Photo caption: Artists Nari Baker, Christina Seong and Darius Morrison celebrate the opening of “Interpolated Spheres” at Edmonds Community College. The show’s on display until March 12, 2013. Photo courtesy of Nari Baker.
On display until March 12 at the Edmonds Community College (ECC) Art Gallery, “Interpolated Spheres” features work by Korean adoptee artists, including former Fulbright fellow Nari Baker. Raised on a small, organic farm on Vashon Island, Baker traveled on a Fulbright Fellowship to Korea in 2007 to complete research related to the Korean adoptee experience.
Baker’s contributions to the current exhibit include “Combination Lock,” a short video piece that evokes the countdown before a film begins, but runs through a never-ending loop. Baker confuses expectation by replacing the numbers in her sequence with the 13 digits of her Korean mother’s social security number — information vital to unlocking her birth mother’s identity. Like many Korean adoptees, Baker underwent a lengthy search to locate her family of origin, though Baker’s search ended without resolution when her birth mother declined reunion. The countdown suggests the eternal quality of waiting that adoptees experience in anticipating meeting their birth families for the first time.
Another of Baker’s contributions to “Interpolated Spheres” includes a series of works presented in handheld children’s viewmasters. “Places where I have searched for you” is a sequence of seven color photographs, ranging from unpopulated seaside scenes to empty interiors. Each image ties to a site connected to Baker’s birth or birth parents: the beach where her parents first met, the clinic where she was born, the orphanage where she was adopted. Two additional viewmasters in the installation offer reflective pieces on the impacts of adoption upon identity. “If we’d stayed together” presents a series of empty slides that mimic Polaroid photos with handwritten captions like “me in school uniform” and “you pregnant with me” — the absence of an image stands in for that which never existed. “The story of our separation cycles” through a sequence of appropriated texts is drawn from the rhetoric and language of Baker’s birth documents and legal adoption papers. The cyclical nature of clicking through the viewmaster mirrors the cycle of trauma and recovery associated with adoption. Through presenting these pieces in the intimate form of the viewmaster, the artist hopes to invite viewers to look past popular narratives concerning the positive aspects of adoption to more deeply consider the painful complexities involved with transnational adoption.
Rounding out the mechanically produced works in the show, Baker exhibits a series of hand-built ceramic pieces that attempt to humanize the lives of anonymous birth mothers. “I drink your tears for breakfast” presents a series of female figures that morph into tea pot forms which are paired with drinking vessels that take the shape of disembodied hands. The anthropomorphic tea sets express an everyday routine of imperialistic interactions between institutions and individuals, commenting on the ugliness of human trafficking. Rougher than the artist’s other works, Baker’s clay objects politicize the experiences of poor, unwed mothers of color in a way that feels less poetic than Baker’s other offerings. But this grotesque quality is also central to the artist’s point.
Baker is an active member of Sahngnoksoo, a Seattle-based grassroots organization that has sponsored teach-ins focused upon the politics of Korean adoption. She has also attended gatherings sponsored by the International Korean Adoption Association (IKAA), which hosts their 4th International Gathering for Korean Adoptees in Seoul from July 29 to August 4, 2013.
Nari Baker is one of three artists showcased in “Interpolated Spheres. “ Darius Morrison, guitarist of the band Nation of Two, presents a series of linoleum block prints that also engages the politics of adoption through images of children being exported on fleets of airplanes that are paired with texts such as “We’re packed to the gills there is no room for extra baggage, carry-ons, or your feelings of gratitude” and “one by one, we took over the entire flight.”
Christina Seong’s “Unwed Mothers” collage series draws from Korean cultural symbolism to reimagine the popular image of ducks, commonly associated with marital bliss. Korean custom calls for wedding guests to present newlyweds with a pair of ducks, since the birds mate for life. In Seong’s series, one hundred separate panels feature unpaired birds in florid patterns and textures drawn from found materials. The artist turns a popular symbol on its head to focus on the experience of the unwed birth mothers of Korean adoptees.
A reception, featuring a keynote talk with Nari Baker, takes place on March 1, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the Art Gallery in Lynnwood Hall. Student artists, musicians, and readers from the student-produced art and literary journal, Between the Lines, will also present their work. For more information on “Interpolated Spheres,” visit www.edcc.edu/gallery.