Wormhole - A Wang Yuyang Solo Exhibition

Wang Yuyang is probably best known for his projects within the new media community and its exhibition framework, a reputation that has allowed him to emerge internationally as a leading new artist from China while also forcing him into a discursive ghetto. Despite the fact that interpretation of his work has been largely commandeered by Ars Electronica, Li Zhenhua, and the Shanghai e-Arts Festival, Wang Yuyang is actually quite ambivalent about this situation. He is deeply critical of new media and technological practices in the arts, and his critique of the role of technology in society sets him apart from the spectacle-based installations with which he is often grouped. Though it may certainly be appropriate to find in his body of work a certain commentary on the institution of new media, any such reading must also recognize that he belongs much more properly to an alternative evolutionary pathway of contemporary art buried within the trajectory of international art in China since the start of the millennium.

Wang Yuyang works closely under the influence and tutelage of certain members of the Post-Sense Sensibility generation, foremost among them Liu Wei. Both of these artists engage with concepts of techno-utopianism and control in the networked society on a profound level, while neither can be said to properly interrogate new media as media within a distinct discourse of art and technology. Their interests lie more fully in the social sphere, albeit one fragmented, distorted, and filtered through the multiple planes of media perception, ultimately providing a revised reality that supersedes historical truth and obfuscates certainty with an aestheticized fiction that functions as both replacement and supplement.

The solo exhibition Wormhole includes a series of work previously seen in Beijing and elsewhere related to conceptual, historical, and pseudo-scientific visions of the moon. At the most analytical end of the spectrum, Dust to Dust pictures photographs of microscopic particles as massive objects floating through outer space. Tending towards the poetic, Tonight I Will Consider Who I Am imagines the situation of an astronaut coming to terms with the fact of a broken landing vehicle while surveying the earth. This installation sites uneasily with the artist’s larger moon series, offering a narrative dimension that certainly enriches but also lends an air of the totemic to a project that otherwise attempts to lay bare the machinery of historically and scientifically articulated mythology. Closely related, The Moon Landing Program shifts to a different register to question the process of imaging the titular event. And then closer to home, Artificial Moon recreates the fetish object of the entire project as a globular mass of light bulbs, the luminescent waste of a society held firmly in the grasp of techno-mythology.

The two new works included in the exhibition seem to belong to a different aesthetic project entirely, but both remain closely related to a critique of this mythological complex. In Electricity, a single silver battery sits on a well-lit wooden chair in a small, circular room reached via a long hallway. According to legend, this battery contains the “energy” derived from the brain of the artist; this story is supported by a toolbox containing the requisite unrecognizable electronic implements and an accompanying documentary video placed within the office space of the gallery. This is the closest Wang Yuyang comes to the territory of new media proper, but here the project is never actually about the social role of a “new,” existing technology. Instead, the installation describes the construction of a mythology, never admitting a definitive answer as to whether the battery actually does or does not contain electricity extracted from the body of the artist.

In the other new work, Emblazonry, traditional symbols of male and female have been merged with vaguely biological diagrams to form a design that fits within a genealogy of obscene heraldry. Installed as a part of the floor directly under the blindingly bright Artificial Moon in the gallery entrance, this piece blends seamlessly into an almost religious understanding of the social play between body and object today. Another component of Emblazonry, a rubbery black skirt composed of similar patterns cut into long strands of material, hangs off of a white mannequin again situated inside the gallery office. This sculptural addition drives home the primary role of the body in any reading of the mythology of mediated power, incorporating this critique into the institutional space of banal administration.

Wormhole seems to treat the embodiment of mythology, questioning but also enhancing the techniques through which fictional, historical, and scientific alike are understood as elements of the real. The materiality of this project, which can only be accomplished through a thorough understanding of media and mediation, recalls the best of Post-Sense Sensibility and the dynamic of systems within new micro-political art in China. Its execution, on the other hand, also allows for an interpretation through the lens of new media itself. Thankfully, the work is strong enough to stand on its own right without leaning too much on either on of these established frameworks, and may yet deliver another surprise or two within these familiar contexts.

Boers-Li Gallery (No. A-8 Caochangdi, Beijing)

Dec 13, 2009

Robin Peckham