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Sowon Kwon / MATRIX 196

Sowon Kwon: Essay 2

What does it mean to be average? Presumably, as a species in which every being is physically and mentally unique, it would be impossible to identify an "average" human. Yet such attempts to quantify people are made time and again by means as overt as marketing surveys and as subtle as clothing sizes. Architects and designers often use ergonomic templates dubbed "Average Male" and "Average Female" to adapt the built environment to human scale. These templates, despite the authority they may convey, are as arbitrary an interpretation of the average as any other. Nevertheless, they determine the scale of our cars, the height of our tables, and the contour of our chairs.

The notion of the "average" body has been further skewed in our culture by the fact that the people to whom we devote much of our attention on any given day are not the strangers seated across from us on the bus, but the toned men and women who populate our television screens. Our perceptions of the average and the exemplary thus begin to approach one another, and our own place in the continuum is confused.

The relativity of society's constructions of the norm is a theme often explored (and occasionally parodied) in the work of artist Sowon Kwon. For her MATRIX installation average female (Perfect), Kwon appropriated footage of the 1976 Olympic performances of Nadia Comaneci and Nellie Kim, the first two gymnasts ever to receive scores of perfect ten. Onto their lithe bodies, Kwon digitally superimposed a somewhat awkward yellow line drawing of the "Average Female" ergonomic design template. The contours of this stylized figure closely follow the bodies of Comaneci and Kim throughout most of their routines. When the gymnasts perform their more spectacular feats, however, the line drawing appears to fracture and dissolve, as though to remind us that these leaps are not as effortless as they may seem.

Silhouettes of our own bodies are also cast onto the projected images when we cross the beam of the projector, thereby complicating our relationship to the figures on screen. Kwon involves us, asks us to consider our bodies in relation to both the gymnasts and to the "average female." She prompts a deeper consideration of what it means to be average, what it means to be perfect - and what it means to be unique.

Adrienne Gagnon
Matrix Curatorial Assistant

The MATRIX Program at the UC Berkeley Art Museum is made possible by the generous endowment gift of Phyllis Wattis.

Additional donors to the MATRIX Program include the UAM Council MATRIX Endowment, Ann M. Hatch, Eric McDougall, and Glenn and April Bucksbaum.

The museum also wishes to thank Joan Roebuck for her support of Sowon Kwon / MATRIX 196 average female (Perfect).