No One to Hear You Scream
Saamlung announces a group exhibition entitled “No One to Hear You Scream,” featuring work in painting from Chen Chien-jung and Gao Weigang; photography from João Ó; three-dimensional work from Frank Havermans, John Powers, and Piers Secunda; and an architectural proposal from Yaohua Wang. By convening this particular set of objects and images, the exhibition grafts a science fictional aesthetics onto equally fictional but no less serious questions of the production of space in an ontological realm dominated by a flat plane of objects, pitching particular physical things as suggestive responses to the major philosophical issues of the contemporary moment.
The 1979 American film Alien was originally promoted with a tagline that should be familiar even to those with only a passing relationship to the film: “In space, no one can hear you scream.” For the art space Saamlung, this represents something of a primal scene in its graceful collapse of science fiction and a broader spatial concern, and it is this possibility--space as something generated by a cultural object--that the exhibition “No One to Hear You Scream” takes as a founding premise. New theoretical horizons such as those offered by object-oriented philosophy and new materialism now posit space as a function or property generated by the object dynamically if uncertainly; it is an exciting prospect for those disenchanted with the recent ossification of the relational turn. For the studio practitioner, however, the argument rings oddly familiar, in that it recycles the modernist dictum that sculpture create its own space in spite of or even in opposition to the architecture within or beyond which it is installed.
Of course, it also speaks to the mechanisms of spatial production tied to minimalist sculpture theorized and ultimately critiqued by Michael Fried. Implicated in the purportedly theatrical interaction between body and object, space in this right is somehow maximized, made to occupy through a presence far greater than its evident self. Reading such criticism with the benefit of philosophical hindsight one might associate this argument with the more recent proposal of a democracy of objects, a performative ecosystem that interpolates the human body as an object amongst equals. This, perhaps, is where the most recent supposition of space not as container or vessel but rather as effect most noticeably diverges from modernist understandings of the art object: here, and in this exhibition, the object is expanded in its definition to include a flat alignment of image and architecture, sculpture and installation. In a certain way, everything becomes sculpture, as painting donates its body and photography offers a viewing space aside from that of the image.
Chen Chien-jung includes a suite of his highly architectural paintings, primarily from the Landscape series: muscular but faded works executed in a strong palette that construct spaces between the visible and implied. Straight lines, partially erased and always somewhat obscured by rougher patches of material, constitute invisible spaces produced through the viewer’s desire for consummation. On the picture plane, these marks remain points of light in the undifferentiated conceptual darkness--in the unbuilt wilderness, as it were--that insist on the treatment of the spatial as the key to any aesthetic narrative. In an oddly similar if stylistically opposed fashion, Gao Weigang offers a single work from his Interior View series, a set of paintings that appear as interior depictions of cold, institutional environments for which the imagination of the viewer is left to fill in the gaps: these spaces could easily be drawn from color photographs of early computing centers or aeronautics control stations, but they might also and just as directly be considered as utopian diagrams for far future space stations yet to be constructed. In this case it is the instability of the image referent rather than the silhouette itself that transforms the canvas into an object, suggesting that it is the entire image--and not simply the painting-object--that has been dropped into this space from somewhere else.
The interior spaces documented in João Ó’s new large-scale photography series Thresholds seem to combine visual aspects of the paintings from both Chen Chien-jung and Gao Weigang: like the former, space in these works is largely defined by the play of shape and line described by sources of light, while, as with the latter, the environments could actually be drawn from the set of a modern science fiction film. In fact, the artist has been collecting these singular visions of public spaces of passage across east Asia, consolidating a certain interpretation of an unpeopled urbanism perhaps endemic to the generic economic utopianism of the moment. Functioning also as a bridge of sorts between the categories of image and sculpture, both of which ultimately converge on the space of (and generated by) the object, Piers Secunda contributes to the exhibition a set of relief pieces made by casting bullet holes. Drawn from particular political and militaristic contexts--those of the Taliban and the People’s Liberation Army, to be precise--the sculptural images contain a sense of violence that explodes outward from the thing itself as if casting away the category of the medium at hand.
Working in a more explicitly spatially motivated mode, John Powers participates in the exhibition via an essay delimiting a series of architectural interventions based on the theorization of spatial theater in minimalist sculpture, proposing in several cases that landmark urban spaces be replaced with vacuums of modernist open public space and, in other situations, that such city square settings be filled with commercial tower constructions. Accompanying the text is a series of scale models documenting several such interventions, including an unlikely confluence of a future downtown Manhattan and the Tiananmen Square of the present time based on the ritual negotiation of political space. Frank Havermans contributes a set of equally speculative models of urbanist design, documenting intersections and interchanges abstracted from an original context and reconstructed in a low monochrome that lends an enigmatic quality to otherwise prosaic spatial situations intended to document the future of an Amsterdam business district several centuries into the future, a far wider window than official urban planners care to consider. By contrast, Yaohua Wang’s graphic Buffer project proposes a new typology for building based not on the rectilnearity of the block but rather on the nest, warped by natural forces. In his imagery, robots weave together strands of carbon fiber, housing in the area within them the space of the future.
All space is future space, and all space is fiction.