Installation view of “Anatomy of Anxieties” at Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong. Courtesy Edouard Malingue Gallery. 

Anatomy of Anxieties

Edouard Malingue Gallery
Hong Kong UK

ANDY HOLDEN, Eyes In Space, 2012, digital print with stuck-on eyes, 130 x 100 x 6.5 cm. Courtesy Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong.

CUI XINMING, Sleepwalker – Summons, 2013, oil on canvas, 200 × 150 cm. Courtesy Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong.

Given the name of the exhibition, walking into “Anatomy of Anxieties” may fill one with premonitions of all kinds. From dismembered limbs to deformed bodies, displayed within are works of sheer fright and eeriness. And yet, instead of hurling itself onto spectators like a booby-trapped box, the exhibition invites the viewers in. “Anatomy of Anxieties,” a group show curated by London-based art organization Rowing Projects, is a collection of artworks that engage with viewers—in a metaphysical, visual, narrative and even haptic fashion—on issues of body and anxiety.

Upon entering, we are greeted by beautiful snapshots of outer space. Andy Holden’s visions of the universe, such as the powerful swirls of stars in Eyes In Space (2012) and the awe-inspiring horizon shown in Untitled (2012), not only invite but also confront the viewers. As our gaze meets the numerous plastic eyes that are pasted onto the prints’ surfaces, we are encouraged to imagine taking over their place within Holden’s galaxies. His anthropomorphic works attempt to destabilize the distinction between the viewer and the viewed, as well as earthly and celestial bodies.

The exhibition’s gravitational pull is also prominent in works that deal with more earthly matters. It is the inherently disarming nature of somnambulism, or sleepwalking, that Cui Xinming capitalizes in his painting Sleepwalker – Summons (2013). The imagery is indeed unsettling, with its inauspicious nighttime forest scene, infused with red smoke and turquoise lighting. Remarkably, the painting’s perspective has an absorbing effect, as an indeterminate path recedes into an unknown destination in the background. The composition has, in its foreground, students walking up the path, wearing backpacks and sneakers. The painting, which attempts to capture the “inner turmoil” of China’s younger generation, seems to ask the viewer: “Should you feel compelled to stop their delinquency? Or should you tag along in their adventure?”

Equally provocative are Rachel Maclean’s Massacre of the Innocents Reduced and The Innocents (both 2011). These ornately framed prints are idiosyncratic appropriations of Peter Paul Rubens’s 17th-century painting Massacre of the Innocents (1611). The scene of frantic massacre embodied in the fierce, contorted figures of Rubens’s original painting has been transformed by Maclean into an image of bacchanalian debauchery. Rendered in an overwhelmingly garish and almost farcical style, a slew of feline figures, dressed in sexually suggestive costumes, are inebriated on coffee. No innocent lives are being shed in Maclean’s “massacre,” yet it is still disconcerting to behold. While eccentric icons and gaudy colors daze the observer, a covert sense of terror also seems to exist in the work.

Last but not least is a two-part untitled installation (2014) by Beth Collar, comprised of a plaster arm mounted vertically on a tripod and a carved wooden head on the floor. Though dismembered, the body parts seem to beckon viewers to reconnect them and consider their conceptual meaning as a whole. The erect arm may be interpreted as profound distress, perseverance or tragic submission. On the other hand, one might simply be struck by the sheer artificiality of the waxy arm and the accompanying wooden head.

This artificiality/theatricality is perhaps the key to “Anatomy of Anxieties”—in its endeavor to “dissect fantasies and dominant cultural narratives”— and is comparable to magic. The audience’s commitment to experiencing the works is a pre-requisite for the fantastical visions that the artworks promise. Once the plastic eyes, waxy arm and the luring forest are out of context, we may no longer see the “magic” of their constructed surface.

RACHEL MACLEAN, Massacre of the Innocents Reduced, 2011, digital print, archival inkjet print on Canson velin museum rag paper, 107 × 137 cm. Courtesy Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong.