Magician Space (798 Art District, Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang, Beijing) March 27–April 30, 2014
I remember one summer day three years ago, He An was slouching lazily on a café sofa, holding a glass of Jamaican rum in his hand and chatting about the problem of public and private space. He sighed, “It’s a compromise in the end.” Along with that exhibition “A Mole on Each Breast and Another on the Shoulder” (July–August 2011) and the one earlier “I Believe Someone Will Take Me There, But That’s for Tomorrow”, the show this year was the third time he temporarily made over Magician Space.
On the south side of the exhibition space, between two rectangular concrete masses, is one tiny crack, easily reminding one of the narrow passageway between the two walls in “A Mole on Each Breast and Another on the Shoulder”. Only this time, no rubber knobs were installed along the crack which could rub against people. This crack is so narrow that no-one could possibly pass through—indeed, with the dim lighting, the eye cannot glimpse the depths of the crack, which is not that deep. If the artist previously tried to make viewers feel oppressed, then here it is a visual oppression, or the psychological projection of this oppression.
Like “I Believe Someone Will Take Me There, But That’s For Tomorrow”, “It’s Forever Not” possesses a strong theatricality which allows the audience to enter the work. In the earlier show, walking on top of the slanted floor with rumbling sound effects underneath made the audience feel a sense of imminent danger; this time, the visual method is even more violent. Here, for instance, He An’s signature element in his recent works appeared again— diesel and machine oil. The pungent smell and free-flowing form unconsciously bring forth associations of violent conflict and bloody incidents. Moreover, this unsettling sensation adds up constantly— the floor of the gallery is hoisted up high by a temporary concrete floor, and between the cracks of the blocks are many electrical wires like a miniature construction site. This intense sense of the provisional, with the electrical wires hidden between the concrete blocks, carries across an even more intense experience of terror. At the same time, the main body of the exhibition space is bisected by a crossbeam connected to the ceiling. Adult viewers must crouch in order to enter—as though something unannounced could spring forth at any time around oneself.
This roughness and danger are precisely some of the most important ideas in He An’s oeuvre. In an ever more regulated art world, his work offers the observer an experience and imagination of danger recalling the first postures of the avant-garde—if only in the sense of an “homage”.