Popular culture is filled with images of the female sex robot. From Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) to Pris in Blade Runner (1982) and Ava in Ex Machina (2014), technology has been intertwined with the objectification of the female body. These figures have become the personification of uncanny desire. Geumhyung Jeong’s works turn these norms upside down. Her performance pieces, and the films and sculptural groupings that emerged from them, highlight our very strange human relationship to the objects around us. She rethinks the representation of machine desire.
The Korean artist studied theatre, dance and animation to a high level for a number of years and synthesised these disciplines into a very unique take on performance work. Pieces such as CPR Practise (2016) and 7 Ways (2009-17) all begin initially with the artist’s relationship to objects that she sources: domestic, medical and sexual mass-produced items including vacuum cleaners, vibrators, prosthetics, plastic eyeballs, mannequins and CPR training figures. It is her engagement with these objects that determines how her performance turns out.
Jeong often gazes at her “partners,” turning them into characters that she connects with. There is a sense of puppetry as she activates her lifeless things, the boundary between object and the human almost breaking. One of the most striking segments in 7 Ways is when she hides herself in a black catsuit, places a white mask on her foot and transforms into an otherworldly crawling creature, edging towards a mannequin dummy. In Oil Pressure Vibrator (2008), she uses a construction machine to become a giant sexual stimulator in search of orgiastic death. Duets like these feel incredibly erotic, as much as they are abject. Jeong embodies a vibrating, sucking, sliding female sexuality.
Her movements can also feel instructional, and almost detached at times. Her work draws on online tutorials and the worlds of marketing and advertising. She has invited feminist interpretations of her work, and often draws on arenas that are directed at the feminine, such as the beauty and body care industry. Her main focus, however, is the thing. As Jeong once noted, “I solely focus on the objects themselves and think of ways to express my thoughts through them.”
The artist began collecting items for her work in 2004, and has shown some of these props in exhibitions including “Private Collection: Unperformed Objects” at Delfina Foundation in London in 2017 and “Spa & Beauty Berlin” at Klemm’s in 2018. Following performances at London’s Tate Modern, Atelier Hermès in Seoul, the New Museum Triennial and the Athens Biennale, Jeong is being given a solo show at the Kunsthalle Basel, coinciding with the fair this summer. It should bring her to the attention of a much wider audience, much like Anne Imhof in 2016. This wider recognition would be well deserved, as this is work that unmasks human desire, and makes us consider the things that surround us in truly original ways.