Night Gallery is pleased to announce Well Adjusted, a presentation of new mechanized sculptures by Rachel Youn. This is the artist’s first solo exhibition with the gallery, following their inclusion in the 2022 group show Shrubs.
Youn’s sculptures are lonely, lovely machines. Their motors derive from second-hand massagers, baby rockers, exercise machines, and other devices intended for self-soothing and self-improvement. The artist attaches these exposed, abstracted engines to fake plants and other found objects. Youn’s animated sculptures labor and entertain on an endless loop. Their gestures conflate comfort and care with eroticism and desire. As they jiggle and turn, the sculptures probe the boundaries between pain and pleasure, control and hysteria, exercise and overexertion.
Notions of feminized labor and American aspiration undergird Well Adjusted. The mechanized movements suggest the presence of a laboring body such as a mother rocking a child to sleep or limbs massaging the fatigue out of one’s body. Youn also references scholar Lauren Berlant’s idea of “cruel optimism,” that our desires related to jobs, social equality, and partnership are actually impediments to happiness; we feel we’re moving towards better lives without ever making real progress. As we contort to meet the demands of unaccommodating systems, we may rethink what it means to be “well adjusted.”
Perfect Lovers (2023) serves as a centerpiece for the show. The work features two motors from baby rockers, connected on the floor by an s-shaped metal bar that’s submerged in a bed of white sand. The motors bump up and down, squeaking softly as each waves a metal arm back and forth. These limbs hold two artificial plants, which hover above the ground in an apparent dance. Sometimes the plants sync up. Sometimes they drift apart.
The artwork title references Félix González-Torres’s installation "Untitled" (Perfect Lovers) (1987-1990). He represented his “lovers” with two clocks, initially wound to the same time and gradually diverging. Youn describes their own Perfect Lovers as diaristic: The artist’s immigrant parents have lived in the New Mexican desert for years, and Youn considers the comforts they provide each other, even when out of step with the other partner and their surrounding landscape.
When melancholy pervades the presentation, Youn’s process embraces connection. The artist often sources their motors from Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Gathering materials requires small interactions with strangers around their New Haven home. The sellers give the artist machines once used to soothe their children and themselves, and memories of these bodies and past lives haunt Youn’s sculptures. They’ll keep moving, as long as their motors allow.
Rachel Youn (b. 1994, Abington, PA) has had solo exhibitions at Night Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; Sargent’s
Daughters, New York, NY; and Soy Capitán, Berlin, Germany, among others. Youn has participated in
numerous group exhibitions at venues including Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, Italy; Gallery
Belenius, Stockholm, Sweden; and Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, among others. Youn is a
recipient of the Vermont Studio Center Fellowship and the 2020 Great Rivers Biennial Award. They
received their BFA from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis,
St. Louis, MO. Youn is currently an MFA candidate at Yale School of Art in New Haven, CT, where they live