The Oriental Sauce Factory

CARLA Interview by stephanie mei huang
X-TRA Interview by Reuben Merringer
Video Documentatoin
All photos by Josh Schaedel

Murmurs, 2021
Eli Klein Gallery, 2022  
(Kelly Akashi, Patty Chang, stephanie mei huang, Christina Yuna Lee, Maia Ruth Lee, Candice Lin, Astria Suparak, Hồng-Ân Trương, Haena Yoo)



Press Release
In the past two years, we have witnessed extraordinary, unprecedented levels of anxiety fueled by stagnation, hoarding, and racism that spread as the virus did. Ethics seemed to crumble against a backdrop of late-capitalist decay. The urgency of survival was compelled by the precarity of the sociopolitical structure, begging the question “Who will cure and save us?” Haena Yoo’s site-specific installation The Oriental Sauce Factory symbolically renders the anxieties of a postpandemic global system as an industrial/medical mechanism that manufactures an elixir infused with an amalgamation of remedies— a special “sauce.”

The foundation of The Oriental Sauce Factory is informed by Yoo’s father’s factory in Korea which produces various soy-based sauces that are sold in Asian cuisine restaurants. Yoo incorporates the logic of Marcel Duchamp into the manufacturing process— specifically the tenets of his seminal work The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, 1915-23 also called The Large Glass. This piece depicts a diagram for an allegorical machine which, when interpreted with Duchamp’s notes, can be seen as a pneumatic apparatus of unconsummated sexual desire. Just as the Duchampian Bride is the source of desire, motivating the bachelors with her electromagnetic transmissions of sexuality, The Bride in The Oriental Sauce Factory is a reservoir that holds the source of the sauce: a mixture of water and meju. Meju (메주) is a brick of fermented soybeans that, although not eaten on its own, is a staple in Korean cuisine used as the basis of several condiments such as doenjang (soybean paste), ganjang (soy sauce) and gochujang (chili paste). Meju is made using an intricate traditional process dating back to the 1500s that involves inducing natural fungal fermentation for several months under controlled settings. The meju in this exhibition was handmade by the artist with materials embedded into the soybeans: bones, roots, shells, pages from The Savage Mind by Levi Strauss, and articles about Asian hate crimes printed on rice paper. These meju bricks, and the agricultural heritage they represent, belong to the realm of the Bride— soon to be stripped bare by the Bachelors of multinational franchise corporations and the accompanying patriarchy, white privilege, and cheap mass production. 
Ultimately, what once came from the Bride is diluted into a generic brown gravy and given a name that maps neatly onto the palate of the average Western consumer: Oriental Sauce. Although the word “Oriental” has fallen out of favor as a racial descriptor, the slew of Oriental food products in every grocery store in America are evidence of the unconstrained homogenization resulting from the global movement of capital, information, and population.

Inside the sealed acrylic box of The Milky Way Table, the sauce brews and cultivates mold, forming bubbles from the action of lactic acid and bacteria. Viewed from above, the table looks like a chessboard or a map. There is direct contrast between the natural, uncontrolled odors of the decay/fermentation process and the rigid sterility of the box, which protects the viewer from the swamp within, save for trails of vapor that escape around the Bachelors. Rational mechanized control collides with the unbridled natural entropy that is necessary to strengthen the sauce into a panacea distilled from the use values of the different medicines combined. The absurdity of mixing all of these pills and herbs together to create a “magical” sauce interests Yoo. She rejects abstraction in her work, preferring to create specific, operative systems through the method of “bricolage,” a term used by Levi-Strauss in The Savage Mind meaning using bits and pieces or “odds and ends” of what is at hand to create something new. As opposed to abstraction, which deliberately defamiliarizes something recognizable, bricolage inherently reflects difference as the artist takes from what is discarded, overlooked, or surplus in her own life to create her art. In a late-capitalist society, this way of working with the limitations of what is at hand shows the positionality of the maker. For Yoo, this means using a variety of materials from minority cultures, including the Korean community in Los Angeles. The Oriental Sauce Factory is made of found materials, wood, rattan, bamboo, glass, medical tubing, cardboard, pills and health supplements from American drugstores, and all kinds of East Asian natural products. When these seemingly random objects are put to use together, it mirrors the subjectivity of being an immigrant, overlooked from a capitalist point of view, a member of a surplus population. Yoo’s factory triggers a disruption in an omnipotent structure, exposing the failure of rationality in a morally organized world and making space for the creation of new meaning.