Pedestrians passing by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s State Street Gallery last month saw what might have looked like a construction zone. Instead, they were witnessing the birth of art.
Using scrap wood and duct tape, Milwaukee artist Jason Yi spent three weeks this summer creating an enormous abstract landscape designed to dominate the museum’s main gallery, located in Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts.
Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence officially opens at 6 p.m. on Aug. 22, but residents of downtown Madison have long known that the South Korean-born artist was creating something special behind the gallery’s plate glass windows. Yi maintained an open-door policy while working, answering questions and explaining his artistic aesthetic to curious onlookers. Both the transparency and interactivity have been part of the exhibit.
“I did something similar late last year at the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University, but nothing of this scope and magnitude,” says Yi, an instructor at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. “This will be my last installation like this.”
For the installation, Yi has used scrap materials to create a sculpture that resembles a snow-covered mountain range. A complex wooden framework is covered by miles of inch-wide white duct tape, creating a cascading “skin” that flows down the constructed frame from ceiling to floor.
During the creative process, blue duct tape was used to outline an approximate footprint for the construction, but that outline and a rough idea of the outcome were the only preconceived notions Yi brought to the work. “I knew to some degree what I meant to create, but the vision evolved throughout the creation process,” Yi says. “I call it a ‘random mess,’ but in the best sense of the word.”
The construction is only part of the installation. Yi accented the walls and windows of the gallery with stylized “lightning bolt” lines of silver Mylar tape. On the textured wall surface, the tape reflects distorted images of light and motion, while on the smooth window glass, the tape acts as a mirror.
“There is a balance between the tape and the physical structure,” Yi says. “The structure’s mass tries to balance the weightlessness of the tape on the wall with what is happening in the middle of the room. It’s a balance, or maybe a protagonist/antagonist relationship between the two elements.”
Yi says the mountainous nature of his work is a deliberate choice. His father was a landscape painter, and Yi says that style of art has influenced his own.
“This installation is meant to resemble a landscape, which conjures up different connections between people and cultures,” Yi says. “Seeing our environment in a different way can tell us a little more about who we are and about our relationship with other people.”
The structure is designed so that viewers can easily circumnavigate it, and experience the space in new ways, Yi says. The utilitarian materials, common to anyone who’s created a DIY project, also provide a familiar entry point.
In MMOCA’s lobby, two other Yi works serve as visual “appetizers” to the installation. The entry way is flanked by a foil-and-bubble-wrap “cloud,” sitting atop a framework, and a quartet of pegboard pieces textured to resemble a topographical map.
“I wanted to create an installation designed to take over the gallery space as well as correlate with the lobby space,” Yi says. “I am interested in how the different visual elements speak to each other.”
Yi was also interested in the interactions with passersby. Working outdoors eight to 10 hours a day, five or six days a week, he’s had more than a few conversations about his installation.
“The interactive aspect of the installation allows me to talk to passersby while I create,” the artist says. “They tend to see all the work that goes into the piece and feel sorry for me, so I can share the challenges of the creative process as well. I appreciate that.”
Jason S. Yi: A Fragile Permanence is on display at Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s Gallery through Nov. 9. Yi will lead a discussion during an Aug. 22 reception 6-9 p.m. The discussion, free to MMOCA members and $10 for non-members, includes music and refreshments. All other exhibition days are free and open to the public. For more information, visit mmoca.org.