HEW LOCKEPara (Marajo) 3, 2013, acrylic on found share certificate, 54 × 43 × 4 cm. Copyright the artist. Courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong. 


Pearl Lam Galleries
China Hong Kong United Kingdom

Throughout time, humanity has strived to explain our place and purpose within the universe. The ancient theory that relates microcosms to macrocosms, derived from philosophers such as Plato, suggests that mortal beings are representations of the universe, and the universe also embodies a human-like essence; the system was significant in explaining humanity’s relationships with nature or higher spiritual powers. Over time, with science informing our understanding of the physical world, the notion of these orders became romanticized and archaic. Pearl Lam Galleries Hong Kong Soho brought together five artists in “Microcosm/Macrocosm” to probe this concept from multiple perspectives to illustrate our contemporary world order and question society’s contentious conditions.

London-based Hew Locke used history to discuss modern concerns, including globalization, identity, colonial power and commercialism. Locke was born in Scotland but spent his early years in Guyana, and a cross-cultural influence is present throughout his oeuvre. Four installments of his “Share” series (2009– ) are exhibited together in the vast, sunlit space of the gallery; these altered documents present the historical movements of money and the influence of Europe’s colonial commercial interests. Para (Marajo) 3 (2013) contains a found share slip from the Para (Marajo) Islands Rubber Estates Limited that Locke has modified with acrylic paint. Three painted figures overlap an outlined continent of South America, which is traced to encircle the long-defunct company’s name. This slip references the devastating rubber trade that was prevalent in Brazil in the late 1800s. The production of rubber led to the destruction of rainforests to create plantations, as well as the formation of various “micro” orders that reflected the entire trade; local and international cartels and monopolies were established, fueled by the global demand for rubber. The Brazilian rubber trade eventually declined when new sources for the material appeared, with the Para (Marajo) Islands Rubber Estates Limited struck off the official registry of the International Stock Exchange of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland in 1940. Three other stock certificates in the series explore colonial agendas, such as France’s power across the shipping and mining industries in Western and Central Africa, which led to a cultural collision and hurtful consequences in the name of colonial gain.

DU ZHENJUN, The Tower of Babel – Wind, 2010, C-print, 160 × 120 cm. Courtesy the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong. 

Du Zhenjun’s “Babel World” series (2009–12) carries the exhibition’s theme to explore the scope of globalization among a dystopian backdrop. The Tower of Babel – Wind (2010) is an overbearing, large-scale digital image with dark tones and a desaturated palette. It illustrates an ominous scene of impending destruction. This image references a tale in the Bible’s Book of Genesis, which suggests that humanity was once united under one language and yearned to create a tower to reach the heavens. Disaster ensued—the Abrahamic God struck down the tower with a powerful wind, scattering the population across the world. A single tongue fractured into an array of languages, and humanity could no longer communicate as one tribe. In Du’s image, generic skyscrapers rise from the ground and merge in a digital collage to create the iconic depiction of the Biblical Tower of Babel. This imagined architecture resembles the Belgian painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1568 interpretation, with clear influence from Rome’s Colosseum. During Bruegal’s time, the tale of Babel was popular given Antwerp’s bustling port industry and the confusing collision of languages among the international merchants.

Much like Bruegel, Du strives to represent the ambition of our globalized, multicultural society, while critiquing our greed, naïveté and arrogance. Du’s buildings appear familiar to urban dwellers, but ambiguous enough to allow unrestricted commentary. Wind sweeps around the structure as conventional urban dwellers duck for cover and struggle with inverted umbrellas, trying to take shelter from incoming devastation. Du believes that his chosen medium is best suited to represent an age shaped by digital technology; he used images found in mass media to generate the dynamic, apocalyptic representation. Although this work was created in 2010, recent developments, such as the plague of fake news and terrorist propaganda, make the work highly relevant today through the accessibility of the universal web. The sinister image tells a tale of humanity’s demise, and serves as the artist’s warning of what may come under the larger scheme of globalized existence.

Installation view of REN RI’s “Yuansu Series II” (2013–16) in the exhibition “Microcosm/Macrocosm” at Pearl Lam Galleries Hong Kong Soho, 2017. 

REN RIYuansu Series II, #6–86, 2016, acrylic box and natural beeswax, 40 × 40 × 40 cm. Courtey the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong. 

Artist-beekeeper Ren Ri’s recognizable works in the “Yuansu Series II” (2013–16) are an apparent reflection of the relationships between nature and a higher power. A quartet of Ren’s creations was assembled before the floor-to-ceiling windows of the gallery’s lower level, highlighting the clarity of the transparent acrylic boxes that hold Ren’s delicate beeswax sculptures. Like Du, Ren also makes Biblical references in his work. To create his sculptures, Ren placed a queen bee at the clear cube’s center and allowed worker bees to naturally create their hive, but with one form of human interference: the box is rotated according to a random throw of a dice that takes place every seven days—a reference to the Christian narrative of creation. This manipulation sculpted organic structures that would not appear in nature.  The work’s title refers to yuan, which means “element,” and su, which means “to mold.” Together, these two Chinese words allude to the micro-compositions of life and their convergence to in the larger order of society, as well as their vulnerability to unstoppable external manipulation.

Each artist in the exhibition discussed situations within the “micro” and “macro” realms to present a wide-ranging contemporary view of humanity. The diverse practices of each artist allowed for a complex discovery of their unique perspectives. However, the broad scope of issues made for disjointed reflections rather than deeper discussion on our fast-paced, globalized society.

Microcosm/Macrocosm” is on view at Pearl Lam Galleries Hong Kong Soho until March 3, 2017.

Katherine Volk is assistant editor at ArtAsiaPacific.  

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