Shi Qing and Shao Yi’s two-person exhibition “Elementary Spectacle” is not so much a fascinating laboratory of materials as it is an anxiety-inducing image world. In this world, “objects” are the law. Classic models of elevated stature are constructed through a form of imitation solemn in its cheapness; taboos are used to highlight the existence of the mechanisms behind systems, and in turn to accentuate their weightiness. The pieces utilize simulation, misappropriation, reproduction, and displacement to emphasize the presence of ideological control or suppression—whether political, economic, or spiritual. In the book Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord points to spectacle as a detailed reconstruction of spiritual delusion—the process of replacing the real world with sheer image that ultimately results in the “effective power of fictional things that seem just within reach to mesmerize people and influence their behavior.” Debord criticizes the way in which capitalism orchestrates materialization. In contemporary society, this kind of latent dominance is based on the ability of certain discourses in the world today—such as the externalization of subjectivity, the reduction of our experience to categorizable labels, and the overtake of objectification and commodification—to gain strength, and to fascinate people.
Shao Yi’s new pieces use auspicious patterns, modern industrial molds, and everyday household items for material. The auspicious patterns off of which he bases his artistic ideas are the material totems used by folk religions to guard against bad omens. These totems provide people with a sense of security, guarding against bad omens and attracting good ones. They are also unavoidably powerful, forces that command steadfast devotion from followers. This double-edged sword is most directly reflected in the series, “XX is here.” On one side of each of ten bulletin boards is comforting clutter from ordinary, everyday life: a mirror, a pill box, a ragged broom, a gong, garden shears, a hat, a ruler, and so on. On the other side of each board is a badge representing national and state authority. Objects on either side are suspended solemnly on the wooden columns, like religious artifacts being prepared for an offering. The scene evokes a strong sense of ritual.
As for Shi Qing, so-called “objects” have more of a tendency to represent abstract concepts, and to serve as substitutes for systems of thought. Although he makes use of a variety of material in his new works, the difference between him and Shao Yi is that these commodities do not themselves possess any kind of cogent signification; rather they make a point of being a series of “landscape models.” They are combined, built, and refined to constitute a new, effective system of images. The islands, volcanoes, rivers, lands, waters, and mountains that he creates with bionic simulation appear upon first glance to follow a scientific model of the laws of nature. But they are subject to external pressures and follow their own rules. Whether it is by defense, diversion, or destruction, things in this world are always seeking balance amidst continuous change on the path to survival. In this work, Shi continues his recent focus on the relationship between space and time, and especially between the mechanisms of social ecology and of rational thinking. Like a physicist he expresses the role of power within a dynamic system of nature, creating a vision of an underlying political system that exposes problems latent in society or due to arrive in the future.
These man-made landscapes slide back and forth in between tangible objects and sheer images, parallel to the state of presentation in the exhibition itself: both forthcoming in its emphasis of certain themes, and consistent in its maintenance of ambiguity, and even mystery. With works that rely on rational analysis and explanation outside of the usual canonical cues of classical methods, it is hard to avoid leaving people guessing. Creating and destroying, controlling and giving in, Shi Qing and Shao Yi not only make people pay attention to the system that they have both obscured and materialized, they also make us aware of its intrinsic isolation and loneliness. Azure Wu