A young Yu

My work explores the experience of the Korean diaspora and new ways of grappling with heritage. Employing an autobiographical voice to also address larger sociocultural issues, I am interested in strategies aimed at resolving feelings of displacement and exclusion.

My current work draws inspiration from Korean folk traditions that have been important in not only shaping my own identity, but also have immersarbly influenced the Korean American community. Specifically, I explore spiritual practices rooted in pre-Buddhist shamanic religions. My grandmother was devoted to preserving these practices, especially in our new American home, as they were a tangible channel of communication with our ancestors and a way to memorialize departed loved ones. They carry intimate memories of family gathering to light incense in front of photographs and names written paper; they carry memories of abundant dishes smelling of pungent spices and prepared with the utmost care that the deceased will descend upon to consume and that we, also, will then consume together. The spiritual practices are an archive of personal and collective history and also emblematic of a resistance to Western culture.

Rather than preservation, I am drawn to the transformation of heritage. Rather than regurgitate shamanic rituals that speak to the deceased according to their pre-modern canon, I am interested in how they can be feminized, queered, and made my own. In response to questions of how rituals can continue to be passed down, I am invested in methods of disruption. I seek to complicate them to redefine sacred traditions. My work is not made to be an enactment of preconceived tenets, but a reimagination of how the ethos of ritual can be transformed to befit the present when it is no longer tethered to its original scripts.

I work primarily in large-scale installation, performance, and video. I construct immersive environments functioning as both a physical site of action and a breathing body, a body that is an extension of my own. The spaces I create have their own corporeality: oozing, bleeding, cracking, birthing, and decaying en continuum. I create spaces, for sacred rituals to take place, that are gushing with viscera at every crevice.  Multiple layers of rice, spices, and herbs—food ingredients used in shamanic rituals—in varying stages of rot make up the surface. Organic forms emerge out of the architectural structures, encoded with cultural signifiers, Korean silks and decorative tassels, and my own diaristic language. The spaces are meant to explode with hyperbolic excess and operate on an absurdity in internal logic. They are intended to be incubators, or wombs, that incite new rituals borne out of the poetics of chaos.

Performances range from reinterpreted traditional folk dances to theatrical embodiments of fictional characters. Most recently, in Trace My Body with Traces of My Body (2019), dancers perform a contemporary reinterpretation of the older, sacred movements. Meanwhile, I am costumed in my mother’s ceremonial hanbok with adornments, rubber pendants coated with ephemera. My actions engage materially with the space; they are intimate, ritualized gestures of pouring fluids, squeezing precious elements together, filling orifices with goo. I am also undressing, or rather being undressed, while peeling off a layer of latex mixed with red peppers from my skin. The performance is a ritual of renewal and the proposal of a new genesis.

The final culmination of each project is a video installation and series of photographs that serve as documentation of the spaces  performances and as autonomous work. Through these disciplines, I examine methods of translating visceral experiences into cinematic language.

My work digests inherited cultural mythologies and traditions into a dysmorphic narrative. The sacred is renegotiated and remolded to present a reality more leveled with lived experience and the personal. The result is ongoing processes of destruction and recreation.