Mimi O Chun: It’s all cake at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art magnifies societal ills and amplifies women’s issues through soft materials.
Mimi O Chun: It’s all cake
September 4, 2021—January 23, 2022
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale
Taken at face value, Mimi O Chun: It’s all cake at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, is a cutesy display of arresting soft textile sculptures from vibrant fabrics. But the plush artworks, which disarm the viewer due to the playful materiality and constructions, sink deep into the human psyche and ask us to confront our perception of and involvement in systems, oftentimes with a giggle.
Lauren R. O’Connell, SMOCA’s curator of contemporary art, put together the first solo museum show for the Brooklyn, New York-based Chun. The exhibition showcases a number of floor pieces, such as Handba 2.0, an installation with four appendages attached to a Roomba-type cleaning machine. Each female hand is engaged in a domestic or work chore—preparing to log into a virtual meeting by smartphone, finger on the trigger of a cleaning spray bottle, wielding a wooden spoon saturated with spaghetti and marinara sauce, and gently holding a child’s stuffed animal. It’s the ultimate multi-tasker and comments on the burden experienced by parenting women during the coronavirus pandemic.
The elaborate sculpture Museum of Oat Dreams features an Oatly vegan milk brand carton turned on its side with a proverbial puddle of spilled milk substitute. Sardonic beverage carton copy, stitched on the sides, amusingly pokes fun at immersive pop-up art experiences that emphasize selfie and internet culture rather than serious art-viewing. (“Back in the day, when you wanted to get things going with your crew, you pulled out a bottle and spun it for cheap thrills like the truth or dare teenage legends you were. Today, everyone is on their phones all day watching people dance on YouTube.”) The sculpture also brings to light Oatly’s business practices—according to Chun, the Swedish company touts sustainability while sharing a bed with a private equity firm with environmentally and politically destructive interests.
The exhibition critiques consumption, whether of food, media, or goods and services. Prime Hermit shows a tentacled sea creature emerging from an opened white-and-blue padded Amazon prime envelope that’s a spot-on replica of the real thing. In an accompanying video chronicling her body of work in this show, Chun explains that the piece illustrates how “oftentimes the ease and the convenience might win at the expense of others.”
Chun constructed a phone-as-protective device in Body Armor Backpack, Keep It Cute Edition™. The piece, which the artist has worn during walks in New York, amalgamates a backpack, ring light, and smartphone as a sort of flak jacket for civilians. The artist notes that everyday people and civilian surveillance—whether it’s Darnella Frazier filming the murder of George Floyd or Manhattan security footage capturing the brutal attack of Filipino-American elder Vilma Kari—are fundamental to police accountability and social justice. The sculpture’s surface includes a reflective mylar sheet, which asks the viewer to consider their allegiances and actions (or inactions).
Though Chun didn’t set out to make a 2020-centric body of work, her exhibition is pegged to the time period, which amplified the awareness of systems of oppression and globalization. And though the messages, lessons, and considerations about societal inequities are cast in fluffy textiles and bubbly colors, they’re loud and clear in this successfully witty and stern show.
Mimi O Chun: It’s all cake is scheduled to remain on display through January 22, 2022 at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, 7374 East 2nd Street in Scottsdale, Arizona.