Berlin and Seoul-based artist Haegue Yang presents her sixth iteration of The Malady of Death, a text written by French filmmaker and author Marguerite Duras. Featuring Laurence Olivier award-winning actor Noma Dumezweni, Yang’s spectral staging will take advantage of the circular Peter B. Lewis Theater at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, highlighting the lone performer whose singular presence will be refracted throughout the space.
The Malady of Death – Monodrama with Noma DumezweniPerforma Commission
Berlin and Seoul-based artist Haegue Yang came to international prominence in the early 2000s with ambitious installations that combined abstract, often suspended or performative forms with domestic objects such as venetian blinds, light bulbs with electric cables, and metallic bells reminiscent of pagan and shamanistic rituals. The visually striking effects of her installations implicate notions of cultural connections––and dissonance––between domesticity and the public sphere, industry and craft, abstraction and narration. Yang revels in the in-betweens of these binaries, drawing from a life-long oscillating preoccupation with alienation, otherness, and what the artist calls a “community of absence.”
In addition to her prolific exhibition career of rich sculptural productions and multi-sensorial installations, Yang has committed herself to a book by the legendary French author and filmmaker Marguerite Duras, namely her 1982 novella The Malady of Death, by staging it in various forms and translating it in different languages. The novella explores a mysterious tryst between two figures identified as “You” and “She,” isolated in a seaside hotel room for an unspecified period of time. Told in Duras’s minimal yet haunting prose, “You” attempts to learn “how to love,” but “She” diagnoses him as suffering from the “malady of death,” a condition of emptiness caused by the inability to find love and pleasure in a world ruled by gendered and colonial power dynamics.
Yang’s encounter with The Malady of Death was through French theorist Maurice Blanchot’s 1983 book The Unavowable Community, which concerns the impossibility of community in a fractured world. It sparked Yang’s decade-long obsession with the novella. Beginning with her initiation of the novella’s Korean translation in 2008 as well as Chinese translation, commissioned by M+, West Kowloon Cultural District, Hong Kong in 2015 and a public reading at the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN) in 2010, Yang has adapted Duras’s text into a site-specific, hypnotic monodrama. Versions of the monodrama have premiered at Namsan Arts Center (Seoul, 2010), Staatstheater Kassel, commissioned by dOCUMENTA (13) (Kassel, 2012), the Sunbeam Theater, commissioned by M+ (Hong Kong, 2015), and in a cenote, a type of sinkhole, in the rural Yucatán region of Mexico (2016) hosted by kurimanzutto.
For Performa, Yang collaborates with Laurence Olivier award-winning actor Noma Dumezweni to present her sixth version of The Malady of Death in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Peter B. Lewis Theater at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Taking advantage of the theater’s circular design, Yang’s spectral staging will highlight the lone performer whose singular presence will be refracted throughout the space using pre-recorded video and sound, amplifying the obsessive atmosphere of the text.
Curated by Charles Aubin.
About Haegue Yang
Haegue Yang (b. 1971, Seoul, South Korea) lives and works between Berlin and Seoul. Since 2017 she has been Professor of Fine Arts at the Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main, her Alma Mater.
Spanning a vast range of media—from collage to kinetic sculpture and room-scaled installations—Yang’s work links disparate histories and traditions in a visual idiom all her own. The artist draws on a variety of craft techniques and materials, and the cultural connotations they carry: from drying racks to venetian blinds, hanji (traditional handmade Korean paper derived from the mulberry tree) to artificial straw. She is known for her multi-sensory environments that activate perception beyond the visual, creating immersive experiences that treat issues such as labour, migration and displacement from the oblique vantage of the aesthetic. Ensuring that her references remain wayward and personalised, Yang prizes fluidity over unified narratives.
A recipient of the Wolfgang Hahn Prize in 2018 and the 13th Benesse Prize at the Singapore Biennale in 2022, Yang has been the subject of major solo exhibitions at renowned museums around the world, including S.M.A.K, Ghent (2023); Pinacoteca de São Paulo (2023); SMK – The National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen (2022); Tate St Ives (2020); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2019); Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2018); Centre George Pompidou, Paris (2016); Leeum Museum of Art, Seoul (2015); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2012); and the Korean Pavilion of the 53rd Venice Biennale (2009), among others in recent years. In November, her solo show Continuous Reenactments will open at HAM, Helsinki, and her wide-spanning exhibition activities will continue with her participation in the Thailand Biennale 2023 and Lahore Biennale next year. Hayward Gallery in London will host a major survey exhibition of Yang’s oeuvre in October 2024. Her work has been the subject of numerous essays and monographs and is included in public collections across Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
Co-produced with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, with the generous support of the Guggenheim's Asian Art Circle. Additional support provided by kurimanzutto, Lonti Ebers, and Miyoung Lee.
Performa Biennial 2023 Commissions are supported by Commissioning Council members, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.
Noma Dumezweni (b. 1969 Swaziland, present-day Eswatini) is a South African-British actor who first established herself with notable performances for the Royal National Theatre, the Young Vic Theatre, and the Royal Shakespeare Company in the UK. She played Hermione Granger in the original West End production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2016–present) in London, which subsequently had a successful run on Broadway in New York in 2017. Her role earned Dumezweni a Laurence Olivier Award in 2017 and a Tony Award nomination in 2018. In 2022, she performed in A Doll’s House, Part 2, a play written by Lucas Hnath that continues the story of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 classic. In addition to her theatrical successes, Dumezweni has appeared on numerous television shows, including Only Murders in the Building, HBO’s Made for Love, Ryan Murphy’s The Watcher, and the HBO limited series The Undoing. Dumezweni plays Queen Selina in the Disney musical film The Little Mermaid and appears opposite Liam Neeson in Retribution (both 2023).
Senior Curator and Head of Publications: Charles Aubin
Performa Biennial 2023 Producer: Caitlin Adams
Performa 2023 Associate Producer: Sunmi Yong
Performa 2023 Baltic Fellow: Aiste Liuka Jonynaite