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Korean-American woman stages faux Wyoming wedding for documentary
Maria Yoon holds hands with Matt Mickelson of Laramie on horseback during a wedding ceremony in Vedauwoo on Sept. 8. Yoon has been married in ceremony but without certificate 48 times now, all part of a performance art piece years in the making that she plans to one day turn into a documentary. (Andy Carpenean/Laramie Boomerang via AP)

LARAMIE -- The sun peaked from behind the hills, casting Vedauwoo's totemic rocks in gold. Warm Chinook winds coaxed yellowed Aspen leaves to chatter quietly beneath the conversations of the wedding party, but more was at play than just the image of another perfect Wyoming wedding.

Not everyone knew what, exactly, was going on.

Although the day found him in good spirits, the groom said he hadn't heard from his girlfriend since a week ago, the day she found out about the marriage.

One guest commented he had received seven text messages Sept. 8 asking if his friend was actually getting betrothed.

"Is Matt getting married, really getting married?" another witness asked.

"No," ordained minister Nick Zakis said, drawing the word out for emphasis.

"Oh, okay. I'll hold my peace then."

These are not typical wedding conversations. Then again, Maria Yoon was not the typical bride. She's been married in ceremony but without certificate 48 times now, all part of a performance art piece years in the making that she plans to one day turn into a documentary.

On Sept. 8 her groom was fifth generation Wyoming cowboy, former barkeep, current ironworker and appreciator of the Wu-Tang Clan, Laramie resident Matt Mickelson.

"I've had three different girls call me saying, 'Seriously dude?"' Mickelson said.

The ceremony was serious, but not how most would expect. A Korean-American, Yoon's parents began to ask her early in life why she wasn't married. Although she has been successful in life and art, Yoon's parents thought perhaps she was "incompetent" for her lack of marriage.

In response, Yoon began to travel to each state, and two U.S. territories, marrying a person and sometimes an object in each one in hopes of sparking conversation about marriage, not just within her family, but also in communities around the nation.

After Sept. 8, she had only two left, and while some might think going through the motions of marriage at least 50 times would lessen respect for what is largely considered an institution of life, Yoon is definitely not cavalier.

To begin the ceremony, Zakis read vows written by Yoon herself.

"We are gathered here in the great state of Wyoming, home of the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, wild bears, wild animals, wild cowboys, wild cowgirls and the wildest and toughest cowboys of all, the University of Wyoming Cowboys," Zakis said.

She also never smiles during the ceremony.

"I'm respectful to my ancestors before me," Yoon said. "I'm a 38th generation Yoon, so that's my way to pay respect and honor them. Not because I'm depressed getting married again, but because I want to think about them as I'm doing it in such a sacred traditional outfit."

A multitude of marriages doesn't lessen the unique experiences each one contains, either. Dressed in the traditional garb of a Korean bride, Yoon said the ceremony marked a number of firsts for her.

"This is my first wedding on a horse," Yoon said. "This is above and beyond my comfort level."

The reception Laramie residents gave Yoon was also a first.

"Everybody knowing about the project, not Maria Yoon, but about the project and how accepting of that they were," Yoon said. "Matt and I went to a coffee shop today and I was joking. I said, `We're going to get married, and this is the caffeine fix we need for the day,' and the guy goes, Are you Maria the Korean bride?' What are the chances of me getting that recognition in New York City?"

Yoon added that without the many Laramie residents who helped organize and hold her Wyoming wedding, it never would have happened.

"I need that, I need the locals' help," Yoon said. "It makes a tremendous amount of difference."

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