TEJAL SHAH, still from Between the Waves, 2012, five-channel video installation, channel I, “A fable in five chapters,” 26 min 15 sec. Courtesy 2P Contemporary Art Gallery.

My Dear You Shouldn’t Believe in Fairytales

2P Contemporary Art Gallery
China Hong Kong India

ERKKA NISSINEN, still from Rigid Regime, single-channel video, 13 min 17 sec. Courtesy 2P Contemporary Art Gallery.

ERKKA NISSINEN, still from Rigid Regime, single-channel video, 13 min 17 sec. Courtesy 2P Contemporary Art Gallery.

CHEN ZHOU, still from My Loving Artist, 2012, 16 mm film transferred to DVD, 4 min 20 sec. Courtesy 2P Contemporary Art Gallery.

CHEN ZHOU, installation view of My Loving Artist, 2012, at 2P Contemporary Art Gallery, Hong Kong. Courtesy 2P Contemporary Art Gallery.

“My Dear You Shouldn’t Believe in Fairytales” at 2P Contemporary Art Gallery this past March was a rigorous attempt to reclaim meaning in myths through their inversion. Three video artists, Tejal Shah, Erkka Nissinen and Chen Zhou explored the inconsistencies within popular narratives through various modes of reflection, exaggeration, and appropriation. The results included an autobiographical account, a documentation of a fantastical hybrid species and a pop cultural pastiche—all three laced with deeply subjective undercurrents. Nestled in a storefront space on a remote residential street in Sai Ying Pun, the looped screenings proposed a quiet intervention, as recognizable motifs in the videos shifted without warning towards the uncanny.

The upbeat jingle that opens Hong Kong, Amsterdam and Helsinki-based Erkka Nissinen’s Rigid Regime (2012) recalls the playful ambiance of a children’s television program. But the cyborg-centered sci-fi ballad is filled with disjointed macabre humor that viewers may find disturbing.  Characters emit disembodied voices (Nissinen’s presumably) and limbs are left hanging. A computer graphic rabbit who later joins the cast intimates, in what appears to be some form of perverse artist’s statement, “I’m investigating the nature of society . . . and sometimes alcohol.”  In Nissenen’s world, the absurd is employed as a means of exposing the seams of society’s most insidious moral barometer: super-hero tales.  With increasing frequency, our news media tends to resemble the fantasy narratives of television shows and movies. The cartoonish cast of characters and the exaggerated use of low-budget props—a close-up view of Nissinen’s mangled leg reveals it to be papermaché—poke holes in the sensationalism that marks everyday understandings and social values.

In contrast to the frenetic pace of Nissinen’s work, My Loving Artist  (2012) by Chinese artist Chen Zhou is tranquil and introspective. The viewer is invited to sit in a designated chair, directly in front of a TV. In the film, the young artist professes his obsession with Jeff Koons, comparing his own life to the artstar’s trajectory. Reflecting on his budding career in relation to Koons’, the artist dismantles another myth: that of individual genius.  In one scene, Zhou sits contemplating some old personal snapshots. The chair he sits on is identical to the one in the gallery, and therefore seemingly invites viewers to partake in the narcissism. In My Loving Artist, Zhou proposes a practice of unsolicited collaboration and unacknowledged lineages, through this he defines his own distinct creative path.

The final work in the exhibition, which was projected in a cool dark room in the back of the space, starred the unicorn, the most iconic of all mythological creatures. While traditionally supposed to have its origins in Western antiquity, Bombay-based artist Tejal Shah situates the unicorn’s birthplace instead in the Indus Valley Civilization of the Bronze Age. Rather then being a sign of purity and grace, Shah’s unicorns have lost much of their luster: hers are humans scantily clad with elongated plastic cones strapped to their heads ambling about a vacant beach. Half human, half creature—composed of equal parts matter and desire—the unicorn’s hybrid character is highlighted by Shah who appropriates its symbolism to invoke the fluid, constructed nature of identity.

It is through mythologies that assumptions are naturalized. The artists in “My Dear You Shouldn’t Believe in Fairytales” reminded us to question narratives that we take for granted but, more often than not, the works in the show also tended toward solipsism. Still, the visitor left the gallery incited to create some belief systems of his or her own.  

My Dear You Shouldn’t Believe in Fairytales was on view at 2P Contemporary Art Gallery from March 20–April 10, 2013.