Gallery: Pékin Fine Arts
Artist(s): Phénix Varbanov
Opening / Event Date: 28 Jul, 2023
Closing / End Date: 30 Sep, 2023
MOU PROJECTS is pleased to present “Pomegranate,” Pocono Zhao Yu’s first solo exhibition with the gallery as well as in Hong Kong. Drawing inspiration from her childhood memories, textual research, and fictional narratives, the works featured in the exhibition revolve around the history of the pomegranate, the Age of Discovery, as well as the intertextuality of cultural motifs throughout human discoveries. Presenting Zhao’s most recent installations, sculptures, and paintings, the story in “Pomegranate” unfolds through three interrelated chapters—“Voyage,” “Retrospect,” and “Childhood”—to chart the artist’s own reflections on mobility, nostalgia, and personal history.
Greeting the viewers at the entrance of the exhibition is the sculpture series Explosive Juice of Reef (2023) scattered on the floor, which comprises numerous mixed-media pomegranate blossoms sprouting on dozens of stones made of industrial materials. A bizarre visual combination in itself—the organic growing on the inorganic—the work subtly hints on the theme of the first chapter “Voyage”: the unknown expedition and the alienated transculturation that coexists with it. Occupying an entire wall of the exhibition space is a dual-color wallpaper depicting the historic discovery of the American continent by European navigators in the 15th century. The embedded readymade image is borrowed from a set of 15th-century prints titled Americae Retectio (The Discovery of America) (ca. 1589), in which navigator Amerigo Vespucci stands on a ship with a broken center mast, the sun slowly rises over the horizon, and mythic gods and sea creatures roam the surrounding ocean. In this exhibition narrative about voyages, the work alludes to the double-sided results of migration, pursuit, and conquest in the Age of Discovery, depicting the fear and desire under the guidance of the sun and the summons of the “new world.”
In the second chapter “Retrospect,” Zhao fabricates a set of quasi-archaeological evidence and relics in her works to create semi-fictional narratives about the history of conquest and migration. Ocean Robe (2023) is a series of sculptural garments made of printed, processed fabric. Each piece is hung on a hanger, appearing elegant and akin to a newly unearthed cape that once belonged to an unknowable chivalrous warrior. These processed fabrics are printed with a hidden, reconfigured Chinese chess board, on which the original boundary between the Chu and Han camps—used to divide the two opposing forces—has disappeared and been replaced by the word shijie (world) printed on all corners of the board. In a wild, utopian imagination, the work metaphorically outlines a possible set of new rules and boundaries of the world redefined amid the collision and intersection of cultures. Nearby, the sculpture series Newcomer, Messenger (2023) presents a series of photographs printed on marble; they are taken by Zhao of numerous banana trees she encountered in Europe and China. As a tropical plant introduced to the imperial kingdoms in the colonial era, the rootless nature of the tree makes it a kind of nomadic “messenger” in Zhao’s works, “monumentalized” and sealed in stone tablets.
At the furthest end of the exhibition, the finale “Childhood” takes a turn, directing the narrative about world history to the artist’s tracing of her personal memory. In the double-channel video installation Soft Situationism (2022), Zhao focuses on the interaction and emotional entanglements of two protagonists, a man and a woman. Incarnating the Yi and Yue people as recorded in ancient books, they continuously explore the world in order to trace the true origin of the sun. In the video, the prototype for the male character is in fact her grandfather who, in Zhao’s memory, has always had a longing and expectation for “overseas.” In his spare time, he also wrote and studied many papers on international trade and world currents. The inspiration for the work also comes from the artist’s memory and reverie from childhood, reflecting on personal history, nostalgia, cultural identity, and migration that are related to the countless stories of great expeditions.
In Zhao’s memory, several pomegranate trees were planted in her grandfather’s residence. This specific impression also prompts the artist to imagine the “true identity” of her grandfather, leading to a series of images and textual research on navigation and cultural convergence. In mythologies and folklores, the multitude of pomegranate seeds has made the fruit a symbol of life, regeneration, and fertility. In Zhao’s works, the fruit, which originated in the Middle East and is now spread all over the world, is a metaphorical embodiment of intercultural conversations; closely related to her childhood memories, for Zhao, pomegranate has the ability to incite ongoing and more questions regarding history.