Wang Haiyang: Partying at the end of the world

Wang Haiyang, Party in the Anus, 2018, single-channel video, 2’15” on loop


In Wang Haiyang’s video work, Party in the Anus (2018), an ambiguously gendered figure gyrates and dances with reckless abandon in what appears to be the fleshy vortex of an anus. Echoing the anal spiral into nothingness, the dimly-lit room is carpeted in a whirling black-and-white optical illusion. Ensconced in a full-body suit that masks even their face, the figure appears to relish the debased, scatological environment, embracing what Leo Bersani might perceive as the body’s receptacle of death and disease. For Wang, partying in the anus at the end of the world is a productive proposition.


Wang Haiyang, Skins 01-06, 2017-2018, pastel on paper, 66.5 x 51.5 cm (framed)


In the artist’s ongoing solo exhibition at Shanghai’s Capsule Gallery, deathly decadence is the name of the game. Beyond the gallery’s threshold of a serene garden lies a disconcerting milieu created by Wang, who playfully toys with notions of propriety and broaches sexual, social, and subjective taboos with a welcome sense of frivolity. In Skins (2017-2018), a series of paintings on paper, Wang depicts what appear to be human-primate interspecies figures. The hybrids are scantily clad and covered in hair, like the plush, synthetic fur that blankets the room. They are engaged in acts of intimacy such as kissing and sexually fetishistic or suggestive scenarios. For example, one figure is masked, with their hands tied above their head. In these paintings and his video work, Wang teases and tests ideals of the human, stretching the contours of its representational and behavioral acceptability. Here, sex becomes a useful tool that underscores both the anxieties and potentialities of inhumanism.


Wang Haiyang, Skins, 2018, single-channel video, 3’08”


Biomorphic animacies are alive even in the walls of the space. Wang chose to coat the white-cube gallery in a deep electric blue. For Wang, this color is reminiscent of artist Derek Jarman’s cult film classic Blue (1993), in which a lurid shade of blue occupies, overwhelms, and even seems to jump out of the screen, reaching out to its spectators. Likewise, Wang is interested in chromatic agency. For him, color isn’t just medium or background. It is capable of contributing a life-giving energy of its own, shoring up the inhuman animacies of Wang’s hybrid creations.


Wang Haiyang, Untitled, 2018, watercolor on paper, 126 x 195 cm


The waning primacy of anthropocentrism can therefore be seen as a prime opportunity to locate other intimacies and vitalities. In an untitled series of watercolors, Wang represents what can only be thought of as semblances of spines, pincers, cells, clumps of hair, neurones, and disembodied eyes, enmeshed in an orgy of competing, inter-penetrating impulses. In some instances, figures appear to wear only a translucent skin through which spectators can see growth-like entities. These are not the organs or bodies we are familiar with, but rather bastardized accomplices in a web of interpersonal associations. Identifiable features like heads, eyes, mouths, and genitalia are barely discernible, suggesting a radical evasion of biopolitical surveillance.


Wang Haiyang, Untitled, 2018, watercolor on paper, 20 pcs.: 45.5 x 30.5 cm (16 pcs.) 30.5 x 23 cm (4 pcs.)


Within this series, a particularly intriguing group of smaller watercolors departs entirely from any inkling of human figuration. While the majority of the series is rendered in flesh-tones, these watercolors sport more vivid, alien hues. Vaguely recalling ambivalent combinations of insects, flowers, and deep-sea fish, this cluster encapsulates what is most invigorating about Wang’s showing at Capsule: his comprehensive ontological overhaul of categorical knowledge. Naming and evaluating these watercolors by existing systems and vocabularies would indeed be antithetical to Wang’s artistic intent.


Wang Haiyang, Untitled, 2018, watercolor on paper, 14 pcs.: 30.5 x 23 cm (11 pcs.); 45.5 x 30.5 cm (3 pcs.)


In the same vein, Neel Ahuja argues that neoliberal discourses, such as queer theory and environmentalism, are mired in an “ethical hygiene” that counterintuitively fortifies the taxonomical and ideological boundaries between human and non-human. Reinforcing tenets of political ecology, Ahuja suggests that, when faced with the threat of extinction, interspecies entanglement presents other life-worlds of possibility. Likewise, in Wang’s artworks, the erosion and mortality of the human form give rise to other versions of vibrant life and embodiment.