JOHN HEE TAEK CHAE: A DARK AND BLOODY GROUND
A DARK AND BLOODY GROUND: November 17, 2023-January 13, 2024. Opening Reception Friday, November 17th, 5-8PM. About an hour’s drive east of Lexington, Kentucky sits the town of Mount Sterling. Established in 1792, the settlement was initially named “Little Mountain Town” after the colossal burial mound that once rested at its center. Constructed roughly 2,000 years ago by the Adena people, the Little Mountain Indian Mound was 25 feet tall and 125 feet wide, a heavy presence in the heart of the land. In 1845, European settlers removed the ancient mound in order to build a house. Arrowheads, beads, stone tools, and human bones were discovered within; the skeletons were found with strings of shells around their necks. A sacred site is reduced to a flattened crossroads. Elsewhere, new buildings are erected with eternity in mind. As Americans, we are encouraged to claim this country from childhood. We are taught to sing: “This land is your land, this land is my land…this land was made for you and me.” The children of immigrant families are encouraged to build something for themselves, to override what has been lost by attaining a new dream. Stories of another land both affirm and confound us––we have come to belong here, yet cannot ease the longing for a place we may have never seen. John Hee Taek Chae’s A Dark and Bloody Ground echoes the distant past, blending historic residues to illustrate an imaginary homecoming. He explores our collective of mutating stories, challenging the sense of lack that drives so many to pack up and start over again. Chae’s materials echo these cycles: the wooden frames supporting each artwork are recycled from a previous body of work, revealing taglines––“perpetual foreignness” and “we know so little of us”–– that take on new meaning. Patchwork canvases are printed with cyanotype, yielding vague and hazy maps and landscapes in rich, fluid blue. Anonymous yet familiar, the prints are made from AI-generated images. Chae merges historic maps, East Asian brush paintings, Western oil paintings, and photos of wooden masks. Mutations abound and chaos is organized into an uncanny equilibrium. Small, shining landscapes float on the reverse of these uncertain scenes: paintings by Albert Pinkham Ryder, George Inness, and James McNeill Whistler are blended into glimpses of a perfect, promised land. The resulting images reflect all the qualities of American Tonalism, an artistic movement that preceded the First World War. Glowing and rich with atmosphere, these paintings emphasize––in more ways than one––a heightened sense of beauty before darkness sets in. There is a well-known myth that the true meaning of the word Kentucky is “a dark and bloody ground,” a Cherokee description repurposed by European settlers to suggest that the land’s ownership was disputed and that it was thus free for the taking. In reality, the etymology is likely tied to the Iroquois word kentake, meaning “meadow land,” or potentially the Algonquian name for a river bottom: kin-athiki. Equally possible is that the name comes from a dead Iroquoian language called Wyandot. In Wyandot, ken-tah-ten means “land of tomorrow.” Our feet may have never touched the earth once tilled by our ancestors; we may long for a place only known through stories and fantasy. A Dark and Bloody Ground is as much an acknowledgement of the past as it is an invitation for the future. Chae asks us what it means for us to make this land our home. He questions the role and validity of possession as it has long existed, a practice inevitably disrupted by the passing of time. Finally, he employs new technologies alongside tradition in this vision for the future: a land truly reflective of its history, a living archive of all those who make their home upon it. – Maria Owen John Hee Taek Chae was born in Boulder, Colorado, grew up in Seoul, Korea, studied in Baltimore, Maryland, and taught in Richmond, Virginia. Today, Chae lives in Houston, Texas, having made his home in the Southern United States for the past seven years. Chae received his BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2010 and his MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2020. His previous solo exhibitions include Shed Your Eyes at MARCH (New York, NY), Western Paintings at D.D.D.D (New York, NY), and Make. Believe. at MOCA Jacksonville (Jacksonville, FL), among others, and he was awarded the MacDowell Fellowship in 2021. Chae is currently the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Scholar in Residence at the University of Houston.
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Founded in 2009, Institute 193 embraces the notion that groundbreaking contemporary art can and does emerge outside of large metropolitan centers. Institute 193 provides artists from Kentucky and the Southeastern United States—selected not by commercial viability, but by the quality and relevance of their work—with exhibition and publication opportunities. It also endeavors to help these artists gain broader media exposure and foster connections in art markets across the globe. Institute 193’s original gallery space is located in Lexington, Kentucky, a mid-sized city with a vibrant creative community. Nevertheless, Lexington lacks a museum or a center for contemporary art. Institute 193 fills this cultural void by hosting musical performances, film screenings, lectures, and other community-driven events in addition to visual art exhibitions.
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