Gallerie Urs Meile (No. 104 Caochangdi, Chaoyang district, 100015 Beijing, China), Sept 3-Oct 16, 2016
Yang Mushi presented a series of new sculptures in his latest solo exhibition “Illegitimate Production” at Galerie Urs Meile in Beijing. All covered in black lacquer, the works exuded a powerful aura in the galley’s standard white-box environment. Yet this visual force did not linger for long during the viewing experience: as one turned from the works’ overall monochrome appearance to their specific referential forms and expressive interiors, this visible aggressiveness dissipated, giving way to attention to detail.
“Grinding” (2013-2016) is composed of hundreds of sharp-edged, polished wooden pieces of varying shapes and sizes, all realized by the artist over three consecutive years. During the production process, Yang managed to keep up a tedious nine-to-five work schedule. Compared with traditional sculptural production methods such as modeling, molding, and formwork which can be easily executed by others, Yang cuts and grinds his material with his own hands, a creative approach that enhances the audience’s appreciation of the relationship between the human body and the artwork. As the sculpture gradually acquired its dignified form, the dust produced by the polishing also caused damage to the artist’s body thanks to a long and strenuous process that resembles certain oriental religious practices.
But according to Yang, the product is illegitimate: the final object does not allow the audience to recognize its form by appealing to everyday experience, nor can it perform any practical function. These sharp-edged components resist viewers’ formal readings; meanwhile, unlike minimalist sculpture, they do not accentuate the materiality of form or color. In this time-consuming sculpture, Yang seems to have subsumed his spirituality into physical labor, documenting personal change through a seemingly meaningless performance. For “Cutting Off” (2013-2016), he collects images of objects relating to Chinese culture from the internet and cuts thin pieces of wood in accordance with the shapes of these objects to form a sculpture. By performing fine, subtle incisions with a saw, the artist willingly submits himself to danger. The final effect does not reflect this level of danger. The patterns formed are neither beautiful nor ugly, but “neutral.” Through Yang’s “meaningless” labor, the cultural information once carried by the material is dissolved.
In Yang’s work, a diaristic creative process renders all materials pure and non-referential. “Adhering” (2013-2016) is made up of “useless” metal parts and wood. After a series of complex procedures including grinding, adhering, and lacquering, Yang presents final objects that look no different from chunks of coal. Beneath a form which is not intended to please the audience, one can more readily sense the artist’s creative logic. “Eroding” (2016) is another work that similarly employs non-traditional media. When one confronts the sculpture, a feeling of durability and heaviness enwraps the sculptural body which is made of light, soft polypropylene foam. Following their erosion by the artist, these seven pieces of three meter high rectangular foam have a ragged surface; covered with black lacquer, they subvert viewers’ psychological expectations based on the underlying material.
Although the metaphorical employment of abandoned wood beams in “Subtracting—Pole” (2015) endows the work with a sense of irony, Yang’s body of work is more concerned with his personal lifestyle. In other words, it is a record of the condition of his daily labor: monotonous, natural, free of conceit and sensationalism.