For his first Hong Kong exhibition, Beijing-based sculptor Yang Xinguang manages to demonstrate the breadth of his practice within the confines of a space far from the airy warehouses in which he usually exhibits. Known for his commitment to the found materials of suburban Beijing, which he often transforms into figures that negotiate the margins of such spaces between the city and more pastoral landscapes, the artist is often described as strongly influenced by conceptual movements like arte povera and mono-ha; for the past two years, however, he has wandered far from his roots in form and become involved with more political aspects of the same geographic environments on the outskirts of urban China.
This exhibition includes a selection of work produced since 2009, including a variation of the significant earlier installation Dead Birds, which involves sharpened strips of peach wood, partially glossy and partially knotty with bark, arranged in a pattern on the floor to suggest a flock of the titular objects. Other well-known work on display here includes Sheet of Wood, a continuation of the series by which Yang Xinguang works at found panels of planking to reveal the knots and patterns that disrupt the severe flatness of the original object, framing his own labor within the negative space of the carved sheet. Leaf 2, which consists simply of a dry leaf punctured by a sharpened twig mounted to the wall, comes from an intermediary phase after the artist had begun to introduce less labor-intensive methods to his studio practice but before reducing the role of purity and form; newer work like There Are Stones Below completes this transition, balancing a painted board mounted with tiny trees made of twisted wiring on a set of bulky stones on the floor beneath. It is tempting to seek in such assemblages a continuation of the aesthetics of the never-rural villages in which studio communities such as that inhabited by the artist are located, but a video installed to one side--the first Yang Xinguang has produced, to my knowledge--suggests otherwise. Three dry leaves hang in the frame of the lens, each one marked with one of the characters from the name of the mythical caonima or grass-mud horse (a homonym for a profanity censored on the Chinese internet); at a certain moment a gust of breath blows by, disturbing their lackadaisical spinning in place, and the leaves blow upwards for a moment before settling again. Form remains, surely, but no longer so much as an abstraction of the artist’s lived environment or key to negotiating space as much as a way to crystallize social relationships.
-- Robin Peckham
(All images courtesy of Gallery Exit and the artist.)