Originally published in Artforum’s Critics’ Picks. ◊◊
The mascot of Imin Yeh’s exhibition “The Drawer of Extra Sauce” is the installation Extra Sauce, 2019, a heap of to-scale paper replicas of Chinese take-out condiments. Each plump packet was meticulously constructed from two screen prints depicting familiar logos and vibrant sauces, sealed around a mostly hollow center. Extra Sauce is not immediately visible: Per the show’s title, the packets sit inside the half-shut drawer of another sculpture’s pedestal, which is turned away from the gallery entrance. Yeh’s decision to conceal the show’s central work establishes her cheeky sense of humor, and offers a tenuous organizing logic for the gathered miscellanea on view. Other small paper sculptures duplicating innocuous objects or creatures are installed just as inconspicuously throughout the gallery. A delicate bug rests midway up a wall (Stinkbug in Residence, 2019), and two white screws faintly protrude from another wall (Screw, 2016). By camouflaging her laboriously fabricated copies of humble things, Yeh invites visitors to bring a heightened attentiveness to viewing the work.
The artist’s larger, more recent installations are uncanny in different ways, even though they too feature life-size paper models of absent referents. Their hollowness, presaged by the air pockets in Extra Sauce, is readily discernable, despite Yeh’s efforts at perfect mimicry. Wall-spanning works such as Star Bolts and Dogwood Bolts for Pafa, both 2020, in which white paper is a vulnerable substitute for cast iron, invite a larger degree of failure into her reproductive project. The two-part installation Film Projector, 2019, addresses this reading with self-reflexivity: A paper shell of a film projector with its cord unplugged is placed opposite a screen-printed still of a film demonstrating papermaking, suggesting a projection in progress but delivering a stalled animation. Set up to fail in its main imitative function, Film Projector playfully tests the limits of what Yeh’s clones can conjure.