Baltimore “End to End,” Korean artist Youngmi Song Organ’s first solo show in more than five years, presented a collection of “drawings” composed entirely of her own hair affixed to mulberry paper. The exhibition chronicled the Baltimore-based MICA alumna’s development and mastery of this unconventional technique, from abstract works, made in 2005, to more recent representational pieces.
Extensions (2005) was one of the largest (120 by 160 inches) and most abstract compositions. In it, long strands of hair have been adhered vertically to dimpled paper, one by one. Of multiple tones and textures, they are arrayed densely at the top and cascade gently downward, gradually thinning out with a fluid sense of rhythm, punctuated by the obvious demarcation when one hair joins another in the artist’s effort to form a continuous line.
Trinity (2006) exhibits Organ’s increasing skill in the use of her materials. Here, unlike in Extensions, the
eye can barely discern where one strand ends and the next begins. The work, rendered in chestnut-colored hair on a creamy 89-inch-wide surface with light amber glue, shows the artist tiptoeing into the realm of representation. It depicts three rings with beveled edges, whose texture, weight and color evoke carved wood.
By 2008, the artist was working in a completely representational style and on a much smaller scale, usually around 20 inches to a side. Several pieces take wood as their subject: a series titled “Tree” (2008) portrays the substance as living, while Bench (2008) and Table (2009) tackle it postmortem, each work painstakingly delineating the intricate grain of the eponymous object. Together, these drawings illustrate a cycle like that of Organ’s chosen material: the hair grows from roots (like a tree), is eventually separated from its source, then is collected and crafted into a manmade object.
Organ’s most recent series, “Clouds” (2010-11), indicates yet another new direction. In Cloud 5, rays of light emerge from a dense congregation of puffy clouds with nuanced shading. Light, shadow and form are produced by hair applied in varying degrees of concentration. The strands shimmer on the paper with hair’s unique luster—a reminder of the distinctly human origins of a body of work that has become almost inhumanly precise.
Photo: Youngmi Song Organ: Cloud 5, 2011, hair on mulberry paper, 18 by 24 inches; at the Maryland Institute College of Art.