YE FUNA, Odalisque Funa, 2015, C-print on acrylic sheet, 55 × 87 cm. Copyright the artist. Courtesy the artist and Klein Sun Gallery, New York. 

YE FUNA, The Supper of Goddess, 2015, C-print, 51.7 × 150 cm. Copyright the artist. Courtesy the artist and Klein Sun Gallery, New York. 

Self-Created Universe

Liang Ban and Ye Funa

Klein Sun Gallery
China USA

Upon entering Klein Sun Gallery, located in the trendy neighborhood of Chelsea, the photograph of a Chinese woman holding a set of cards, placed on the floor and visible from the street, piqued my interest. The image, titled Odalisque Funa (2015), was particularly captivating because it incorporates distinct references to George de La Tour’s The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds (circa 1635–38) and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’s Grande Odalisque (1814). The photographer behind—and subject of—this piece was Ye Funa, who along with fellow Chinese artist Liang Ban was featured in the exhibition “Self-Created Universe.”

The largest space facing the street was devoted to Ye’s “Goddess” series (2015), in which references to masterpieces from art history coexist with contemporary, colorful settings. The series only features female figures, portrayed by the artist herself, and includes photographs and single-channel videos that invite the viewer to reflect on conceptualizations of women’s roles in history today. In The Supper of Goddess (2015), the artist reimagines herself in an all-women’s version of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper (1495–98), in which historical female figures are gathered around a fictive, goddess-like character, who is depicted in two other works on display—in Cicicolia Ye (2015), for instance. This highly sexualized and idealized figure, who wears white lingerie, high heels and a platinum blonde wig, recalls Jeff Koons’s “Made in Heaven” series (1989–91), in which Koons and his then partner Ilona Staller, also known as La Cicciolina, posed together erotically in various kitschy décors. The absence of a male figure in Cicicolia Ye challenges the interpretation that this body of work promotes female objectification. In the single-channel video, Lady Lilith (2013), Ye’s provocative character looks back at the viewer mischievously, in defiance. The exuberance of her costume and the overly sexual elements that surround her—waterfalls, pink flowers and a sex toy—make a mockery of traditional conventions of femininity.

Installation view of the exhibition “Self-Created Universe” at Klein Sun Gallery, New York, 2017. Courtesy Klein Sun Gallery. 

Beili Wang, who curated the exhibition, explained in an email interview that “the look and costumes actually derive from the so-called ‘cosplay’ culture and say something about our contemporary culture of ‘self-idolization.’” Cosplay, a popular practice that emerged in Japan that involves dressing up as characters from manga and anime, is intrinsically linked to the exhibition’s central theme of “self-creation.” Wang explained that the term refers to our individual efforts to form and create an identity for ourselves. Through carefully constructed costumes and mise-en-scènes, Ye Funa introduced in this series imaginary and hybrid characters that display conflicted and conflicting identities, which simultaneously bear familiar and uncanny qualities. While they transcend history and embody power in challenging conventions of femininity, Ye’s characters in the “Goddess” series also touch upon the difficulties of finding oneself in an age when art, fashion and new media participate in our process of self-definition.

LIANG BAN, Short Trip to the Moon, 2015, still from single-channel digital video: 17 sec. Copyright the artist. Courtesy the artist and Klein Sun Gallery, New York. 

A similar theme is also at the forefront of Liang Ban’s work, presented in a secluded section of the gallery space. Two single-channel videos from a series of 12 closely relate to this idea of self-creation. In Short Trip to the Moon (2015), the artist is seen getting hit by lightning while taking a selfie; in Holy Friday (2016), his phone breaks and the face of Jesus appears on the shattered screen. The videos look as if they were shot with smartphones and portray a sense of spontaneity that makes them appear unintentional and fresh. These works humorously address not only our bond to smartphones and their intrinsic roles in creating life narratives and individual identities, but also the lengths many go to in order to influence others’ perceptions of ourselves.

Two other works by Liang Ban, taking the form of three-dimensional relief maps covered with fluorescent spray paint, were also on display. As visually engaging as they were, these artworks diverged from clearly delineated themes seen elsewhere and broke the exhibition’s overall sense of coherence. Despite this minor curatorial inconsistency, “Self-Created Universe” was a humorous exhibition that cleverly poked fun at our own attitudes toward the new tools and media that we use to define ourselves.

LIANG BAN, Holy Friday, 2016, still from single-channel digital video: 18 sec. Copyright the artist. Courtesy the artist and Klein Sun Gallery, New York. 

Liang Ban and Ye Funa’s “Self-Created Universe” is on view at Klein Sun Gallery, New York, until February 25, 2017.  

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