The hand is one of the richest signifiers of the body. It is our most useful tool, it can signal a greeting or express emotion, it can be a weapon; you lend a hand to someone in need, and know not to bite the hand that feeds you. It is this intimate, tactile sensation of the hand that is at the center of “The Rounds,” a two-person show featuring the work of HATCH residents Osée Obaonrin and Nayeon Yang on view at Chicago Artists Coalition.
The exhibition, thoughtfully curated by Yi Cao, is best viewed in the evening. The lights of the gallery are turned low, inviting close inspection of the works, and sections of the white walls have been painted black, the better to see Yang’s two-channel mirrored video installation, “Tomorrow’s News,” which runs across the walls. The video plays like a ticker at the bottom of television news, streaming a decades-long story about the physical and environmental harms of viscose rayon plants. The manufacturing process leads to serious health problems for workers, which has led one country after another to pass on its production: from Japan to South Korea to China and then North Korea.
Yang continues this interest in workers, and the complexity of the global economy, in “A Night Visible to the Naked Eye.” At Chicago Artists Coalition, the project is installed in a corner. T-shirts are for sale on a table, printed with news stories, in Korean, about the exploitation of migrant workers in South Korea. The shirts were sourced from secondhand shops; each one is unique. Above the table are three cameras that livestream the table and any hands that might rifle through the display to a gallery in Seoul. At the storefront gallery in Seoul, a video is projected showing the deft movements of the hands of migrant workers in the field, as well as the stream from Chicago. That stream is then played on a screen at CAC—the hands of both workers and viewers are constantly surveilled, both implicated in the frequently life-threatening labor conditions of migrant workers.
In Obaonrin’s works, the hand is present in the process of art-making, through screenprinting and embroidery. Obaonrin is also interested in exploring connections, relationships, patterns—though on a more interpersonal level. In her series, “thank you for holding my hand,” black thread has been sewn through the prints, in a system that traces the names of friends. The holes where the needle went through the paper create little white constellations across the dark shades of the print. It’s not possible to discern the names, instead the patterns made serve as a secret language known only to the artist.
The desire to decipher patterns and to understand relationships culminates in “The Rounds,” a collaborative video project wherein Obaonrin and Yang play an approximation of rock, paper, scissors, interspersed with text. The artists both grew up with a version of the game in their home countries of Benin and South Korea. Here they explore the decision-making behind the gestures, the combination of spontaneity and strategy, and the patterns that emerge. Their disembodied hands transcend borders, making shapes and symbols that mimic those made by workers around the world, emphasizing the unceasing motion of culture and relationships. (Kerry Cardoza)
“The Rounds” is on view at Chicago Artists Coalition, 2130 West Fulton, through February 17.