From Performance Artist to Object Maker: How Reality Television Changed Young Sun Han’s Practice / Art21

Young Sun Han. “Matriarch,” 2012. Acrylic, ink, graphite, photo cutout, gold leaf, 16.5 x 12.5 in. Courtesy of the artist.

To be on a reality television show, contestants voluntarily leave their familiar surroundings, home life, and regular routines to temporarily thrust themselves into a world dictated by short attention spans and video editors with their own agendas. While on the show, contestants usually cannot watch news, listen to the radio, or peruse the Internet. They can’t even use their mobile phones. It’s a “residency experience” in an entirely different sense of the phrase.

Nearly a year ago, Young Sun Han’s lust for adventure led him to participate in Season 2 of “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” the now-canceled reality TV show on BRAVO in which artists competed for the grand prize of $100,000 and a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum. Unlike a typical residency—where artists develop a single piece or body of work in a low-pressure environment and might casually form friendships—artists here quickly formed tight bonds and under the strain of constant competition and an omnipotent, mediated audience of judges and other art worlders.

Han’s experience on “Work of Art” not only pushed him to create work with unfamiliar materials, but also completely shifted his practice away from endurance-based performance to sculpture and works on paper.

“At the time I auditioned for ‘Work of Art,’ I was working almost solely in performance,” says Han. “I had abandoned an object-based practice because I was really interested in using the body as a sculptural element and as a live circuit for interactions that happen with an audience, so it somehow tied into this reality TV experience—I wasn’t only the creator of work but I became the thing being consumed on television.”

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