Born 1971 in Seoul, South Korea Lives and works in Berlin, Germany and Seoul

Haegue Yang’s works are often recognised by their eclectic arrangement of utilitarian products – electric cables, artificial plants, synthetic straws, metal plated bells, turbine vents, light bulbs – and, perhaps most notably, venetian blinds, which entered her vocabulary in 2006. Treating these functional objects as Duchampian ready-mades, Yang arranges and reconfigures them into immersive installations with olfactory experiences that oscillate between abstraction and narration, freeing them from their conventional status.

In Sydney, Yang presents a multi-part installation combining three bodies of work from different periods of her versatile oeuvre. Three formative video essays called Video Trilogy (Unfolding Places, Restrained Courage, and Squandering Negative Spaces), 2004–06, are embedded in a venetian blind installation with scent emitters and moving lights entitled Lethal Love, 2008. The installation is also accompanied by a series of anthropomorphic sculptures and three ebony-black suspended sculptural creatures that resemble subaquatic or giant arthropods, creating a multisensory and perceptually challenging environment.

Based on the life of German politician and activist Petra Kelly and her companion and comrade Gert Bastian, who shot Kelly in her sleep in 1992 and killed himself thereafter, Lethal Love informs a critical reading of their historical lives. The domestic fitting of the suspended venetian blinds serves an allegorical function by evoking a separation as well as penetration between the private and public, while also creating a self-contained environment with expanding branches emerging from a mirror wall. Moving lights navigate, rotate and bleed through the blinds’ slats and cast shadows, while the evocatively named scent products of ‘Wildflower’ and ‘Gunpowder’ fill the air. Sitting within Lethal Love, the subjective and contemplative narratives of homelessness and displacement of Video Trilogy overlap with the now unlearned and therefore muted stories of the historical figures in Lethal Love.

Yang’s straw sculptural series, The Intermediates (2015–ongoing), takes its name from the ubiquity of straw weaving across cultures and the mediating role of straw. Despite the use of industrially manufactured materials, such as synthetic straws, bells, metal rings and turbine vents, the sculptures recall folk handicrafts or ritualistic effigies of ancient civilisations and appear to be part of a remote, yet intimate community.

With her idiosyncratic use of materials, Yang initiates a movement between the historic and universal, inviting us on a journey that oscillates between abstraction and narration. Lethal Love’s atmospheric and metaphoric interplay shifts from illuminating a story to obscuring its narrative through abstraction for an equally provocative and contemplative encounter.

Presentation at the 21st Biennale of Sydney is in partnership with the Institute of Modern Art (IMA), Brisbane and is made possible with generous support from the Australia Council for the Arts, the Korea Foundation and assistance from Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen