In the heart of Hong Kong’s Central district—among designer shops and tightly packed roads—one can easily slip away into a pocket of tranquility at Edouard Malingue Gallery. Currently on view, “Meeting Point,” the inaugural collaboration between the gallery and Taipei’s TKG+ gallery, features two Taiwanese artists, Charwei Tsai and Chi-Tsung Wu, both of whose works display a poetic sensitivity that enhances the calm atmosphere.
The practices of Tsai and Wu gravitate towards Eastern sensibilities. Tsai’s recent series “Incense Mantra” (2013), which includes monochromatic photographs and a video, created in collaboration with Tibetan filmmaker Tsering Tashi Gyalthang, takes the city’s namesake (Hong Kong’s meaning in Chinese is “fragrant harbor” in reference to the region’s history of incense production) as its point of departure. Tsai visited Man Mo Temple in the Sheung Wan district and collected the heavily scented joss sticks used in Buddhist prayer. In previous works, such as Tofu Mantra (2005), Mushroom Mantra (2008) and Étrangère (2007), she used black ink to adorn tofu, mushrooms and baby octopus, respectively, with the 260 Chinese characters of the Buddhist Heart Sutra. Here the joss sticks are given a similar treatment, their surfaces covered entirely with the ancient text.
The Heart Sutra is one of the most popular of Buddhist scriptures, meditating on the idea of emptiness and the impermanence of all things. Growing up in Taipei, Tsai memorized the mantra, and her practice has evolved around its philosophical principles. Using natural materials that are subject to decay is therefore crucial to her practice.
Tsai’s interest in ephemerality is also reflected in the video portion of “Incense Mantra.” An ignited joss stick is shown slowly turning to ash. The gradual disintegration is complimented by the soothing Buddhist Om chant in the background, recalling Tsai’s work Ah (2011), which focused on the elongated “Ah” sound that reverberates in most religious hymns: A-OM, A-llah, A-men. In the comfortable setting of Edouard Malingue’s library, it is difficult not to be lulled into a meditative state.
In contrast to the soft gray palette of Tsai’s works stand the bold, blue hues of Wu’s photographs. Unlike Tsai, who received most of her education abroad, Wu studied oil painting at Taipei’s National University of the Arts. His exposure to various landscape painting styles, from the traditional Chinese shan-shui (mountain-water) paintings to the watercolors of Western traditions, is evident in his work. In series such as “Wire” (2003– ), “Still Life” (2009– ) and “Landscape in the Mist” (2012), Wu uses contemporary formats, including projection and video, to emphasize and reinterpret the poetic aethetics of classical Chinese paintings.
At first glance, a long, vertical hanging scroll looks to be some form of landscape painting. But Wrinkled Texture 005 (2013) uses crinkled cyanotype paper—a reactive material commonly used for blueprints and scientific documentation—and exposes it to light, mimicking the various textures of traditional Chinese landscapes. This play of perception is the heart of Wu’s work. The emerging blue tones of the cyanotype delicately bleed into the white of the original unexposed paper creating spontaneous compositions. Overlaying the anachronistic medium of rice paper with the photographic material, Wu reinvigorates a traditional art form with a contemporary vocabulary.
Tsai and Wu share a concern with the process of artmaking and feature an aspect of unpredictability in their work. Though perhaps some extrinsic works by Tsai, such as a folding artist’s book and text adorned seashells, proved superfluous in this particular context, overall the photographs in “Meeting Point” revealed deeper layers of reflection for those willing to make time for stillness and observation.
Meeting Point is on view at Edouard Malingue Gallery from July 3–August 17, 2013.