An Awkwardly Beautiful Dance
By Brandon SwardOctober 11, 2023
I am relatively certain that I know the best work of art ever created. Not the best by me, but by anyone, including most of my friends, people I’ve never met, and perhaps by Rachel Youn. The answer, of course, is the piece by Félix González-Torres, “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers). This artwork consists of two identical clocks installed side by side. While initially synchronized, the clocks might fall out of sync over the course of a month. One might even run out of batteries first. The piece is often understood in relation to Ross Laycock, González-Torres’s long-time partner, who died of complications due to AIDS in 1991. González-Torres would go on ticking until also succumbing to the virus five years later.
Rachel Youn has borrowed González-Torres’s subtitle for the centerpiece of Well Adjusted, their current solo exhibition at Night Gallery in Downtown L.A. But in place of clocks, Youn has substituted two motors from baby rockers, connected not by a wall but rather by a metal bar that winds across a pile of white sand. From each extends an artificial plant. These bump gently against one another in an awkwardly beautiful dance, sometimes closer together and sometimes further apart. Yes, one of the motors might give out first, but the decision to use artificial rather than organic plants feels like a missed opportunity. The slow death and degradation of a flower over the course of the show would resonate so well with the themes Youn seeks to explore.
Indeed, the baby rocker is one of those deliciously capitalist products that demonstrate just how much of our lives has been reinterpreted through the lens of efficiency. Rather than being a moment of intimacy to be savored, the rocking of a baby is a task that can just as easily be outsourced to a machine. In Youn’s hands, these commodities are turned against themselves, becoming purveyors of the absurd. A large plastic frond extends from where the crotch would be on a simple white dress hanging from the wall, jerking up and down like a confused phallus. Another composition of artificial flowers, branches, and grass shakes as though in an earthquake. Lest we interpret it as some commentary on our relationship with nature, four tiny yellow Crocs encasing each of the sculpture’s feet suggest otherwise.
Despite referencing the natural world, Well Adjusted feels profoundly social. Ranging from massagers to exercise bikes, these devices are the tools we use to deal with the limitations of our bodies, either by taking care of them or trying to extend their limits. In another layer of potential meaning, the press release describes how Youn “often sources their motors from Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace,” requiting “small interactions with strangers around their New Haven home.” I’m left wondering about these strangers and these interactions. What motivated them to invite these objects into their lives, use them for a bit, and—ultimately— send them away?
Photo by contributor.
LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.
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