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Bas’s work comprises three elegiac history paintings for a new millennium—some in technicolor pinks and mauves, some in muted greens and grays—and two smaller works. While neoclassical examples of this genre in earlier centuries commemorated lost wars and broken treaties, these bode a threat all the more fatal in that it threatens not to appear.
December 31st, 1999 (11:58 pm) (2022), for example, depicts an apprehensive man with the year 2000 New Year’s Eve glasses, in a basement, seated on his hands and staring down ramshackle CD stacks and three recklessly and copiously wired iMacs with large plastic water jugs assembled to his left in paranoid preparation for Y2K. Disco Demolition Night (2022) shows the eponymous event at Comiskey Park in Chicago, 1979, wherein attendees at a doubleheader baseball game were invited to contribute records to be exploded between the games. The ensuing fracas ended only with the appearance of riot police, and the field was so torn up that the White Sox forfeited to the Tigers. It was an overt mass expression of white resentment against the Black, Latin, and gay roots of disco. The gaunt young rocker depicted in Bas’s painting, standing in a field of vinyl flames and shards, ominously forebodes today’s reactionary American populism.
Xa’s fabrics echo Bas’s hues. Her quilts—Seven Full Moons (2022) and Vancouver Sunset (2022)—comprise linen and denim dyed and machine-stitched in staggered dim and neon patches. Their deliberately geometric arrangement reflects Xa’s training as a painter and evokes traditional Korean bojagi patchwork cloth. Her robes—Princess Bari (2022) and Kimchi rites, kitchen rituals (2022)—evoke, by their name and material, the ritual and freedom afforded by precolonial Korean shamanism. The liminal domain of the shaman (who was often an artist or artisan), set apart from rigid societal structures, allowed a space of freedom for women and those who transgressed the historical norms of Korean culture.
Xa’s work also features two animal puppets, hanging from the ceiling along string and thin wood bars, from a series called House gods, animal guides: respectively Horangi (Tiger) (2022), which is an orange tiger clothed in bojagi, and Halmoni (Grandmother) (2022), which is a white tiger clothed in bojagi. As the protagonists of Korean folktales are often animals who serve as vessels for human ideas and emotions, so these pieces speak to the enduring influence of ancient and colonial memory.
Thus, the work of Bas and Xa intersect not only at a point of shared hues and painterly composition, but also at the point of displacement and alternative times, primordial histories and afterlives. The dislocation they depict has already happened, and has long reached an irreversible pitch—be it Korea subject to Buddhist, Confucian, and Christian colonialism or America at the turn of the 21st century. But liminality is a form of freedom, and the disoriented landscape in Bas and Xa is also a dreamscape. “House Spirits” is aptly named; the exhibition shows that the historical events we memorialize continue to animate and alter our lives from the inside out. As we live in the face of death, change, and fear, we mirror the histories which brought us here. The call is coming from inside the house.