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Gone but not forgotten–Jay Rhee video at Vox


Sometimes I see something, and a month later it’s still on my mind. So it is with Jay Rhee’s video series Swan, Polar Bear, Niagara, which showed at Vox Populi Gallery in February.

Jay Rhee, clip of her series of videos Swan, Polar Bear, Niagara

Rhee’s video looks like it’s about nature, but it’s really about how people imagine nature.

The videos are set in a bathhouse with kitschy murals of hackneyed and romanticized natural scenes. In front of each mural, live people are added as if they are in the mural.

The preposterousness of the insertions are charming and Quixotic. A woman wearing a polar-bear-like helmet swims back and forth in the bath/pool in front of the Arctic landscape. A woman wearing a swan-like headdress does the same action in front of a scene of swans in a lake. A tourist group in plastic raincoats shuffles in and gazes at a mural as if it’s the real thing–a scenic overlook of Niagara Falls.

I don’t know the location of the bathhouse, but it and the people in it look Asian. The landscapes are arguably a mix of Western and Eastern. And the tone of the video mixes poignant longing for natural beauty with deadpan hipster. Rhee, born and raised in Korea, has a BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago, and that dual-nation background comes across.