Jesse Chun’s ‘On Paper’

On Paper: Visual Artist Jesse Chun explores visual rhetoric involved in identity and mobility through an appropriation and transformation of the familiar marks contained in immigration documents. On Paper was shown from July until October 2016 at the Spencer Brownstone Gallery in New York City.

Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist Jesse Chun explores interdependencies between aspects of identity, transit and migration. Her body of work titled “Landscapes” re-contextualizes passports’ watermarked imagery through methods of appropriation, deconstruction and reconstruction, generating large-scale images of unbound nature. The breaking down of passports–an object-sign whose original function is one of identity bound to state and sovereignty–into its material actuality, that is, its condition of and as paper, is a conversion-reversion of the sign itself. Chun appropriates visual elements whose distinct significations are opposed to that of identity politicization: images of natural landscapes highlight a natural order in which no cultural construction deploys its function nor exercises its political power. This emphasis of the natural over the social underlines a non-political status as a site of expansion and movement filled with possibility. By using techniques of rephotography and digital manipulation, the artist divests the bureaucratic document of its original meaning and extracts that which symbolizes a counter-meaning. Thus, Chun dissects the object-sign through its materiality and visual formulation in pursuance of elements whose very presence invites our attention to a criticality of the object itself.

Along similar lines, Chun’s “Blueprints” presents a series of immigration forms whose only visual elements are grids and lines. Deprived of any legal data, this collection of papers becomes a minimal exercise of geometry whose absence of categorical information opens up the possibility of new forms of situating the self. Chun preserves the material, in this case, the paper of such legal forms, while setting aside cultural regulation through naming and legalization in the interest of transcultural understanding. Such annihilation of the subject as a reduced, single political entity opens up a re-thinking of identity as a category whose distinctive feature is one of multiplicity in sameness–it assumes diverse forms and gestures always in relation to a unified entity. Identity can be thought of in terms of variability within coherence, diversification within generality, in terms of alterability within familiarity. Here, issues of identity are closer to the temporal indefiniteness of “becoming” than to the particular fixation of “being.” It is an order of trans-formation rather than concluding re-solutions, of gathering in changeability rather than fixing in absolute terms. The minimal character of this artwork opposes fixing terms such as identity, subject and context to enclosed values whose corresponding correlations mediate all forms of interrelations between those terms. The whiteness of the forms frees the subject from the idea of identity as oversimplified data and proposes an intrinsic quality of identity-as-process. This confronts the stability of such bureaucratic forms and, as a consequence, Chun is able to reveal the relativity of such object-signs–one that is destined to categorize and crystallize identities from the exteriority of the subject himself but one that, in the end, is always reversible.

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