If London is a melting pot, then Canadian artist Zadie Xa is turning up the flame and getting everything up to a rolling, bubbling boil. Her show here explores her Korean heritage through immersive environments, video and textiles, all floating in watery metaphors and swirls of patterns.
Xa’s world is a clash of Eastern tradition and western aesthetics. It says a lot that so much on show here is made up of cloaks and Korean masks, things you can wear or discard, as if culture is something you can embrace and celebrate, or take off and reject.
One floor is filled with water projections, burbling sounds, masks and multi-coloured gowns. It’s as if Xa is dropping you slowly into a sea of her own making, submerging you in her own mythical version of Korean culture. On the final floor, a two-screen video tells a story of molluscs, the shifting colours of cephalopods and fishing for seashells, all mixed with images of Korean language learning tools.
The space is a little too big for what Xa has put in it, and you wish the show was a little more condensed and thought through. You want a bit more from this, more work, more effort. But that’s just a gripe. Xa is using her art to grasp, understand and wrestle with her culture, her ‘otherness’. It feels like the watery environment she lets wash over the viewer is washing over her too. Just like oceans, seas, rivers and lakes are separate bodies of water that touch, mix and run into each other, so cultures and identities exist as independent things that can splodge together into something new. It’s all fluid, moving.
The warm hug of a Canadian artist of Korean heritage making work in London about the fluidity of culture is an ecstatic, necessary celebration. It’s an open embrace in a world of closed borders. If you’re going to have a melting pot, it might as well overflow.