A sculptor by training, Wang Sishun has in recent years been creating conceptual art seemingly unrelated to sculpture. In these works, Wang takes a playful, Dadaist approach to transforming readymade products and everyday materials, dismantling their physical properties, function, and value to restructure our sensory experiences of once-familiar objects. For Uncertain Capital, Wang melted down metal coins into an ingot, which he then sold, converting the profit into coins of equivalent value; these he melted down again, sold, and so on and so forth. This process broke down the coins’ identity as defined by monetary value. Instead, we learned to see the relationship between capital and value as practical, mutually depleting, and ultimately arbitrary— and by extension, how this relationship can be applied to human emotion and thought. Departing from here, Wang has created works based on individual knowledge and bodily experience— a practice revealed in his new solo exhibition at Aike-Dellarco.
Entering the gallery, the first work a visitor sees is an unshaped pile of clay. Its limpness and sturdiness make for a contradictory opposition. For Wang Sishun, repeatedly kneading and molding the clay is not a necessary step in the sculptural process: It is a means through which the artist can safely express his untold secrets, analogous to the process by which one censors or erases memory; the audience obviously cannot partake. In another work, however, Wang writes out his creative impetus frankly on a red, origami high-heeled shoe: a dream in which his elementary school friend was tardy because he was piecing together his body, which Wang had chopped into pieces. The allure of the body goes beyond love or sex to include destruction and extermination. Apart from metaphors and symbols open to interpretation, the body also provides pure, visual temptation. Its political significance is continually jumbled in with morality, truth, consumerism, and production; yet its experiences remain always in a mysterious state, within reach yet untouchable.
The French novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans once described the aftertaste of absinthe as similar to slowly sucking on a metal button— a sensation owing perhaps to the hallucinogenic nature of the drink. Chewing a piece of gold into the shape of a human, Wang also seems to mix a hallucinogenic cocktail. Into cold metal, he infused body heat; into a symbol of wealth and power, shades of religion. At the same time, the object’s use has been transformed, liberated from its previous function to act as but a tender stage prop. This alteration is perhaps a failure of realism, hinting at a presence both violent and deficient— embodied also in the stone sculpture of a body holding its own severed head in its hands (also from a dream).
These interpretations of dream and hallucination bear shadows of Surrealism. Yet their appearance is also conscious, the result of decisions made through reason and control, and we are hard-pressed to see them as the spontaneous, short-lived fruits of the artist’s experiences. At the same time, we sense a yearning for danger and the suppression of emotions: mankind’s hidden, brutal side itching to make its presence known. Wang Sishun’s experiments use the human body as a basis of exploration. The results are at once questioning and in service of the philosophical tenet “know thyself.” Toward the end of the exhibition we enter a small room where the photograph of a street scene hangs on the wall. Through a nearby window we see a view that is virtually identical to the photograph. The captured image mirrors the reality outside in an exploration of the possibility of transcending time. Taking a closer look, we see that a man stands at the exact same spot in the street as his doppelgänger in the photograph. In the image he is just a passerby, but in reality he is a silent, living sculpture, a reference point back to a specific time and space, observable only from afar. So then what belongs to the body— its private world— is nothing but an absurd, abstract presence. The so-called error of the body is more or less the same. Azure Wu (Translated by JiaJing Liu)