On ViewMicroscope Gallery
Ayoung Kim, Yin-Ju Chen, Sow Yee Au, Su Yu Hsin: A Dweller on Two Planets
June 29–July 29, 2023
This is an exhibition for the viewer who loves watching the silent films of Georges Méliès—for a trip to the moon or a mermaid submerged in a goldfish tank. A trip to Microscope Gallery fills that bill. Here, four exceptional Asian women artists take us on a time-travel into imaginary realms where mythology, science fiction, and complex narratives converge. Charm and enchantment, two words seldom uttered in our current art discourse, are reintroduced. Artists like Jean Cocteau and Georges Méliès charmed us when they dressed up actors as wizard space travelers and dancing ostriches. Here we see a revival of this spirit with a tiger on drums and a turban-clad undersea scientist. The videos’ imaginative narratives offer up solutions to heavier concerns like geo-political conflicts and environmental catastrophe while captivating the viewer. These women have a magical touch. This critic loved beating the heat while sitting transfixed watching the videos and would highly recommend seeing this exhibition before it closes on July 29.
The visionary curator, Alice, Nien-pu Ko, was inspired by the 1886 science fiction novel A Dweller on Two Planets, by Frederick Spencer Oliver. Oliver claimed the book was authored by “Phylos The Thibetan” and had been channeled via automatic writing and visions. Here, the four artists transport us with their time-traveling dream spaces: Atlantis-like submerged civilizations possessing advanced technologies, outer space, and holographic realms. East meets West, past meets present, and undersea meets outer space.
Much in the same way that Georges Méliès constructed theatrical sets for his films, Au Sow Yee’s tiny model of a stretch of Malaysian beach becomes the setting for her video. 2 Electric, Cosmos and the Seance (2022) features the historical character Tani Yutaka, also known as “Harimau” (tiger in Malay), a bandit who served as a secret agent for the Japanese military during the Pacific War in Peninsular Malaysia. Changing conceptions of Yutaka in popular culture reflect changing power dynamics in the area of the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, and Pacific Ocean. A real tiger alternates with a costumed and drumming tiger. Like Méliès, Au Sow Yee’s dream sequences can include a lunar landscape, cosmonauts, and a metal spacecraft. Complex, interwoven narratives involving Japan, Taiwan, and ASEAN countries are hinted at in ways a Western view may not comprehend, as fog canisters cloud the set representing mysterious forces beyond our comprehension. At the close, the tiger costume and the set model are revealed, in a sequence that is oddly touching.
Yin-Ju Chen’s Extrastellar Evaluations III: Entropy: 2580 (2018) draws on extraterrestrial myths, cosmography, and space physics to present us with a calculation as to when doomsday will occur. Entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, is a leitmotif. The screen is flooded with images of kaleidoscopic forms and fractals. At intervals, a digitized narration by a non-human intelligence named “Ra” blames it all on the infinite Creator. William Paley’s 1802 intelligent design argument—“God as watchmaker”—rages. Ra warns us that our bad choices, technology, and environmental destruction are to blame for our demise, not his watch- works. We have forgotten Venus, and the power of love.
Blast Furnace No. 2 (2022), Su Yu Hsin’s video, is like an alchemical commentary on iron, meteorites, and base metals. Both Chinese and European alchemical texts feature furnaces used in the processing of lead and iron, as they undergo transmutation into higher forms. The alchemical process was determined by the interior life of the alchemist (now known as observer shift). Blast Furnace No. 2 tells the story of Lin, a Chinese translator who accompanied the 1990 dismantling of a blast furnace located in Hattingen, Germany, that was to be transported to a steel mill in China. Posthumously, Lin has left behind an unfinished sci-fi novel whose protagonist has developed a utopian machine based on the blast furnace that lifts her in a funnel into outer space. There, hopefully, she will find an alternative energy source to replace coal firing. The viewer may think of Nikola Tesla’s dream of clean free energy. Here, molecular structure represents the microcosm, and internal fantasy is part of the transformational process. We hope that by the time the protagonists return to earth in 2050, Tesla’s dream will have manifested.
Fans of Jules Verne’s 1870 Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea will love Ayoung Kim’s At the Surisol Underwater Lab (2020). Here a geodesic-domed underwater lab replaces the Nautilus submarine. A “biomass town” has been created in the Korean city of Busan, encompassing an area between Gijang and the Oryukdo Islands. Captain Nemo’s dream of tapping the ocean’s bounty moves into futuristic fantasy. Sohila, a silver-jumpsuit-clad female lab worker (who has escaped the war in Yemen) monitors the production of seaweed and micro-algae biofuels. In one sequence, Sohila sends Turbo Shell (a remote-controlled mini-sub) to conduct reconnaissance. In a final sequence, the marine version of snow falls, and we are assured this is a sign that life on the planet will survive.
This viewer came away feeling the four talented women have presented us with an underlying theme that the creative imagination and higher purpose may aid human and animal survival on the planet. At Microscope, we engage in a kind of sympathetic magic I would highly recommend.