Review: Grief and sacrifice in a dream-like installation in Koreatown


Artist iris yirei hu’s exhibition at Visitor Welcome Center is a heartfelt commemoration of her “spirit sister,” writer emi kuriyama, who passed away last year. Her works on canvas and fabric are by turns riotously inchoate and placidly austere, mixing symbolic imagery with excerpts from kuriyama’s writings. There’s something undisciplined about this mix that is likely a product of hu’s inexperience — she is still an MFA student — but the show is moving as a wild expression of grief.

The exhibition spans two rooms, each painted a deep ultramarine blue. In the first hang two tapestry-like paintings. “I eat your body and drink your blood” is a pastiche of imagery. There is a rabbit framed in the moon, Dracula and a large pair of open hands, along with the work’s title rendered in floppy, cutout letters or stitched into fabric panels. Strung across an adjacent window is “sonogram,” which overlays the familiar cone-shaped diagnostic image with a swirling pattern upon which a winged woman gives birth to a blue orb. Both works are connected by “placenta,” a large, twisted fabric rope lying on a quilt in the middle of the floor.

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Although much of the symbolism is opaque, the works have an intense, dream-like quality centered around notions of birth, transformation and sacrifice. Particularly affecting is hu’s reference to the fable of the rabbit in the moon in which the rabbit, having nothing to offer a hungry beggar, throws himself on the fire.

Sacrifice also appears in a simple work of black embroidery on burlap. It presents an excerpt from a kuriyama poem that recounts her grandmother’s directives for extreme survival scenarios, up to and including cannibalism. Dracula’s appearance in the other room makes more sense now, and the messy ferocity of hu’s devotion becomes palpable.

The exhibition also offers a handout of kuriyama’s poetry, from which much of the text in hu’s works derives. The poems are quite beautiful explorations of her Japanese American upbringing (despite being pretentiously punctuated) and help us understand hu’s loss more keenly.

Visitor Welcome Center, 3006 W. 7th St., Suite 200A, (213) 703-1914, through March 4. Closed Sunday through Tuesday.

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