SU WENXIANGBeijing Fog, 2015, video, 4 min. Courtesy Yallay Gallery, Hong Kong.

SU WENXIANGBeijing Fog, 2015, video, 4 min. Courtesy Yallay Gallery, Hong Kong.

Vapor and Dust: An Exhibition by Su Wenxiang + Xu Qu

Yallay Gallery
Hong Kong China

The words “vapor” and “dust” might not be the first things one thinks of upon entering Hong Kong’s Yallay Gallery and seeing their current exhibition, which is named after these two terms. Located within the up-and-coming art district of Wong Chuk Hang, on the south side of the island, one must snake through crates upon lorries upon industrial buildings to reach the gallery; and when crammed into a small rusty elevator, one almost wonders if this is all a lead up to the premise of the exhibition. However, after entering the gallery, one immediately sees that the space is clinically white, and the exhibited works are surprisingly colorful. At first sight, Su Wenxiang’s “Gray Series” (2015) seems hardly gray at all, and Xu Qu’s paintings in “Currency Wars” (2014) harshly stare back at the viewer with their bold, defined lines.

Everything about the exhibition seems a little unexpected; Su works almost exclusively in performance, film and photography, whilst Xu is best known for his conceptual sculptures and installations. Yet unlike what we are used to seeing from the artists, the majority of works on display are paintings. Thus—perhaps out of familiarity and comfort—I found myself instantly drawn to the one video installation in the exhibition: Su’s Beijing Fog (2015). The single-channel video has no narrative, and it is simply a compilation of shots showing the Beijing cityscape on its haziest days. Through the artist’s use of various viewpoints—as seen in footage shot from a moving car, an elevator inside a skyscraper and the side of the road—and the choice of filming in black and white, the hectic city of Beijing is transformed into a flat and still landscape. Here, Su emphasizes the power and influence that “vapor” and “dust” have on the world, thus pointing to the absolute absurdity of our living situation.

Despite Beijing Fog not being the introductory piece of the exhibition, it serves as a helpful tool in understanding the other works in the show. Su’s “Gray Series” consists of two sets of paintings that are differentiated by their individual production processes: one is made with a single paint commonly used for automobiles; and the other is created by mixing a number of various colors. Similar to Beijing Fog, these paintings contain no story, focusing on the one color that each piece is comprised of. Gray – Rosso Madera, a work from the former series of paintings, initially seems to just be of a red palette, but a closer observation reveals a vast mix of white, black and gray hues within the crimson automotive paint. Taking a step back, the work suddenly feels overshadowed by a dark and almost dirty tone. This notion is further emphasized by the use of the automotive paint itself—which is seemingly referring to the gray “vapor” or smog that is created by the vehicles that the medium is originally intended for. In his other set of works from the “Gray Series,” we see that the original colors Su has created are overcast with a dark tint. In Grey 2015.5.14 – 1, colors such as “azo pink,” “iridescent precious gold,” and “primary yellow” are combined to create a violet canvas, which, however, is pervaded with a dullness and stillness reminiscent of that in Beijing Fog.

XU QUCurrency War Series Oman 100 (New), 2014, acrylic on canvas, 158 × 150 cm. Courtesy Yallay Gallery, Hong Kong.

XU QUCurrency War Series Oman 100 (Old), 2014, acrylic on canvas, 158 × 150 cm. Courtesy Yallay Gallery, Hong Kong.

Unlike Su’s work, which abstracts itself from the subjects it is based on, Xu’s work zooms into the minute details of its motif. In his “Currency War Series,” Xu magnifies and enlarges small sections of various old and new currency notes, re-appropriating their anti-counterfeiting designs as abstract paintings. Yet more than anything, the pairings of old and new currencies from their respective countries makes evident the effects of time on the carefully designed representation of a nation. In Currency War Series: Oman 100 (New) and Currency War Series: Oman 100 (Old), for example, we see the country’s currency transition from the old version, with its strong pattern of defined separation of lines shapes and colors, to the new iteration—a bleached and blurred version of its previous self.

Despite the “Currency War Series” taking the majority of Xu’s space in the exhibition, it is another work of his titled Lineament (Laocoon) (2015) that really captures the viewer’s attention. Vastly different from the rest of his displayed works, Lineament (Laocoon) is a piece that is conceptually between a sculpture and a drawing. Xu uses gold- and bronze-colored metal to render the ancient Roman marble sculpture Laocoön and His Sons. Despite appearing strong and almost indestructible, the metal used for Xu’s work is brass—a relatively soft material that is easy to cast, but susceptible to tarnish. The apparent visual paradox of the work—which acts as an allegory of the force and effect of “vapor” and “dust,” as well as the absurdity of their destructive capabilities—strongly reflects the exhibition as a whole, with the outwardly simple selection of works providing an unlikely but powerful discussion on the destruction caused by modern society.

Installation view of “Vapor and Dust” at Yallay Gallery, Hong Kong. Courtesy Yallay Gallery. 

“Vapor and Dust: An Exhibition by Su Wenxiang & Xu Qu” is on view at Yallay Gallery, Hong Kong, until July 10, 2015.