Cactus and steel combined
Shanghai-based artist Zhang Ruyi shows her interest in the relationship between individuals and their surroundings in her current exhibition. Entitled “Consciousness of Location,” Zhang’s solo show at Don Gallery presents a playful misplacement of internal and external spaces.
“The word consciousness refers to personal and subjective ideas. Ideas vary as life goes on. And the word location points to space and surrounding environments,” the artist said about the exhibition’s title.
Last year at Rockbund Art Museum, Zhang reproduced an external space in one of the gallery rooms — a long and narrow corridor covered with tiles on the floor and two sides of walls.
She levelled up her experiment of misplacement this time with the installation piece “Internal External Unit.” Against a partial ceramics tiled wall, as if torn off a building facade, an aquarium is placed on top of a second-hand air conditioner condenser unit, exposed fan rotor blades in slow rotation.
By pairing a common home decor piece with the condenser, something which is also commonly seen outside residential and office buildings in Shanghai, the artist intends to create a dialogue between individual elements and their surroundings.
Inside the aquarium is a sculptural piece of artwork featuring a cactus entangled with steel bars. Rasing cactuses herself for almost a decade, she has been long fascinated with the plant’s “paradoxicality.”
“Its thorny appearance contradicts its internal softness,” the artist observed.
“It lives such as a slow life that it almost seems as if it’s still, which presents a huge contrast to people’s fast-paced life in the city. Yet one day, out of the blue, it died in silence.”
Zhang’s obsession with cactuses made them a vital organic element in her artworks, only this time, she has decided to entangle them with twisted steel bars, then transformed the combination into sculptural pieces by modeling with concrete.
The process of modeling resembles how individuals are shaped and even confined by the surroundings and society.
The sense of suppression goes all the way through the selected works at this show. A series of on-wall decorative art is made with layers of aluminum foil, clip frames, plastic net, wood panels and UV prints, as if compressed collage works.
A piece named “Forging” shows a pair of bananas hanging up in the air. The image comes from a photograph Zhang took in a zoo. The bananas dotted with small holes were used to feed butterflies.
By covering the bananas with a net bag, the artist demonstrates a pictorial metaphor of how human being and other living creatures would very often be restrained by those that we pursue.
The discussion of suppression reaches a climax when visitors come to the last piece of artwork in the show.
Zhang built a wall outside a small exhibition space at the rear of the gallery hall, and transformed it into a hidden room, leaving only a narrow entrance. She then placed floor-to-ceiling steel scaffolding inside the room, penetrating the outside wall, looking like a grid pattern from afar.
Visitors had to sidle their way through a narrow passageway in between the scaffolding and the wall to get to that last piece of installation work, “Matte Substance-6.”
Discarded gravel, which Zhang collected from demolition sites, is inserted with concrete modelled cactuses and steel bars, all together on display on wood pallets.
“It is an interesting contrast to the scaffolding,” she said. “The scaffolding represents something under construction, something going up; while the installation represents something torn down, something abandoned.”
With skillful exploitation and application of everyday materials, especially those commonly seen on construction sites, Zhang aims to demonstrate “how individuals are suppressed, shaped and even restrained by highly-condensed urban life.”
Consciousness of Location
Date: Through January 12, 10am-6pm (Tuesday-Saturday); 1-6pm (Sunday)
Venue: Don Gallery
Address: Unit 302, 2879 Longteng Ave