White Space Beijing (255 Caochangdi, Airport Service Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing), Oct 26 – Dec 7, 2014
Five small paintings ranging in hue from bright yellow to pale green hang from two opposing white walls in White Space Beijing. Three installations composed of concise lines are also situated in the room. In contrast with He Xiangyu’s enormous projects of the past, “Dotted Line” projects a light and minimalist ambiance. Prior to this show, the artist’s works formed expansive landscapes due to their sheer mass, complex production processes, and psychological impact. In “Cola Project” (2009), the artist boiled down 127 tons of Coca Cola to create his art work—a process which took up two years, and involved sourcing, personnel, and environmental issues. He followed this with “200 g Gold, 62 g Protein” (2012) and “Reply” (2012); though these works were on a much smaller scale, the materials used were all the more controversial—gold was used in the former, while the latter piece was a letter written with methamphetamine. “The Tank Project” (2011 – 2013), which ended last year, was a giant tank 10 meters in length and two meters in height, made of high-end leather sourced from luxury goods suppliers. While audience impressions of He Xiangyu’s work remain focused on his high impact installations, the artist stepped back in pursuit of internal affect.
How does one translate emotion into concrete image? The five paintings seem to reflect the artist’s experimentation in this vein. The white spaces referenced in the exhibition title “Dotted Line” are left blank in the yellow, chartreuse, lemon yellow, and goldenrod color blocks; getting directly to the point, these blank spaces spell out the title of the paintings: “Lemon Flavored”. In contrast to highly symbolic materials like Coca Cola, the use of these small canvas acrylics and the reference to a household fruit are an attempt to remove all possible extraneous content. Much earlier on, Kandinsky used the association between the color yellow and the lemon to demonstrate the psychological effect of color in his research; this demonstrates how common it is to associate the two. Within the vast white space of the exhibition hall, the eye is easily drawn to the bright color blocks of slightly different hues; their bright tang triggers a Pavlovian response in the viewers’ taste buds or reminds them of pictures of infants tasting lemon for the first time which were so popular on the internet for a period of time. This is how the artist processes and communicates his inner feelings to the audience. From a distance, the white walls of the space appear as bubbly as soda water, diluting the lemony zest of each tiny painting and filling the entire exhibition space with a perfectly calibrated pleasure. The installations in the room are made of recognizable materials—tube lights, cotton socks, and mirrors. Only slightly modified from their original state, they are a far cry from the artist’s strange use of crystal meth, materially extravagant sculptures, and colossal objects in his past installations. Stripped of the complicated contexts of these materials and subjects, these everyday objects become the catalysts which propel the artist and the audience back into their individual worlds of perception.