FENG CHEN: ILLUSIONS IN SENSES AND PERCEPTION

Peter Hagan, HuArts, July 23, 2017

In Capsule Gallery, nestled at the back of a small neighborhood off Anfu Road, Feng Chen has turned the space from a typical white cube into a house alive with the automated movements of the machinery from which Feng extends his reach into all the visitors. The effects of the artwork are an invasion of reality. "My work does not talk about stories. It is about reality and how people relate to real life." In the space of the gallery, every decision of the experience down to the color and texture of the carpet has been chosen by Feng Chen. The entirety of the space is curated to point at how our senses have created the illusion of reality. 

Repetitively, Feng isolates a sense, sound and sight and even emotion, and then prods at the brain's interpretation of the information. In his solo show, Feng Chen aims to break the imposition of perception to liberate the audience from their hypnosis. Yet, by taking total control of the experience within the gallery, Feng Chen also aims at the institution of art and there too attempts to undermine its own authoritarian position.

After putting on headphones, Feng and I walk into the first room on the left. Sounds of slaps begin playing in our headphones as Feng conducts the tour, explaining the piece in front of us. It is one channel of "Convulsion," a video projected across the wall. In the video, the inside of a wrist twitches. Our headphones continue to play the slap, which is almost synchronized with the twitch on the screen. Like someone trying to hit a moving target and just missing the mark ever-so-slightly each time, the twitching wrist is only a fraction of a beat away from being in-synch with the slap. Suddenly, the blinds start to shudder alongside the sound and the video. The three fuse. Together, they envelop the audience. 

"Did you design the exhibition to make the audience uncomfortable? Because when I watch this video I long for them to join." 

"Yes." 

"My work tries to invade a person. Because I use video often and sometimes I want to make something different. You watch television every day and you don't know it invades you," explains Feng in the back office of Capsule. Screens of convulsing arms, backs, and buttocks controlled by electric charges and are paired with conspicuous sounds. As viewers enter the gallery they are invited to wear headphones, isolating them within the exhibition. His work includes carbon fiber installations, Erbu marbling paintings, thermal ink, and sound installations.

Moving room to room, the audience is exposed to these video and sound pairings. The sounds are artificially synchronized and at times desynchronized with the spasms. Of course, the sound of a frog in Convulsion has no real-world connection with the twitch of the shoulder.

"How the mind comes into [the exhibition], that is what I am interested in. Like this mind is kind of a sense perception. How do senses build the mind. How do you do that? But the mind has different kinds of layers. If people see the work and get mad I think it is a good idea. When you get mad some people maybe really like it. You get mad because there is no purpose."

He forces the audience into an illusory synthesis that is routinely broken. It is our own unconscious that causes the relation between the audio and visual: there is no casual relationship between an arm muscle and a slap. That is a marker of the illusion. We are blind to our own blindness when we long for the synchronization of sight and sound and are wholly unable to divorce the two. Even more, Feng Chen manipulates the space by pairing moving blinds with the video and audio. Here, even the slightest discrepancy in the timing becomes almost unbearable as we long for synchronicity.

In this exhibition, I see Feng Chen's work as compelling the audience to examine reality through the senses by blurring the line between synthetic and natural through projecting this now-opaque distinction directly into our (hopefully) conscious awareness. To achieve this effect, he must control all aspects of input by using technology, space and time, and the gallery itself as the media. The space and role of the gallery is obscured when Feng Chen imposes his artificial reality: there is no need for the gallery now if Feng is attempting to disarm the authority of the senses. The gallery is manipulated into a passive host in order that the artist can highlight the lines between misinterpreted reality and true reality directly into the viewer. This action is fundamentally destructive with the hope that the viewer can begin to reconstruct her own idea of reality. 

Feng explains, "You can help the audience look a little bit further. I know and I want you to know. I think you should know, unless you do not want to know and then you will never know."

Feng Chen circumvents the space for intimate contact with the audience, isolating them in a curated reality through technology (headphones, video, and moving objects) to separate the audience from both the world outside the gallery and even the gallery itself. Although Feng is not physically in the space, he extends his autonomy through mechanized interactions that touch the senses of the gallery-goer. "For me, for now, the machine helps man build the world. Everything is controlled by the man. The machine is like a hammer or measuring tape. It just helps you be more precise." 

It is through clever subversion that results in the audience succumbing to the illusion of a new reality through sense, which in itself is an illusion of reality as well. His art, therefore, is an illusion built upon an illusion, with one, the illusion through art, aimed at breaking the authority of the illusion through the sensory. His presentation is forceful and deceptive. His goal is to help the viewer come to a conclusion of what reality is. The things Feng Chen has created are illusory and deserve a chance to be a valid experience. They represent misinterpretations of reality but letting these misinterpretations of reality exist is the beauty of art.