Young Joon Kwak, video still from "Untitled (Am I Pretty Mommy. . . ), 2014. All images courtesy of the artist and Commonwealth & Council Gallery, Los Angeles.

Young Joon Kwak, video still from “Untitled (Am I Pretty Mommy. . . ), 2014. All images courtesy of the artist and Commonwealth & Council Gallery, Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES — There is a new mutant form emerging, pushing its way past the thin layer that separates the interior and exterior world. In Young Joon Kwak’s exhibition at Commonwealth & Council, Mother Spill, the artist’s body overtakes her mind, erupting into the world in a way that is neither graceful, flawless, nor incredulous — it’s just pure guts and gore, beautiful in its grotesqueness. Everything about this work is goop, puddles, not-yet-formed definitions, and a sense of breaking free, a continual realization of becoming — of never having arrived. Kwak, who performs as Xina Xurner, creates new definitions of trans/femininity that reveal a delight in the grotesque, and a raw, multi-colored wave of visual sensations.

These new definitions erupt in a conscious realization of gendered time. Seminal filmmaker/performance artist Maya Deren, often referred to as the high priestess of experimental cinema, discusses feminine and masculine definitions of time. In the documentary In the Mirror of Maya Deren, the artist is explains how, for men, things happen in the now. The time quality of a woman, Deren explains, is much different — the woman has strength to wait. She must wait nine months for a child; time is built into her body in a state of becoming, and she is in constant metamorphosis. A woman’s sense of time, Deren claims, could not be more different from that of a man. Deren’s films represent a dream reality, or an inner reality, on film, and that too is gendered. These ideas of gendered time relate to Kwak’s trans/feminine body and spirit.

Young Joon Kwak, “Excreted Venus” (2013).

In “Mother Spill,” the artist appears as if giving birth to herself. Kwak is her own mother, literally spilling out first into her studio womb and then incubating, uninhibited, in the gallery. “Untitled (Am I Pretty Mommy … )” (2014), a collaboration with Veli-Mati Hoikka featuring music by Elisa Harkins, voiceover by Lily Robert-Foley, sound design by Marvin Astorga, and Isaac God Doll Ledesma, depicts the shadowy, hyper-saturated inner weavings between two feminine characters moving through and into each other. Beckoning each other with the questions of social validation and queer affirmations, they move together as if part of an ongoing dance, a soft and slow gesturing. In the archival inkjet print “Excreted Venus” (2013), the viewer looks on at a non-racialized body splattered in a gray/silver material, positioned on a red-stenciled background. Like a fly that’s been smashed to the wall and whose guts just stay there because no one is interested in cleaning it up, this Venus — normally a vivacious symbol of the feminine divine, donned with moons and symbols of the harvest — is pasted here, posing in a post-birth/processed death state-of-being, or of in-between.

The six larger sculptural works in this exhibition litter the middle room, forming a garden that is decidedly not of Adam and Eve. Each plant-like organism oozes up from the floor board, alien and artificial but organic in its bestial formation, as if related to the French Sci-Fi stop motion animated film Fantastic Planet (1973), where a bunch of giant blue aliens form a new mutant society and fight back against the machine men.

There is no light shining through the blending colors that form a lantern on the wall in the garden of trans-mortality. There are only morphing parts of a whole, continually evolving. Young Joon Kwak’s work is neither binging nor representing — it is a purging, a releasing of one identity not necessarily for another, but for the continued evolution of the self in its variously emerging forms. The snake is free. She is a mutant alien being, continually evolving, a trans/feminine entity of force.

Young Joon Kwak, “Untitled Sculptures (Garden of Trans-Mortality) – B” (2014). Photo credit: Heather Rasmussen

Young Joon Kwak, “Untitled Sculptures (Garden of Trans-Mortality) – E” (2014). Photo credit: Heather Rasmussen

Young Joon Kwak, Untitled Sculptures (Garden of Trans-Mortality) – F (2014). Photo credit: Heather Rasmussen

Young Joon Kwak, “Untitled Wall Piece (Cube)” (2014). Photo credit: Heather Rasmussen

Young Joon Kwak, “Untitled Lantern” (2014). Photo credit: Heather Rasmussen

Young Joon Kwak, installation view of “Untitled Sculptures (Garden of Trans-Mortality), 2014. Photo credit: Heather Rasmussen

Young Joon Kwak’s solo exhibition Mother Spill continues through October 18th at Commonwealth & Council (3006 W 7th Street #220, Los Angeles).

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Alicia Eler

Alicia Eler is a cultural critic and arts reporter. She is the author of the book The Selfie Generation (Skyhorse Publishing), which has been reviewed in the New York Times, WIRED...