“Fat Mouse”: Yu Honglei solo exhbition
Antenna Space (202, Building 17, No.50 Moganshan Rd, Shanghai), Nov 11, 2014–Jan 15, 2015
Is “Fat Mouse” in fact an exhibition about sculpture? The question confounded me the moment I stepped into the exhibition space. Evidently, the properties and configuration of the objects, the sculptural sense of presence within the space, the precision of the language in their plasticity, the directionality of the textures and materials—all these lead one’s visual impressions to a definite and faithful dimension. All imagination related to these objects before one’s eyes were thus entwined with a figurative weight, which gives the audience almost no choice but to consent to the same opinion expressed in the exhibition’s press release—that Yu Honglei would rather be called a “plastic artist”.
Yet this may not be entirely so. Running parallel to the exact rendering of sculptural objects and phases in “Fat Mouse” is a clue shot through conceptually, which is no less visible than the actual tangible reality of spaces and volumes. Whether through his appropriation of ready-made objects, the doubts he raises about various concepts and their reasoning or his references to Western art history, in the exhibition, Yu Honglei elucidates the ever-shifting relationship between his creative system and conceptual art in constantly transformative ways. Such transformations and indefinite focus attest to the artist’s beliefs and doubts in his personal life/creative work—and with Yu Honglei, the two are often one and the same. As an artist, he says that “The (Western) art world has become part of my life”. While on one hand, this reality seems to give direct impetus to Yu Honglei’s creative work, on the other, it is also where we find the streak of rebellion in his work. Upon closer examination, though the artist has a habit of using “ready-mades” as a point of departure and medium for carrying his concepts forward, the so-called boundary between art and life has never been blurred or dissipated; they have merely swapped positions with each other and unavoidably produced muffled echoes in the fields outside of their own. Here lies the disquiet of Yu’s work. In fact, such unease is compatible with the artist’s constant reevaluation of his position and his professional sensitivity to external trends. His works inhabit the grey zone of original creation and self-intellectualization, which paradoxically becomes the truest element or, perhaps, the core momentum of Yu Honglei’s work. And the external form reflected by this ambiguity is what “Fat Mouse” as an exhibition manifests: its peculiar sense of texture, and the intertwining—with obvious traces—in between “plasticity” and the “concept”.
Yu Honglei remains consummate at setting the scene for theatrics. In “Fat Mouse”, the artist has purposely fashioned a still and silent stage; the carefully calibrated positions and orientations of his pieces impart every element in the space with a sense of vitality and an impulse to tell and relate. Yet the materiality emphasized by poly-putty base, resin, wigs, and the plasticity of the video screens collapse the actual scene into a silence that is akin to a prop. If it is said that Yu Honglei’s most recent solo exhibition “Everything is Extremely Important: There is Nothing That Will Not Come Back Again” conveyed in bits and pieces some sort of “indescribable” unease, the expressiveness in “Fat Mouse” is all the more rounded and rational. As the artist himself remarked, it has been “greatly subdued”. With “Fat Mouse”, Yu Honglei’s work has entered a new phase: by gradually distancing himself from an artistic method that departs from his personal experiences, Yu has begun to construct a more comprehensive set of objective perspectives and reflexive mechanisms. In the vast majority of his previous works, Yu Honglei injected into his art many personal experiences absent of much processing; his syntax was figurative but vague, with the openness due to lack of filtering characteristic of earlier works. “Fat Mouse” is rather more akin to a “climate controlled” domain, where a more rational and systematic creative method has been coupled with a more sophisticated exhibition set-up, guaranteeing on some level the precise presentation and visual quality of the works. The aptly restrained attitude on the part of the artist, including his active interaction with art history, has allowed the artist to make use of a perspective outside of his own—in order to observe and reflect on the “art world” within which he finds himself. For this stage of Yu Honglei’s works, such a reflexive dimension may not stop at one single level; aside from situating himself “outside of the self”, he should also be wary of falling easily into an invariant “room temperature” state that follows from the antiseptic production lines of contemporary art. Yet another question arises here. As an artist becomes all the more “earnest” and serious, how does he maintain his sense of humor? If Yu Honglei has without fail deployed a humorous approach towards the anxiety of creation itself as well as towards his reflections thereof in the aims of achieving what he calls an “effective communication”, then audiences at the scene of “Fat Mouse” might perhaps anticipate a certain humor greater than that of the title of “Fat Mouse” itself—no matter whether it relies on an instinctive impulse to confide or a meticulous calibration as regulated by the intellect, or both. The exhibition itself in reality has nothing to do with good or bad; it has only to do with humor.