Last fall, when I was abroad in Hong Kong, I immersed myself in the vibrant art atmosphere of Asia’s world city. Among the numerous art spaces, galleries, auction houses, and artists’ studios, there are always opening receptions, artist talks and interesting conversations going on. It was eye-opening to see art from not only Asia or the rest of the world, but a fusion between the two.
Out of all the shows I visited, the most unforgettable one has to be “This is not an Art Show.” The show presented exhibitions of different media, and together they questioned the practice of mass classification, labeling ideas and promoting boundaries. Walking into the art space and looking through the photographs and videos, I was intrigued and confused. I was expecting a common reception, where they serve wine and crackers, present big tangible pieces of artwork, and an easy theme to be understood. This was nothing like that. I was surrounded by stories, statements, and photographs and I could not figure out why they were there. Why was there a picture of the bricks, why was he telling me this, why were pictures placed outside of the frame, why could I not understand what is being captured in the photos… While I was drowning in my thoughts, the background music suddenly stopped. All the attention then shifted to two dancers, on the other side of the room. We gathered in the center, facing them. They stood there, silently, staring at us. After a long pause, the music began again. The two performers then started stripping. After another pause, they started moving towards us. I could not recognize the moves, which looked like a combination of walking, falling, dancing, and crawling. What I did feel, was the symphony between the bodies and the music. I felt that I was moving with them, traveling through time and music notes. As the music went on, they kept moving towards us. They moved as if we were not there. I stood at the very front of the crowd, and as they got closer and closer, I was anxious. What are they going to do, are they going to stop, what should I do, should I move?… While my brain was confused about what to do, my body automatically made the way for them to pass through. Silently and concurrently, we made way for them. In the crowded little space, they were moving inches away from us. We were so close to them, yet we were in two different worlds. In their world, we the crowds did not exist. In their world, they were not performers but living objects moving. They kept moving, in the same direction, to the wall on the opposite side from where they started. Eventually, they stopped as they reached the wall, where pictures hung with statements:
This is NOT you. This is NOT relevant. This is NOT a gallery. This is NOT finished. This is NOT unique. This is NOT progressive.
Then the music stopped. After a long pause, everything went back to the state before the performance started: videos and background music playing; people walking around and chatting. I also went back to where I was before the performance: asking myself what do these exhibitions mean, and is this an art show? I lingered around and talked to other visitors. At the end, I realized that there is no perfect definition to what an art show is; there are only perfect definitions.
Above: This is NOT an artshow. 2016. LIGHTSTAGE Arts&Events, Hong Kong.
On the day of opening reception for Collective Monument, I spoke with artist Nara Park. Her artwork Never Forget was made of plastic packaging boxes and vinyl, which imitated the stones that build monuments in DC and the mosses that grow on them. I asked, why plastic boxes? She told me, both plastic boxes and the stones to build moments, are all purchased disposable objects. What’s interesting is that, while the plastic boxes are meant to be thrown away, plastic itself lasts forever while statues come and go, even though they are meant to be built forever.
Preconception kills art, and to follow a single definition is to limit. What does ‘monument’ mean? Is it a statue? Is it tangible? Does it have to be monumental? Is the object’s physical presence in accordance with its purpose of existence?
There is no perfect answer, only the perfect answers.
By Yvette Yu
Above: Nara Park, Never Forget. 2014. Plastic packaging boxes, vinyl. The Stamp Gallery.
When I first stepped through Nara Park’s Never Forget, I experienced a strong and unexpected cognitive dissonance. Shiny, striking, beckoning, Park’s work stands familiarly in our dimension, and is undeniably dynamic. My mental hesitance was not immediate, but seeped into me with closer inspection of the piece and its label. Park builds with “bricks” that are hollow, that have nothing natural about them, that have no part that ever came from earth or should ever return to it. “Moss” exists in a stagnant state that does not begin or end in growth, only geometry. I walked through “stone” that had no history beyond a factory print date and folds under Park’s hands. All of her work is made of mylar, plastic, vinyl, and patterned with ink printed off-site.
And I felt truly alienated. I felt an alienation that was amplified by my weeks spent with Never Forget, working in the site of its stature, and so I began to articulate a ‘why.’
I walk through Park’s work and am forced to recognize the bounds I tie to the trueness of materials. I have begun to recognize how much of the things that I love, I shamelessly love for their grounded nature. Grounded: I love not the space things occupy but the matter with which they occupy that space. Nature: I love not the things alone in this moment, but the things as a part of moments before and moments to come. It is not a realization of materialism in the traditional sense, but a sudden awareness of a strange attachment to materials nonetheless.
In other words, I was not rudely asked to reflect on how much I love to possess things, but rather asked to reflect on why I love the physical things I love. I love the buttery texture of oil paint. If you were to hand me an aerosol can of oil paint, I would not love oil paint. I grew up in a world of true-false questions and Holden Caulfield’s crises over phoniness, and so I grew up hating fake and loving transparency. And somewhere along the way, as I loved the transparent and honest and real, I either created or found the romance of those characteristics. These vinyl shipping boxes before me that held nothing but contained “PROTECTION,” “DIGNITY,” and “LOYALTY,” were completely artificial and completely without romance.
Really though, that’s the point. Like a poem you write and then find online in Comic Sans, my experience with Park’s work is not my own, and what Park is saying is not romantic. And despite how my staggered impression makes it seem, Park commits no crimes in her studio practice. She is openly and wholly un-aggressive about the altered realities she builds, and in a way, her written words seem to express greater humility towards her materials than many of those uttered by sculptors who wield the very materials she mimics.
Her goal is not to deceive, her goal is to understand. She asks us to figure out something with her. What really matters, to us as persons, and to us as a people? What about the things that matter, actually matter? What about the things that matter, should?
In the present, I continue to fall in love with the unique character of materials, the behaviors they practice that you take away when you only offer their image. I am still greedy: I want to experience an item with all of my senses, and am betrayed by the option of only using one. But I am also at times made humble by the way in which I consume the visual, tangible world. Here is Never Forget, filtering objects through one sense. Here are “inscriptions” that purposefully encourage dissonance. Here are items I have trouble connecting with because of their materiality, serving as a list of attributes that have no materiality at all.
Transparency is not about things that are true to their form, nor does it blindly communicate a harmony. Transparency is the champion of alienation, dissonance, discomfort. Because in this discomfort, we are made to reflect, and to grow.
In this way, there can be nothing more transparent, more honest, more real, than massless boxes building massless ideas.