Installation view of MAK YING TUNG 2’s “The Anything Machine,” at de Sarthe Gallery, Beijing, 2018. All images courtesy the artist and de Sarthe Gallery, Beijing / Hong Kong.

The Anything Machine

Mak Ying Tung 2

de Sarthe Gallery
Hong Kong China
MAK YING TUNG 2, Relic (Tamagotchi), 2018, lenticular, 150 × 115 cm.
MAK YING TUNG 2, Relic (Tamagotchi), 2018, lenticular, 150 × 115 cm.

Mak Ying Tung 2 was born Mak Ying Tung in 1989, and at the age of 29, decided to buttress a two to the end of her name, following the instruction of a fortune teller who guaranteed her that this would lead to greater success in life and in art. The Hong Kong-based artist often works as part of the duo Come Inside, but for “The Anything Machine”—her first show at de Sarthe’s Beijing space and in mainland China—she struck out alone.  

For Mak, it’s both laughable and highly revealing that we have
come to rely on technology for every facet of our lives; the result
of this relationship is the unusual perception of machines that has emerged. This topic served as the focus of “The Anything Machine” and was explicit in the exhibition’s press release, but also throughout the show. In Relic (2018), Mak argues that evidence
of machine worship has been present for decades. These five luminous, lenticular panels are parodic vehicles of religious veneration, and each feature a glowing, aura-emitting piece of technology from the past—including an original Nintendo Gameboy first released in Japan in 1989, a Tamagotchi from 1996, and a Nokia 3310 from 2010—surrounded by plump putti, bountiful vegetation and prancing animals. Placed in their own quiet room
at the top of the gallery, Mak successfully creates a strange atmosphere through these prints, where the feeling of a quasi-hypermodern spirituality is difficult to escape from, and, following this, a sense of confusion and uncanniness when we look around to see what we are actually paying dues to.  

Installation view of MAK YING TUNG 2’s Mr. Fool Wants to Move the Mountains, 2018, robotic vacuum cleaners, sand, dimensions variable, at “The Anything Machine,” de Sarthe Gallery, Beijing, 2018.

From a balcony just outside of this chapel of electronics was the view of several circular robot vacuum cleaners dutifully motoring around the main room, collecting sand from three dunes. When full, they stopped and the gallery staff would empty them out and send them back to their task: to remove all of the sand. Titled Mr. Fool Wants to Move the Mountains (2018), the work is inspired by Belgium-born artist Francis Alÿs’ performance When Faith Moves Mountains (2002), which used 500 volunteers to shift the location of a sand dune by a
few inches. It also references the traditional Chinese folklore, Yugong Yishan (“The Foolish Old Man Moves Mountains”), which tells the
story of a man who, sick of having to circumnavigate a mountain, attempts to singlehandedly carve a road through it. Eventually, a compassionate deity helps the old man build his mountain path. In Mak’s work, the machines play the god, and in this sense, the installation recalls the glorification of technology as expressed in the Relic series. The visual language here is refreshing, although the work’s motivation is not as convincing since, surely, in manual, labour-based, less playful capacities, it’s difficult to see how pushing machines to new limits is not desired.

Installation view of MAK YING TUNG 2’s Physicality I, 2018, cheese on heating pad, 125 × 84.5 cm, at “The Anything Machine,” de Sarthe Gallery, Beijing, 2018.
Installation view of MAK YING TUNG 2’s Physicality I, 2018, cheese on heating pad, 125 × 84.5 cm, at “The Anything Machine,” de Sarthe Gallery, Beijing, 2018.

The final room of the exhibition held two works. Both were markedly simple in terms of their visual language yet powerful in affect. Physicality I (2018) was displayed on a raised platform, and comprised a large wedge of cheese atop a heated blanket. The artist’s intention was for the cheese to slowly melt over the exhibition’s duration. In Physicality II (2018), results were more immediately obvious. For the installation, Mak placed two Dyson fans in front of several framed pieces of heat-sensitive paper. The close proximity of the fans, one set to a cold setting and the other to hot, meant that they were in constant battle to turn the paper blue, red, or something between this spectrum. Both were intelligently arranged automation-based artworks that ended the show, somewhat self-reflexively, on questions about the potential role of machines in creativity and artworks. 

The exhibition’s conceptual underpinning—that machines are taking over our lives and that we are encouraging them to do so—was not as well thought through and innovative as the visual qualities of the artworks. Nonetheless, “The Anything Machine” demonstrated that Mak is a young artist in the midst of developing a genuinely interesting and unique visual language.

Tom Mouna is the Beijing desk editor of ArtAsiaPacific.

Mak Ying Tung 2’s “The Anything Machine” is on view at de Sarthe Gallery, Beijing, until July 22, 2018.

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