When Choey Eun Young Cho was in grad school at Ohio State University, she started collecting bananas. She bought bunch after bunch, day after day, and let the bananas pile up in her apartment, until she was eventually surrounded by them and their sickly sweet stench.
Doing so was a way of sitting with the discomfort of what the banana signified, in a derogatory sense. She had recently returned to the United States from Korea (she got her undergrad degrees from the University of Nebraska Omaha), and was feeling freshly stung with culture shock.
In the group exhibition Notes from Another Place at the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts, Cho’s bananas appear as bright LED icons, simplified contour line drawings of light, collapsing sign and the signified.
Nothing in this exhibition, however, is an easy read. Curated by Boryana Rusenova-Ina and Sam van Strien, the show is as slippery and abstract as language itself.
Rusenova-Ina’s two paintings here recall the formation of language through the body as the locus of both utterance and scrawl. In the center of each canvas, she paints a mouth in the process of pronouncing a certain sound, indicated by its letters: “h” in one, “y” in the other. Even for someone accustomed to reading lips, it would be hard to “see” what the mouths are “saying.” Around them is evidence of another form of language learning, which is equally indiscernible: early-childhood pre-writing scribbles that have been faithfully copied by Rusenova-Ina in charcoal and acrylic.
The curatorial conceit of the exhibition considers ideas of dislocation and alienation, of feeling “out of place.” For the Dutch-born van Strien, that feeling comes from the disorienting experience of the city of London, with its imposing steel and glass architecture projecting the power of unknowable systems held within — finance, government, capital. In his works, the facades of such buildings are, too, faithfully copied — as collages of the individual panes of glass on a skyscraper, or photo-engraved plates of corporate plazas — yet in the process they become mutable and warped.
The “feeling” of dislocation comes to the fore in Joonhong Min’s work, where an overwrought architecture takes over bodies situated in dizzying panels of overly patterned Escher-like checkerboard forms in monochromatic sets of reds, teals, and greens. These panels, for the artist, recall the isolation of pandemic-time online space — an experience of social and physical disconnection that all of us, even those who have never found themselves in “another place,” can relate to.
Hannah Parrett’s work, in cyan, turquoise, and mint hues that never veer fully toward blue or green, pops against LHUCA’s architecturally mandated firehouse-red main gallery wall. Here the color positively vibrates. Parrett’s paintings, like their colors, defy easy categorization or identification: they are paintings and assemblages and also carvings and soft sculpture. Their unnamable shapes flap and double over; with dowels stuck in them, they’re piercing yet homely, almost inviting you to hang your coat on them in a kind of slapstick moment of confusion.
Unnamable forms and ineffable structures, like moments of anomia, recur and stutter throughout the show. Paintings by Cho contain illegible insignia that appear to have been half erased, like a moment of déjà vu just about to vanish into an uneasy feeling. The buildings in Van Strien’s photoengraved plates seem filmy and gauzelike, as behind a veil of incomprehension. Their prints appear like ghosts on the other side of the gallery.
Notes from Another Place is an unusually international, well-traveled show to find in Lubbock, Texas. Both born in Korea, Cho is based in Seoul and Min is in London. Van Strien was born in Delft, lived in the UK, and is now based in Durham, North Carolina. Parrett was born and raised in rural South Dakota and now lives in Cincinnati. Rusenova-Ina is from Bulgaria, attended university in Scotland and Ohio, and is now a professor of painting at Texas Tech, here in Lubbock.
The exhibition brings together these five artists to reflect “on the politics, aesthetics, and experience of belonging.” Right now, the question of who belongs where is a loaded gun. The movements of these artists from city to city come mostly unhindered — matters of choice or opportunity — but for many people around the world, moving to “another place” is a matter of survival.
Matters of language, of power, of culture, of learning new ways while holding on to what’s gone — these are what diasporic populations everywhere must contend with. In Notes from Another Place, these are attempts to give form to such ineffable experiences of dislocation, of finding oneself, somewhere else.
So, ask yourself, where are you right now? And what right do you have to be here, now?
Notes from Another Place is on view at LHUCA, Lubbock through November 25, 2023.