exhibitions organized around national or ethnic identities often reduce complex issues of difference and affiliation to easily consumed, nonthreatening snapshots of foreign cultures. While “Your Bright Future” seems cast in this mold, it cleverly avoids that pitfall by addressing the tensions and contradictions that vex the concept of national identity in an increasingly transnational world.
To begin with, eleven of the twelve artists either reside or were educated outside Korea, and many of the works explore a sense of transience and displacement. Haegue Yang’s installation of her artworks in shipping crates literally embodies this idea, while Do Ho Suh’s ghostly resin sculpture, Home Within Home, 2009, embeds a traditional Korean-style structure within a Victorian apartment building. Also with an eye on the domestic, Kim Beom fabricates trompe l’oeil household items out of food products, leaves them outside to disintegrate into the dirt, and records the process in a time-lapse video.
By framing such disparate works as “Korean,” the show invites a broader interpretation of national identity that embraces not only the diaspora but a pervasive sense of mutability. At the same time, it smartly eschews borderless internationalism, offering pointed critiques of political and economic imperialism that bespeak Korea’s recent history as a divided, postcolonial country. For example, Gimhongsok’s life-size stuffed animals look like tired Pop art, until you read the accompanying texts about Mexican and North Korean migrants paid a pittance to stand motionless inside them. More subtle but no less affecting is Bahc Yiso’s Wide World Wide, 2003, a disorienting world map in which the land masses are formed by rows of Korean text overlaid with English labels. Yet instead of the usual cities, states, and countries, the map denotes only the names of obscure locales, quietly defying both the viewer’s expectations and the imperial powers that carved the world into nation-states in the first place.