Jaye Moon: Wings of Desire
March 25 through April 27, 2022
By PAUL LASTER, April 2022
What do braille, a tactile writing system used by people who are visually impaired, and Lego, a line of plastic construction toys, have in common? Most people would think nothing, but in the hands and mind of an artist anything is possible. Over a period of time the artist Jaye Moon discovered a link and for the last ten years has been making art that merges these two disparate things. Moon’s artworks from these two bodies of work—a selection from the past 25 years—are on view in the solo exhibition “Wings of Desire” at Jennifer Baahng Gallery in New York.
Moon first learned about braille through a chance encounter with a New York pastor, who explained its use. Out of curiosity, she researched the braille text code and began experimenting with its use in her art in 1991. Signifying the inability to see, she covered a light bulb with braille text, and then used it on a body cast of her lower torso; but she didn’t know what the coded language she was using meant, until she discovered a website that could translate language into braille.
After further research into the meaning of the code, she covered the screen of her portable TV in 2000 with a text from the Bible in braille on paper, which led to the way she is now utilizing braille with Lego. Before we get to her recent work, however, we need to understand how Moon came to incorporate Lego products, which she began investigating in 1996, into her artworks. While working with colored Plexiglas in the late-1990s, she started including colored Lego bricks and objects in the making of her pieces. She was attracted to plastic Lego products, which are amongst the most popular toys in the world, because of their wide range of colors, as well as their universal appeal.
The Lego and Plexiglass artwork America (1997-2000) in her show is an excellent example of the successful marriage of the two plastic materials. Consisting of four square pieces, the top two sections have minimalist stripes running through white spaces with toy weapons populating the left panel line and a universal crosswalk symbol on a blue strip in the right side. The two sections below present a pair of doors and a window, which are symbolic of both architecture and art. The piece cleverly blurred the boundary between representation and abstraction, which all of her following works have continued to do, too.
Working more three dimensionally—even though all of the pieces, while looking like paintings, are actually sculptures—Moon started an ongoing series of lunchboxes, briefcases and handbags in 2002, that she constructed with everyday objects, including Plexiglas, Lego bricks, window locks, doorknobs and luggage handles. She returned to her use of braille with some mobiles in 2010 and in 2012 created a series of appropriation pieces based on iconic contemporary artworks by Tracey Emin, Félix González-Torres, On Kawara, Damien Hirst and others.
With Emin, she transformed the British artist’s 2007 neon work, People Like You Need To Fuck People Like Me, into her own braille version by using the numerical braille coding to translate the text and did something similar with González-Torres’s side-by-side wall clocks from his 1991 Untitled (Perfect Lovers) piece by replacing the clock’s numbers with braille numerical coding that spells out the title of the artwork. González-Torres was memorializing his love for his partner, who had been diagnosed with AIDS, and the time that they had together when he made his artwork, while Moon was confronting the fears brought on by her cancer diagnoses and the time that we are given to live. Having defeated cancer, she recently revisited her piece through a 2022 interpretation of it, titled Live Or Die.
The paired clocks in Live Or Die have camouflage backgrounds constructed with Lego bricks, which use the connector dots on the bricks to spell out the sentence “Who's deciding who's gonna live?” on the upper half of the clockface and “Who's deciding who's gonna die?” on the lower half, with the two sections divided by a red line of the plastic bricks. Referencing the war film The Thin Red Line, where lives are needlessly sacrificed on the battlefield, the piece has two amplifiers that increase the sound of the ticking, almost like a heartbeat. Moon’s inspiration for using script lines from films beckons back to the covered TV screen of her earlier work, when the television could be heard but not seen.
Three other new wall-works in the show—Paris/Texas, Color Purple and Wings of Desire—also take lines from films as their point of departure, while the piece Our Differences is inspired by a line from an Audre Lorde book of the civil rights activist’s essays and speeches.
For Paris/Texas, Moon constructed an energetic geometric abstraction from red, black and gold Lego bricks in a variety of sizes and forms. Colored to reference the signature red and black sweaters and blonde hair of the female protagonist, the braille text in the piece comes from a line about a miscommunication that forever affected her and her husband’s lives, which they are speaking to one another through a one-way mirror. Textured like a sweater with the frame of the mirror floating within it, the piece abstractly captures the cinematic scene with a sublime sensitivity.
The largest piece in the show, Wings of Desire is also a tour de force. Constructed in a gray scale to aesthetically match the mood of the black and white film, it focuses on the opening scene of the film, where an angel is perched on the edge of a skyscraper, watching over the people below. The elaborately designed sculptural painting draws upon storylines, costumes and scenes from the film through simulated aerial views of the architecture of the city, urban street signage and figurative angels woven into the mix of dynamically placed circles, squares and triangles. A puzzle-like piece, it tells a story that Moon wants to tell—a personal story, one that relates to her own life, her own time on Earth—which all of her pieces enigmatically convey.
Taken as a whole, the survey offers a fascinating overview of Jaye Moon’s art and ideas. It shows how the artist’s keen observations have helped her to deal with the concerns of her own life, while continually providing engaging content for her art. WM
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, artist and lecturer. He’s a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Galerie Magazine, Sculpture, Art & Object, Cultured, Architectural Digest, Garage, Surface, Ocula, Observer, ArtPulse, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was the founding editor of Artkrush, started The Daily Beast’s art section, and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine, as well as a curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.
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