Science and art have a variably rocky relationship in contemporary culture; it is not unusual to encounter people who believe these fields to be opposites on the spectrum of human inquiry. But Meeson Pae Yang’s body of work rejects such binary thinking. Her practice utilizes the affective and technical qualities of the natural sciences to create large works and immersive environments that direct viewers’ gazes into the structures and processes that produce recognizable life. Her work is a pointed inquiry into how we use the technological to define and produce the presumably natural.
While many artistic projects that aim to integrate scientific subject matter often turn into rote demonstrations of a technological gimmick, or misunderstand the critical thrust of artistic practice, Yang’s subtle work conveys a sensitivity to aesthetic experience and demonstrates the ways in which art informs scientific vision. In Index (2005–06), a site-specific installation in the Sculpture Garden at El Camino College in Torrance, California, multiple vacuum-sealed bags full of sucrose solution float within a glass vitrine, and tubing runs from their openings to perforations in the vitrine’s walls and base. The effect is clinical: The orderly arrangement of plastic sacs reminds a viewer of intravenous bags in hospitals, the mainlining of vital nutrients into sickly bodies. The vitrine’s transparency invites one to compare the piece to the backdrop of lush, green plants in the nearby garden. Rather than propose a clear division between nature and technology, Index gestures to shared biological processes. Sucrose solution is often fed to plants to help them grow; the transfer of nutrients requires the same basic systems, whether that system be roots or medical tubing. This is not so much a comparison of the differences between the organic and synthetic but rather an assertion of systems as signifiers of affective meaning.
Yang’s material explorations using multiples reiterate the similarities between certain artistic practices and biological processes. The multiplication of structures ultimately produces a larger aggregate body. What often aesthetically separates the technological from the natural is an imposition of order; the former is presumed to be organized and predictable, and the latter chaotic and random. Entity (2006–07), like Index, moves away from these normalized oppositions and instead articulates a structural familiarity across both systems. The work’s orderly grid of identical Plexiglas pods reads like a clinical study, and the pods look almost like biological experiments under glass. A closer look at the pods reveals that plastic tubing is plugged into topographical maps on their bases. Entity asserts order only at one scale: Taken as a whole, the light and sound effects of the room pull a viewer into an immersive sculptural environment, but each pod refers to an environment larger than itself. The work suggests that only one way of looking implies technological control; all others point to a greater system.
Such orderly arrangements are not necessary components of Yang’s work, yet structure is always an important part of her practice. In Merge (IV) (2016), Yang uses the material interactions between ink, Mylar, and salt to produce the work’s organic shapes and pigments. Merge (IV) records natural processes, but Yang’s thoughtful interventions produce a biological aesthetic. Though the ink pools result from a passive, physical interaction, Yang’s active cutting, layering, and arranging of the results evoke the chaotic and unpredictable. One argument of Merge (IV) could be that the aesthetic of a natural process can be a cultural production; one must be as suspicious of assumptions of the natural as those of the synthetic.
The critical fascination of Yang’s oeuvre is the layering of signification and meaning within systemic knowledge. It is not a simple inversion of the organic and synthetic, but rather an exploration of the visual and affective cues that produce the recognition of a system: Which structures produce which meanings? What reads as technological or natural? Systems always point both inward and outward, toward both their constituent parts and their larger wholes. Yang’s work asserts that all systems—biological, medical, artificial—are also systems of signification.
Meeson Pae Yang was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California. She received her BFA in 2002 from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her solo exhibitions and projects have been shown internationally at Galerie Kashya Hildebrand (Zurich, Switzerland), ArtHK (Hong Kong, China), ARCO (Madrid, Spain), Contemporary Istanbul (Istanbul, Turkey), and Art Stage Singapore (Singapore), and nationally at LAUNCHLA (Los Angeles, CA) and Blythe Projects (Los Angeles, CA). Her group exhibitions include FuXin Gallery (Shanghai & Miami), Galerie Agentur 162 (Essen, Germany), Art 1307 (Naples, Italy), Eli Klein Fine Art (New York, NY), Kala Art Institute (Berkeley, CA), and Harvard University’s Carpenter Center (Cambridge, MA).