REVIEW BY SIMON FRANK
ARTFORUM INTERNATIONAL October 2019
This group show was straightforward in execution: It consisted simply of one artwork from each artist arranged in the gallery's rectangular main hall so as to encourage sequential viewing. Finding a line connecting Geng Jianyi's use of readymades, Liang Shaoji's silken sculpture, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's video installation (closely linked to his work as a filmmaker) might have seemed difficult, especially for a show without an explicit curatorial premise. Yet the formally distinct pieces all shared an airy indeterminacy, suggesting to the viewer additional layers of meaning lurking below the surface.
The first work on display was Liang's Guiguzi, 2009, a twisting iron-wire and silk sculpture suspended from the ceiling as if caught mid-pirouette. Two masses of coiled wires hung next to each other half-covered in silk cocoons. Liang's work sometimes carries a feeling of foreboding, as if one were oneself inside a cocoon, surrounded by darkness. However, in this light-filled white cube, Guiguzi had a rather optimistic tone, seemingly reaching for the ecstatic, the imperfections of the silk suggesting room for growth rather than incompleteness. Liang farms silkworms to create his work, encouraging them to make nonstandard cocoons. The practice links him to textilemaking traditions while also illustrating how the past can offer productive strategies for expressing contemporary concepts, such as the agency of nonhuman entitles.
Beyond a partial partition wall hung Geng's Door Series, 2008. Rather than evincing the Expressionist mode with which the artist, thanks to his paintings of the 1980s, is often associated, this piece deploys photography and found objects in the vein of work he pursued in later decades, before his untimely passing in 2017. It consists of eight refrigerator doors, with Polaroid images of spray-bottle caps and soap-pump tops stuck to them. When obsolete household appliances and architecture have surfaced in the work of artists such as Song Dong and Liu Wei, they are often interpreted as commentary on China's rapid economic and social change. Such ideas appear to be part of what Geng is communicating here, too, but not his only intention. In addition to the expected domestic setting shown in a handful of the Polaroids, the bottle caps and pumps lurk outdoors or even stare out of airplane windows in others. Asking us to consider what scenes of our lives mundane household paraphernalia may witness, Geng creates something both playful and melancholic, half Toy Story, half kitchen-sink drama.
Finally, Weerasethakul,'s Blue, 2018, a twelve-minute long video installation, was shown in a small room constructed within the hall. In this piece, a woman tosses and turns under a blue blanket as the camera cuts to two theater backdrops that scroll up and down over each other, controlled by a mechanical device for onstage scene changes. Super imposed flames start to flash over the blanket, gradually turning into a roaring fire. The final shots show that the actress's bed and the back drops are outdoors, positioned among trees and what might be the artist’s production equipment. Partially revealing how the previous scenes were constructed, Weerasethakul emphasizes that the image on-screen has passed through multiple layers of framing and artifice with the result that its ultimate reality is unknowable.
Precisely by avoiding any definitive statement, the exhibition encouraged viewers to experience the works intuitively. Subtly gesturing toward the spiritual, the pieces created a refreshingly hushed, serene mood. Notably, Bangkok-born Weerasethakul's inclusion as a foreign artist was somewhat novel for a group show in China that was not arranged around an explicitly international theme. Though traces of Thai culture surface in Blue through the stage backdrops, the video installation conversed with the other works through its mysterious and intimate atmosphere, adding depth to a fine exhibition.