AYDO (A young Yu & Nicholas Oh) is a collaborative duo based in New York. A young Yu (b. 1990) received her MFA from Columbia University. She has exhibited at venues including the Museum of Art and Design, Christie’s Inc, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, LeRoy Neiman Gallery, Time Square Space, the Jewish Museum, and more. Nicholas Oh (b. 1985) received his MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. He has exhibited at venues including RISD Museum, Smithsonian, Museum of Art and Design, Christie’s Inc., Spring/Break Art Show, and more.
THAT: Tell us about your practice.
AS: We are an artist duo working primarily in performance-based film and sculptural environments. Our work centers on reimagining ancestral practices to address diasporic experiences and to evoke gestures of devotion, metamorphosis, and the sublime. Interpreting ancestral practices as an ever-evolving language, rather than a fixed heritage, we are invested in how they can be reframed to serve new and growing communities.
THAT: There are such poignant and intimate references to ancestry and cultural inheritances in AYDO's works. Can you tell us about the significance of storytelling and collaboration with family members in your practice?
AS: We explore larger themes of generational trauma and migration that we distill from our stories and stories that were passed down to us. We draw from the personal as a guiding force— the loss of Ayoung’s paternal lineage during the war while staging funerary rites at the DMZ, Nick’s upbringing in Gyeong-ju while constructing ceremonial altars at prehistoric burial mounds. These stories are not legible, but they generate the visual and material language of our work.
We brought our family into our work when thinking about the fraught nature of cultural inheritances in diasporic and intergenerational contexts. Because our work also intentionally deviates from the established canon of premodern traditions, we wanted to question the implications of this type of transgression in real-time. This resulted in negotiations with elder members of our family, figuring out elements to discard or change while still honoring sacred ancestral connections.
THAT: The two of you work together through AYDO, but also have separate practices as artists as well. How have your individual practices shaped the overall principles of AYDO?
AS: Our collaboration is centered on our shared interest in Korean folkloric traditions and spiritual practices. A young readapts shamanic rituals to focus on issues of grief and rebirth. Nick, in his individual practice, investigates cultural artifacts representing colonial histories, such as the Korean moon jar. We meld together our shared knowledge to construct our own narratives.
We also strategize ways to combine our artmaking processes. Nick has a background in sculpture and installation, whereas A young is in performance and film. Depending on the specific needs of a project, we take turns leading. For example, we recently completed a labor-intensive installation comprising 500 hand-carved tiles, which Nick spearheaded as it leaned heavily into his decades-long expertise in ceramics.
THAT: Your current solo exhibition at the HUB-Robeson Galleries is titled DREAMS. Can you share more about the significance of the title and its relationship to the Korean cultural practice of buying and exchanging dreams?
AS: The title DREAMS is a reference to an ongoing project conceived during the 2020 lockdown. Amidst the isolation, during the height of the pandemic, the project began as an archive of dreams from intergenerational, Asian-American communities. From loved ones to casual acquaintances, we collected dreams as a way to stay connected. For each dream, we also traded a small porcelain bottle. The project has its historical roots in Korean cultural practices dating back to the 12th century. Dreams (signifying good omens) were sold and transferred via verbal contracts—a tradition still practiced today. However, rather than selling dreams for monetary compensation, we explore sharing dreams as a deeply intimate and communal exchange.
The shared dreams provided a glance into the collective psyche amidst seismic, global upheavals. Our exhibition explores these dreams through film and sculptural installations.
THAT: What has been inspiring you lately?
AS: We’ve been thinking about the Korean DMZ. Despite ongoing geopolitical tensions, the DMZ has regenerated since the post-war era as a growing ecological sanctuary, housing thousands of endangered plant and animal species. This rebirth of the land feels poetic and important for a space that historically is embedded with so much loss and trauma. We visit the DMZ seasonally to film performances and are grateful to the local community which is instrumental to our research. We’re inspired by their work, the labor and care they put into protecting the land, and educating visitors.
We also have been reading: “The White Book” by Han Kang; “Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War” and “Tastes like War” by Grace M. Cho; “Dictee” by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.
THAT: What's next for you?
AS: We have an upcoming solo at Cantor Art Center at Stanford University. It will be on view from December 14, 2022- May 7, 2023. There will be an accompanying live discussion on March 2, 2023. We also have an exhibition coming up at Rhode Island College, a few group shows in New York and an artist session at Recess Gallery.
In our practice, we will expand our Dreams project. We will publish limited edition artist books documenting our archive of shared dreams. We are also excited to collaborate with shamans, Mudang Jenn and Baaksu Sung, and will adapt a selection of their visions into a film, site-specific installation, and live performance series.
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