26 January 2023 - 5 May 2023
Mercer Union’s SPACE billboard commission has invited artist Lotus Laurie Kang for its 2022–23 season for a yearlong series titled, Mother Always Has a Mother. Known for her sprawling installations and distinctive material repertoire, Kang’s practice is a dialogue with entropy. Elegantly disordered and richly layered, her site-sensitive works explore the relational bonds between time, personal history, and cultural knowledge. They seek to disrupt a human-centred perspective of the world with a broad curiosity for life and matter tangled in states of exchange that produce and are reproduced by their environments.
Sunlight, Kang’s earliest collaborator, accumulates and rewrites much of the photographic works for which she is best known. While materials like steel, silicone, perishable or manufactured goods assist as other forms of carriers. In Mother Always Has a Mother the artist offers something new, working for the first time with textiles to produce a series of three sculptural works that translate ideas of inheritance, loss, and lineage through the vernacular of seams, frayed edges, and folds. A deconstructed industrial grain bag suggests the pattern from which Kang assembles the works in this series in heavy cloth. Each edition features reproductions of renderings by the artist in photographic chemistry. Conjuring memory of her paternal grandmother, who opened a seed and grain shop in Seoul after fleeing North Korea, the artist contemplates the grain bag as evidence of an accelerated world. Mother Always Has a Mother considers what we carry by revealing the tension between conscious memory and embodied knowledge: one coded in time, the other in flesh; each in continual transformation.
The title Mother Always Has a Mother is borrowed from the chapter “Grandma’s Story” in Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism (2009) by Trinh T. Minh-Ha. Burnt Orange features tracings of images sourced of pine mushrooms, tangerines, the poplar tree at the JSA (Joint Security Area) in the Korean DMZ, and biofilm. — Lotus Laurie Kang
Burnt Orange is the second edition in the yearlong series; accompanying the work is a text written by Diana Seo Hyung Lee that can be found below.
Installation views: Lotus Laurie Kang, Mother Always Has a Mother: Burnt Orange. Commissioned by Mercer Union, 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Vuk Dragojevic.
Burnt Orange: Sticky, Mothers
When my son was 20-months-old, he would let out the sounds “mm-ma-ma,” not to call out to me, but to express need. Perhaps the “m” sound is a phonetic equivalent for want of care that attaches itself to the figure of the mother—the one we turn towards for our needs. I started wondering, or rather it dawned on me recently that I might have named my son “Mark” because I wanted this connection mimicked in his name.
For much of my life, my mother has treated me less as her daughter and more as someone who would later become a wife, daughter-in-law, and mother. I have an early memory of resisting to bathe and my mother saying to five year old me, “if you are not in the practice of taking care of your hygiene, one day your mother-in-law will wonder, ‘who is her mother that she does not know how to take care of herself?’” I remember acquiescing to her roughly scrubbing my skin and making me sit in what felt like boiling water after she gave me this type of talking-to.
Years passed but her words would keep echoing within me, and I thought, if I never became anyone’s daughter-in-law or mother, perhaps my mother and I would have a chance at a relationship. I mistakenly believed that my desire to have a child was a sign of finally having let her go, but my son’s name stands as evidence, making a mockery of me; I have not let go of her, I have just created a way to call out to her without addressing her.
Whenever I call Mark, I feel the sticky vibration of the “ma” touch the inside and outside of my lips. It feels soothing and I want to keep calling to him. For a while I savored the days before he could speak and others would have to ask me for his name. I’d turn to them and say with glee, “His name is Mark.” I was delighted the day he finally said to me “I’m Mark!”, taking his chubby index finger pointed at his round, protuberant toddler belly. “Yes, you are!” I exclaimed, embracing him. I could pretend that my enthusiasm was at his articulation, but I knew that it was because it felt as if I had finally received a response, not that my son had become my mother but that his confirmation affirmed my want of maternal care—it is not futile, nor shameful.
I realize that through Mark I have arrived at a new vantage from which to move through the personal grief between my mother and me. I think of all the words for mother that I know: mama, mom, mum, mère, 엄마 (umma) and I envision them like a bag, vessel, carrier, and holder. I understand that my mother has also had a mother, that I am a thread within a dense weave that holds us together, our memories as well as our futures.
It is not an accident that my child, like my mother in her youth, is fearful of bubbles that form on the surface of milk. She used to say to me, “너도 나중에 애 낳고 키워봐 (wait till you have and raise your own child).” While puncturing every bubble with a spoon, I mutter under my breath “엄마, 나도 이제 엄마야 (mother, I too, am now a mother).”
—Diana Seo Hyung Lee
Lotus Laurie Kang is an artist working with photography, sculpture, and site-responsive installation, whose work takes up the body as an ongoing process and environment. Recent solo and two-person exhibitions include Helena Anrather, New York (2021); Franz Kaka, Toronto (2020); and Oakville Galleries (2019). She has participated in group exhibitions at Cooper Cole, Toronto (2022); Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver (2022); The New Museum, New York (2021); SculptureCenter, New York (2020); Remai Modern, Saskatoon (2019); and Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran, Montréal (2019). Artist residencies include Triangle Arts Association, Brooklyn (2022); Horizon Art Foundation, Los Angeles (2022); and Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity (2020). She holds a Master of Fine Arts from the Milton Avery School of the Arts at Bard College, New York.
Diana Seo Hyung Lee is a writer and translator born in Seoul, South Korea and raised in Queens, New York. Her writing explores opacities or obscurities between language and memory and has appeared in publications including Art in America, The Brooklyn Rail, and Momus, among others.
SPACE invites one artist to produce a yearlong series of images for a public-facing billboard located on the east façade of Mercer Union. Lotus Laurie Kang’s Mother Always Has a Mother: Burnt Orange (2023) is the second edition in a series of three billboard images commissioned by Mercer Union.
Kang would like to thank Laura Honsberger for production assistance.
Image: detail from Lotus Laurie Kang, Mother Always Has a Mother: Burnt Orange, 2023. Courtesy the artist. Commissioned by Mercer Union, Toronto.