Hyunsuk Erickson’s 'Thingumabob Society' Is a Gleeful Installation With a Hopeful Mission | Art Review | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Hyunsuk Erickson’s 'Thingumabob Society' Is a Gleeful Installation With a Hopeful Mission

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Published June 14, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.


Detail of "Thingumabob Society" - PAMELA POLSTON ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven Days
  • Detail of "Thingumabob Society"

Stalagmites have sprouted in the BCA Center. Or so it might seem. In the second-floor gallery of the Burlington venue, Hyunsuk Erickson's installation presents dozens of skinny, vertical structures — some tiny, some very tall — in groupings around the room. Each is sweatered in myriad colors and textures of crocheted yarn. The shapes of these, um, things are variously knobby, twisty and minaret-y, yet each reaches inexorably upward.

There might be a clue to the nature of these structures in Erickson's exhibition title: "Thingumabob Society." Or not. Maybe she doesn't know what to call them, either. They are enigmatic — delightfully so.

Erickson, who grew up on a farm in South Korea, says in an artist statement that her family "made use of the materials available to us." A creative child, she scavenged odds and ends and watched seeds in wonderment as they transformed into plants, she explains. A waste-not sensibility and fascination with nature continue to inform her mixed-media work.

Detail of "Thingumabob Society" - PAMELA POLSTON ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven Days
  • Detail of "Thingumabob Society"

"I seek to create tension and ambiguity by combining a peculiar mixture of materials, like those I found in my childhood," Erickson writes. "I crochet and weave over hard materials (wood, plastic, ceramic, 3D printed forms) with yarn and found fabric to build structures, which I have named 'Thingumabob.'"

For Erickson, ambiguity exists on more levels than the visual one. Her exhibition also expresses the "tension of the synthesis and resistance of both the Korean and American forces that influence my life as I continuously adapt," she writes. Erickson now lives near Washington, D.C. "Thingumabob is growing, morphing from a few structures into multiple families, and now, into a collective society as I create more and more," she adds.

Each member of Erickson's evolving family is distinctively "other," yet her assembled tribe at BCA conveys a nearly palpable sense of belonging, a fierce togetherness. The collectivity could be interpreted as a response to current political, social and cultural ructions in the factionalized U.S. Erickson does claim that her installation is "a shrine of wisdom, healing and hope."

That's a worthy aspiration. But there's value, too, in the simple pleasure of viewing the oddball residents of Erickson's manufactured society, anthropomorphizing them, allowing oneself to be charmed by them. Each piece has its own style and exudes something like personality. Erickson has adorned them with every color of — and beyond — the rainbow. Some structures have sparkles; pettable, fluffy yarn; or wispy little topknots. The materiality is endlessly engaging.

Detail of "Thingumabob Society" - PAMELA POLSTON ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven Days
  • Detail of "Thingumabob Society"

Erickson's thingumabobs are arranged in clusters, like neighborhoods. The largest structure by far dominates not only its cluster but the entire room. So tall that it bends to avoid the ceiling, the piece is also distinguished by a body of unglazed terra-cotta. A stack of hollow tubular forms makes up an irregular cone, from which yarn-swaddled appendages protrude like branches. Erickson ingeniously punctured holes in the clay through which she attached the yarn. Myriad strands appear to be growing, vine-like, from within the body.

Surrounding this towering creature are numerous small ones in a medley of inscrutable biomorphic shapes. Some sit directly on the floor, others on tiny clay islands. It's hard not to think of this group as a mother and an atoll of unruly offspring.

In an adjacent cluster, more than a dozen spindly, attenuated thingumabobs of various heights stand on chartreuse-colored islands. To continue the neighborhood metaphor, a third grouping is more like a suburb: shorter structures in a sprawling arrangement. Some of the residents are rotund, like balloons contained by crochet girdles.

Lurking in the corner behind this community is a person-size structure that, as Erickson explained at the exhibit's reception, is wearable — if the wearer doesn't mind not being able to move or see.

Detail of "Thingumabob Society" - PAMELA POLSTON ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Pamela Polston ©️ Seven Days
  • Detail of "Thingumabob Society"

A couple of compact exurbs, perched on low tables against the wall, display smaller structures. And one rather comical bunch springs — or droops, really — from a wall, resembling penises at half-mast.

Erickson, whose art training includes painting in every medium, brought her brush and watercolors to the exhibition, too. She applied yellow and blue blobs with red centers directly to one wall, letting the paint drip like little tails. On the opposite wall, she painted larger pastel, amoebic shapes that look like flowers. These embellishments bring extra joy to the white-cube gallery.

Erickson's installation is playful, but her creations are not toys. In the end, the motley "Thingumabob Society" has something substantial to say about relationships, community and celebrating difference.

The original print version of this article was headlined "The Right Thingies | Hyunsuk Erickson's "Thingumabob Society" is a gleeful installation with a hopeful mission"

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