Thea Yabut
March 21 - April 20, 2024

Press Release

Franz Kaka is delighted to present Thea Yabut’s first solo exhibition with the gallery, ROGUE BEZEL. This new series of work builds on Yabut’s distinct material usage of pigmented paper pulp, pushing ornamentation and embellishment towards an intentional point of excess. Utilizing construction techniques lifted from jewelry repair and assembly, Yabut’s adorned and decorated surfaces analogize the searching nature of adolescent self-expression with the construction of individual and cultural identity more broadly, examining the role that fashion, pattern and ornamentation play in these formations. Built directly onto aluminum substrates, the works evoke the low-relief textures of coloured stucco walls, shields, or medallions. 

Yabut’s text, A rogue bezel, frames her work with the story of Afong Moy, written about as the first known Chinese female immigrant to the United States. She was “exhibited,” alongside decorative goods, as “the Chinese lady” from 1834 until 1850. Moy’s real name is not recorded and no records have surfaced of her own account of what she experienced. Yabut imagines Moy as a figure of agency who responds to her surroundings by consuming “every symbol of herself that she can find,” destroying the stage she is set within, and remaking her own self-portrait anew. Written in a guttural, diaristic tone, the voice in Yabut’s text situates the artist’s own upbringing in the United States with the fact that Afong Moy was only a teenager when she was taken from her home in Guangzhou.

A rogue bezel

An invisible force jerked her out of her seat. She stood up, walked around, and reoriented herself.  Flipping through the local newspaper, she saw the ad for the touring exhibition. There it was in black and white, an image of her current situation: "THE LAST DAY." Ultimately it was her exhibition. The exhibition of her. She had never seen what she looked like from this perspective. Gazing at it, she ripped it out, crumpled it into a ball, and shoved it into her mouth. She chewed it into a pulp and swallowed it. She threw it up into a big blue and white vase, one of the ones that always sits with her, the one on her right. She repeated this process of eating and regurgitating until she felt she had enough material to work with. There was a lot to eat: the Stargazer lilies in the other vase, the one on her left; the stupid painting of a crane standing in a pond; a postcard of a butterfly; the orchid plant in the painted window, her silk garments with embroidered dragons which she actually thought were quite beautiful. Everything was already deteriorating, yellow stains and crumpled edges. It was her turn to feast on the stuff that surrounded her. She consumed every symbol of herself she could find. The vase, which matched the size of her, was soon brimming. She laid a tapestry that flanked her former seat on the table and meticulously arranged her vomit/matter into patterns and forms on top of it. She pulled the long pin out of her hair and used it as a drawing tool. The wet mush took the form of her fingers. Her rings pressed in. She had never seen an accurate image of herself, one that she made herself. It was an image and a form, a body of her body. She saw hints of herself, but recognized her touch first. She felt before she knew. She felt to know, to form. She felt before she thought. She felt seen in every edge. She felt comfort.

She was used to this regurgitation process — this was going to be her last show after all, go hard or go home. While she waited for the mush to dry, she ate some actual food: a smash burger (she's in America after all). She found a pangram, doom scrolled, rested, and contemplated her next move. Finally the work was dry. God, it stank the whole time! There were flies. Even though she had dreamt about this a hundred times she was surprised to see how the vomit transformed. The color changed from yellow to brown, settling as ochre. Her image, the one she made, became fixed into a skeletal skin. In one go, she flipped the whole thing over to peel away the silk backing. She put her drawing on the back wall in the same place she used to sit. Searching and failing to find nails, she used her earrings to fix her work in place. Long strands of her black hair got tangled up in one of the earrings. She stood back, looked at it and shrugged, "I think I like the hair!" She hung up her necklace, then swiftly took it down, thinking, “No, that's too much,” and then putting it back, “Actually, yeah, it's good.” She left the work alone without a second thought about it.

Wait — I want to talk about her exit. The music video for “Pat's Trick” by Helium projects over her background. The volume dial cranked up to 11, the speakers in the room push against the air like two pumping hearts. In this moment, images of blurry bulldozers rip up the ground to the following words:

Some say it's like a beautiful flower
Some say it is a terrible power
I'll meet you at the ending hour
I want to use, I want to use that power

Feed me, feed me
Feed me, feed me
You are the most beautiful thing
You are the most beautiful thing
Flower of life, bird of spring
You are the most beautiful thing

She starts to spin … faster and faster, like a tornado obliterating everything in sight. Hair whipping around, her image undefined, she's a blur. A mechanical whirring surrounds her … laughing, screaming, crying, scrying about her future! Finally! This is the machine she wants to embody. She's the Ninja blender now and her body is the blade. Actually, no! She's not a Ninja (eyeroll), SHE'S A BULL, a TAURUS like the brand of blenders in Mexico City. She's the bull now. The bull in the china shop everyone loathes.

At the end, people clapped while taking note of the flower vase (the one before she smashed it) for their very own oriental-inspired drawing room. She makes her exit while breathing hot air on her nails and buffing them on her silk shirt. She never showed herself in this light again. A fleeting facet, a rogue bezel.

- Thea Yabut, 2024

Thea Yabut (b. 1985 Vancouver, CA) is a visual artist currently based in Montreal, CA. Her sculptural use of paper pulp has evolved from an experimental drawing practice that continues to draw upon her own ancestry to examine the ways in which identity is shaped in Chinese and Filipina diasporic communities. Channeling the subconscious through a visceral material language, her practice uses abjection and ornament to consider the complex convergence of race and gender.

Yabut received a MFA from Western University (2013) and a BFA from Alberta University of the Arts (2007). She has exhibited nationally and internationally at galleries and museums including Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Montreal, CA; JO-HS, Mexico City, MX; Leila Greiche, New York, US; South Parade, London, UK; ADA, Rome, IT; and Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Brooklyn, US. From 2019 to 2021 she was Artist-In-Residence for the department of Drawing at Concordia University. Her work can be found in the collection of Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal and Burnaby Art Gallery.