When We Become Us | Flash Art Exhibition Review

Gu Qianfan, Flash Art, November 24, 2016

Capsule Shanghai is located at the end of a sinuous alleyway, a renovated old house painted in luminous white with a lush backyard. This newly opened gallery has a fresh look, almost as though it were a beautifully wrapped gift box, though their first exhibition’s title, 忘物志 - Wang Wu Zhi, literally means “To Forget All Else”.


Generally speaking, galleries are focused on discovering trends in which artistic creation is materialized and establish an intelligible yet challenging discourse in order to shape a flourishing environment. However, Capsule has made the bold statement to “forget all else” from the very beginning; perhaps this is a kind of introspective reflection.


It must be. The most curious work in this group exhibition is by artist Feng Chen, who has combined some seemingly unrelated elements in his work, including mechanical engineering, unusual materials and ancient ink paintings. The thermo-stimulative ink on paper works S-1 (2016) and S-2 (2016) reacts to the heat released from the mechanical device behind the aluminum board, which causes the image to appear and disappear on the paper. Feng’s early video works and his background in video installation have aided his recent works with a powerful foundation: to not use the video medium as a form, but to present mechanical, physical and real-time elements in order to create moving images. He has experimented with the physicality of image and created something new.


What is also compelling is an installation by L.A. based artist Alice Wang - Untitled (2016). It consists of a group of 3 billion year old crinoid fossils glided with 24K gold and presented in front of a gridded window, which looks like stacks of ordinary coins from afar. This gesture effortlessly connects the weight of ancient history with the extravagance of capitalist reality.


On the other hand, When We Become Us manifests a strong sense of fetishism with an emphasis of the body - or the self, in a deeper sense. The video work Faces (2005-6) by Polish artist Katarzyna Kozyra is projected across an entire wall, in which the body is almost materialized as an object through enlarging and focusing on the facial expression of the performing dancer. The works of American painter Sarah Faux depict various unconscious body parts, such as fingers and nipples that appear in between the layering of colors on the canvas and experimentation of materials. New York based artist Pixy Liao bluntly employs the genitals of both sexes as her subject, combining them with daily objects, and transforming them into practical devices such as Soft Heeled Shoes (2013) and Breast Spray (2015), in which the worship of procreation and fetishism have preserved their exaggerated forms and object-hood, while at the same time acting as a metaphor for a certain state of pragmatism.


If we were to say that to “forget all else” is to make room in memory and in history for new things to manifest, then Capsule’s attitude is humble and introverted. The works of Feng Chen and Alice Wang are a mixture of old and new, while the works mentioned above with an emphasis on the body allow the spectator to omit the presented object by employing fetishism. These works seem to be presenting a mixed and yet coherent standpoint on behalf of this new exhibition space: not to speak of forgetting, but rather the disremembering of tricky concepts when a tangible art work is presented.


Two more thoughts are derived from the title of When We Become Us. Firstly is the inevitability that such a classic and minimal white box with its emphasis on “objects” would remind us of Michael Fried’s Art and Objecthood (1967) [http://atc.berkeley.edu/201/readings/FriedObjcthd.pdf], in which Fried writes about the object-hood he sees in realist paintings, as well as minimalist works that seem to contradict their forms. Basing on this idea, the complicity of the forgetting and fetishizing of objects would seem to stem from their Modernist roots. Second is the delicate difference between the Chinese and English exhibition titles: Wang Wu Zhi - “To Forget All Else”, corresponding to When We Become Us. To forget all else and become one with ourselves; to be unified with the forgotten - “not to forget the self”.



Gu Qianfan’s essay, translated from the Chinese by Ophelia S. Chan and originally published on Flash Art, is now a WeChat post (WeChat account: flashartmagazine).