Emily Yong Beck
Same as it ever was
October 27 - December 9, 2023
Gaa Gallery New York
Gaa Gallery New York is pleased to present Same As It Ever Was, a solo exhibition of new ceramic sculptures by Chicago-based artist Emily Yong Beck. Juxtaposing cartoons, video game characters, and reinterpretations of traditional Korean ceramic vessels, Same As It Ever Was, explores the intersections of history, propaganda, popular culture, and the formation of identity. This will be Yong Beck’s third solo exhibition with the gallery and her first in New York City.
In Same As It Ever Was, Yong Beck contemplates her relationship to broader themes of pop culture, political conflicts, propaganda, and cultural erasure. In her work, Yong Beck reimagines and cross-references the cultures born out of and erased by political regimes. In Same As It Ever Was, Yong Beck looks at the history of Nintendo, Sega, Sanrio, and Sailor Moon and places these saccharine and bubbly, world-building ventures atop traditional Korean ceramic forms. The sum of these parts is a personal exploration and celebration of familiar characters and long-standing traditions and a critique of consumerism, kawaii culture, Japanese imperialism, and the legacies of war.
An amalgam of old and new, the timeless form of the onggi, a traditional earthenware vessel used for fermentation, is stacked one on top of the other. Referencing the functional use of the onggi as a storage container, a fermenting vessel, often for making Kimchee, Yong Beck is curious about the non-precious and everyday use of something that is both durable and fragile. Alluding to the history of Korean ceramics and other ancient functional vessels, which brought into being the development of cooking, the domestication of plants and animals, fermentation, food histories, commerce, and trade, Yong Beck highlights the pasts that exist in the present. There is a perceived immediacy and quickness of the cartoon forms and the ancient vessels—a kind of joy and radical celebration of making. But the forms are, after all, vitrified earth—clay molded and formed with attention and care, then fired, glazed, fired again, and stacked carefully. There is nothing fast about this; it is a cumulative act.
Like a cartoon playing in the background, Yong Beck wants the viewer to meet the work where they are. Welcoming humor and delight but also the questions - what is the dimensionality of absurdity? The edges of humor? The underbelly of sweetness? There is a duality at play that flips around and is hard to pin down. What is happiness and amusement with the backdrop of war, propaganda, generational trauma, the loss of life, and the circumstances that grow out of conflict?
Born in Daegu, South Korea, to a Korean mother and American father, Yong Beck often thinks about how her work is an amalgamation of not only the conflicts between Korea, Japan, and America but also herself. Recently, she has pondered the thought- “I as a person would not exist if the Japanese occupation of Korea didn’t happen.” Yong Beck’s stacked onggi form a kind of monument of selfhood fashioned out of care and necessity. Drawing together the complexities and entanglements of war and culture, Yong Beck reimagines ceramic forms. Same As It Ever Was is a nod to the past and how objects bear meaning, utility, and purpose differently across time and context. In this, she also imagines what pots could mean in the future. Adorned with contemporary images, Yong Beck offers vessels of and for the present.
Emily Yong Beck (b. 1999, Daegu, South Korea) is an interdisciplinary ceramic artist who received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute in 2021. Yong Beck’s work has been featured in the solo exhibitions Gimbap Heaven, Lefebvre et Fils, Paris, France; Whiskers on Kittens, Gaa Projects, Cologne, Germany; Lions & Lambs, Gaa Gallery Provincetown, MA, Spoonful of Sugar at New Image Art, Los Angeles, CA, and a two-person presentation with Gaa Gallery at NADA New York, NY. Yong Beck has been awarded residences at The Residency Program, Versailles, France; Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts, Newcastle, ME; and Township10, Marshall, NC. Yong Beck lives and works in Chicago, IL.