“Yoonmi Nam: Generally Meant to be Discarded,” Studios Inc

Installation view, clockwise from left: “Delivered and Discarded” (2022-2023), “Cairn & Soban” (2023) and “Keeping” (2022-23) (photo: E.G. Schempf)

With “Generally Meant to be Discarded,” Yoonmi Nam fixates her attention on “the presence of objects that we handle, consume, display and discard.” The consumption patterns of Nam and her husband during the COVID-19 pandemic inspired these works in her Studios Inc. exhibition.  

Disposable food delivery boxes and plastic containers from deliveries accumulated at Nam’s front door during the pandemic. She routinely disinfected, flattened and recycled the packaging, evolving into a self-described trash collector. Then Nam transformed the deconstructed raw material into art. 

Studios Inc’s cavernous exhibition hall houses four groupings of Nam’s work. She created “Delivered and Discarded by painting Tyvek sheets with Sumi ink and spraying the surface with alcohol-based sanitizer which created inky patterns. She traced the outline of flattened food boxes onto the Tyvek, made cuts, and folded them until the cutouts resembled the original container. The husks of wall-mounted sheets, usually discarded, present layered textures, like a pile of water-and smoke-damaged maps burnt in the middle. 

“Delivered and Discarded,” sumi ink and alcohol on cut Tyvek, 2022-2023 (photo: E.G. Schempf)

Nam used pressure printing for “Unfolding,” a series of monotype prints that bear imprints of her box collection on the paper. The imprints conjure two-dimensional ghosts, captured remnants of industrial manufacturing reimagined by the artist.  

Plastic containers, waste that can take up to 500 years to decompose, typically hold and protect fragile items like eggs or serve a temporary use for storage. Nam observes, reflects, and creates simulations of these objects as “cultural artifacts of our present time.”  

“Cairn & Soban,” slip cast porcelain, celadon glaze, wood, 2023 (“Soban” made by Cotter Mitchell) (photo: E.G. Schempf)

“Keeping” is a floor arrangement of slip cast porcelain with a celadon glaze, neatly arranged as if packing for a vacation. Nam produced “direct castings of the negative spaces of plastic packages” from Dixie cup lids to triangular pie slice containers. “Cairn & Soban” features similarly produced porcelain pieces stacked on a low table, a nod to a traditional Korean dining table. The objects spur consideration about what we use and revere in relation to time, history, and culture. 

These evidentiary collections of past consumption subvert the transactional mindset of disposability — out of sight, out of mind. Nam’s porcelain pieces are innately fragile, objects typically regarded as valuable and worthy of protection. Tethered symbolically to the original object, the artwork prompts thought about impermanence and utility, what is disposable yet endures beyond human life spans, what is valued and deemed worthy of collection and preservation.  

Ultimately, Nam’s exhibit serves as its own temporary container. Gallery goers and passersby are its contents, consuming and digesting for an unknown span. 

Nam, born in Seoul, South Korea, is a professor of printmaking at the University of Kansas. Her work has appeared in national and international exhibitions, including 2023’s “Found in Translation: Explorations by 8 Contemporary Artists” at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and on the Block Artspace Project Wall in 2022-23. 

“Yoonmi Nam: Generally Meant to be Discarded” continues at Studios Inc, 1708 Campbell St., through Feb. 24. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday – Friday, noon to 4 p.m., Saturday, and 5 to 8 p.m., First Fridays. For more information, 816.994.7134 or www.studiosinc.org. 

Pete Dulin

Pete Dulin is the author of “Expedition of Thirst: Exploring Breweries, Wineries, and Distilleries Across the Heart of Kansas and Missouri,” “Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland,” and two other books. His reporting has appeared in “AFAR Magazine,” “Feast,” “Kansas City Magazine,” KCUR, Zócalo Public Square, “The Kansas City Star,” “The Boston Globe,” and other publications.

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