51 sqm 16# - Wang Yuyang

 Wang Yuyang has been a key figure to watch in the emerging critical or alternative Beijing art scene, both in terms of his actions—seeking new ways to support an innovative artistic practice through non-commercial means as one of very few to opt for teaching positions and competitive stipends rather than gallery representation—and in terms of the content of his work. Interested in the problem of media new and otherwise, as it relates to the communication of ideas, many of his works revolve around systems of transmission and reception; although these explorations find a natural home within new media circles, his work very rarely reflects the techniques and aesthetics that characterize the latter category. One major series, for instance, animates prosaic objects like an air conditioner, a television, a refrigerator, and a van by fabricating their forms of thick rubber, painting the surfaces to produce a vague sense of craft, and then connecting the plastic shells to time-controlled fans such that they inflate and deflate as if they were breathing. This is the old question of the cultural relationship to things as totemic beings that accompany the passages of human life, but here it is interpreted as a question of media via a rhetorical strategy that also allows it to connect back to a certain trajectory of Chinese contemporary art concerned with painting and the limits of the body. This exhibition, the last in the 51m2 Project Space series, adopts the tactics of abstraction, relating signal to medium in an attempt to describe in a meaningful way an ontology of autonomous communication.

The visually dominant component here is the work entitled Picture and Character (2010), a massive set of wall paintings on three surfaces paired with typed, printed, and framed lists of words on otherwise blank paper mounted on the fourth wall, left unpainted. The paintings appear similar to barcodes, applied in uneven patches of black and white bars that convey no semantic information to the untrained eye. This is, at least in theory, an automatic translation between language and image that intentionally misconstrues code as literature, generating a form of graphic poetry that, generously speaking, allows one image to convey a second formalized or abstracted image. In this way the work ‘writes’ itself twice, although appreciation of the work on a level other than the conceptual remains a challenge. The second work included, entitled Speak (2010), expresses a certain tension between the dual roles of medium and material by playing back a recording of the sounds of its own recording, moving from the use of media as a tool to the focus on its material existence as content. This gesture enters into a remarkable conversation with the fabled Robert Morris piece Box with the Sound of its Own Making (1961), mimicking the same strategies of overdetermination in cognitive reception but inserting very explicitly (indeed, so explicit it becomes almost boring) the question of media as genre into this equation. The exhibition begins to feel safe, as if it were merely updating an existing discourse rather than attempting to make its own contribution, but the overall effect is redeemed by the collision and integration of the two works, installed as they are within the same small space so as to create a systematic interaction between sound and text. The installation itself is rather admirable, drawing together wall paintings, hanging pieces, and stereo system through a well-resolved maze of wiring concealed in small tubes that spans the space. Left open to interpretation is the idea of conspiracy, that the media apparatus so eloquently described in the classical media studies literature is somehow aligned in opposition to the viewer in its midst; in this case, at least, this is a pleasant suspicion indeed.


- Published on ArtSlant

Robin Peckham