The Korea Herald


[Media Art Now] Yaloo’s mythical spectacle accommodates transhuman species

By Korea Herald

Published : June 13, 2024 - 16:35

    • Link copied

At first glance, Yaloo’s work is none other than an immersive spectacle in a baroque style. You may feel this way when you encounter her projections mapped onto media facades at a department store or at an airport, but more so when it takes the form of an audiovisual and architectural installation that seems to be a large organism in its entirety. And soon after, you will realize that the very sensorial captivation of her work unveils a densely-knitted narrative of a fictional universe in which scientific genetics and literary storytelling are interlaced.

Let’s dive into her "Underwater Trilogy (2020- )." First, "Homo Paulinella the Lab" experiments with the possibility of a hybrid species evolving from a genus of hominids and a genus of sea amoeboids. The new species called “homo paulinella” according to Yaloo’s worldview has a photosynthesis ability with myriads of tentacles, and its slippery and clammy bodies are aptly good at artistic activities, dancing and transforming themselves.

"Homo Paulinella the Lab: Photosynthesizing Post Human Scenario," video mapping sculptures, sound, 2020 © Yaloo (Courtesy of the artist)

Second, "Pickled City" represents a virtual ecosystem deep in the sea, where different transhuman species reside together. The idea of sea creatures here came from nudibranchs, a type of marine mollusc, that Yaloo came across in the waters of Ulleungdo. The sea slugs are noted for their luminous colors and amorphous shapes. What also inspired the formation of her underwater world is the "Baekje Gilt-Bronze Incense Burner." It is decorated by the leitmotifs of dragons and phoenixes with magic pearls, lotus buds and flowers, clouds and mountains, and so on. Embracing all beings on heaven, earth and water, its elaborate pattern is for Yaloo the most compelling portrayal of an ideal ecosystem where humans and non-humans coexist, or the boundaries between them are invalid.

"Pickled City Dive," 3D animation on LED panels, VR, scaffold, lights, dock ladder, steel pipes, pvc, steel curtain rails, and sound, 2022 © Yaloo (Courtesy of the artist)

The trilogy’s third part, "Birthday Garden," is suggestive of an archaeological site underseas, composed of a gateway, a shrine and a pond. Put another way, it is a temple-like sight where a sheet mask seems to be posed like an altar and guardian fairies that take after seaweed -- something in between plants and animals -- dancing to K-pop. Yaloo’s preoccupation with sea mustard, “miyeok” in Korean, as a material and as a metaphor, runs throughout the trilogy. The sea mustard soup is deeply embedded in Korean culture: a nutritional meal for women after giving birth, and a birthday dish for everyone. This marine plant set off Yaloo’s gender-conscious vision of a new world.

"Birthday Garden," installation environment with multi-channel video, sound, video mapping sculpture, 2022 © Yaloo (Courtesy of the artist)

Yaloo studied video art in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and teaches at the California Institute of the Arts. Working on digital mediums, she seeks to broaden their capacity to produce an allegorical critique of consumerism in today's media-driven environment. To this end, she turns to the traditional symbolism of Korean cultural heritage, such as shamanism, folklore and mythology, and adroitly assimilates it into the technological imaginary.

"Tteul of Kkot Gam Gwan," a site-specific short-form symphony in collaboration with composer Wonwoori, 2023 © Yaloo (Courtesy of the artist)

Among the cultural influences of the kind is a tale of the Seocheon Flower Garden commonly told on Jeju Island. A half-god, half-human gardener, “kkot-gam-gwan,” is in charge of this garden, and flowers in blue, white, red, black and yellow come into bloom in the east, west, south, north and center respectively. Having different lifespans and fortunes depending on their colors, the flowers are to foresee the future of newborn babies. This is a place where life begins. Yaloo’s repertoire includes “seolwi-seolgyeong” too, a ritual that involves reciting sutras to drive out evil spirits and pray for well-being, and involves carving paper with letters and pictures of various gods and hanging it around. For another thing, her latest work, "Roo 2024," with the title meaning a gazebo or a pavilion, features matrilineal seaweed-humans, and their headdresses appropriate the crown of Bodhisattva depicted in Koguryo tomb murals. In this way, folk culture and pop culture become characteristic ingredients of her mythological and ecological thinking.

"Roo 2024," 3D animation with sound, 2024 © Yaloo (Courtesy of the artist)

So, what does Yaloo’s work look like when you give it a second glance? Does it bring the image of a post-apocalyptic world in the future as presented in science fiction? Or is it reminiscent of a long-lost world of ancient times, like Atlantis? In her bizarre but beautiful underwater universe, the future runs parallel with the past, and, probably, she is excavating the temporal dimensions, both backward and forward, at the same time.


Kim Seong-eun, managing director of the Buk-Seoul Museum of Art, is an anthropologist in art and technology. She was previously the director of the Nam June Paik Art Center. -- Ed.