ART FRONTIER|Huang Hai-Hsin: Absurdity Fills the Common Places

Xiaorui Wang, Art Frontier, September 13, 2018

As reflected in the title of this exhibition The Common Places, artist Huang Hai-Hsin explores ordinary subjects. Da'an Forest Park is near Huang's home; when she goes out in the morning, she sees local residents exercising in the park. It is equally common for an artist to visit MoMA or the Met. Like keeping a journal, Huang records minute details of life, including moments from her residency program in Finland and her sightseeing when she had a solo exhibition in Shanghai. 


Although common places and events are the sources for her creations, the artist does not necessarily know at what moment inspiration might suddenly be kindled. For the artist, the entire process is like walking down the street with a camera, uncertain what circumstances she would bump into and what situations would spark ideas-Huang clicks the metaphorical shutter following her own instincts. One can find everyday scenes in these paintings and then realize a certain role one often plays in the given situation portrayed in them. 


In Victoria's Secret, for example, female customers are in a frenetic shopping spree: women unabashedly take off their clothes to try on new bras, while men wait on a side bench, swiping smartphone screens or resting; a few baby strollers are scattered nearby. (Victoria's Secret, 2017). In another painting, a few tourists are crossing a bridge in Da'an Forest Park in the early morning, while morning exercisers are stretching on both railings-one extends her body forward with one leg on the railing, another bends her waist back down over the railing, still another twists her arms upward into the shape of a fried dough twist. (Da-an Forest Park, 2018)


Although these scenes are so familiar that we rarely pay attention to them, the artist zooms out to generate a feeling both familiar and odd. Like a derailed train determined to escape its formal tracks, this exhibition presents a series of absurd human comedies. Here, we follow the artist's point of view that shifts from first person to third person, creating a barrier between art and reality that leaves us room to ponder and reflect.   


The third person point of view is not only reserved for God. The artist does not use it for criticism or scrutiny, but rather to present the chaotic and dubious space that exists between a certain order and individual misbehaviors. When a small everyday moment is dramatized, human behaviors often appear to be slipping out of control in an otherwise seemingly strict and orderly society.


In China Wing, for example, visitors pose whimsically for selfies in a quiet and sullen exhibition room displaying bronze vessels, recording the moment as if seeking novelty. Although Pope St. Francis in NY captures the grandeur of the Pope's arrival, the fact that everyone holds up a screen wherein the Pope's profile is shown completely dissolves the graveness of the event, turning it into an amusing and absurd occasion.


Of course, the artist mainly records day-to-day scenes: an exhibition hall, a gym, a sauna room, a park, a tourist site, and so on. The mundane life can be monotonous and boring, but if one takes it easy and add a playful twist, one can turn the commonplace into a starlit world. As the artist mentioned in a previous interview, "Life is filled with boredom and discord, that's why a sense of humor becomes a primary advantage."


This exhibition at Capsule Shanghai marks Huang Hai-Hsin's first solo exhibition in Shanghai--Huang was born in Taiwan and now lives in New York. We can see this young artist's exploration of sketch, drawing, installation, and other art forms. She runs easy experiments on images with similar textures and sizes-duplicating a simple sketch with an oil painting, or adding coarse marks on a small oil painting to create a pure, elusive aura of mystery. Huang's ingenuity is also demonstrated by her mastery of the overall visual atmosphere in paintings depicting crowds, by her skill of balancing the broad tone with small details, and by her control of close-up portraits--such as the makeup, facial wrinkles, and jewelry of a wealthy old woman. Yet when one puts aside race, skin color, age, gender, and other superficial differences, there is no doubt that these images point to universal themes reflected in the psychological structure of social human beings.