Wang Gongxin at the White Cube: hidden cameras, strange minimalism and gray matter
Wang Gongxin’s show at White Cube Mason’s Yard explores cultural polarities and in-between states through 13 captivating new multimedia works
Your body appears on a series of screens lining the walls. You are moving, grainy and filmed from multiple angles. But what camera?
At the center of the space, two 3D-printed light bulbs dangle from the ceiling like pendulums or a deconstructed Newton’s cradle. They skim pools of water, one dyed black, the other white. During the course of the exhibition, the splashes of the bulbs will create a small exchange of liquid between the basins, which means that none will remain black or white.
We still don’t know where the camera is hidden, but we know it is. Gray sway (2021) a kinetic video installation by Chinese artist Wang Gongxin as part of ‘In Between’ at White Cube Mason’s Yard, London.
Above and above: Wang Gongxin, Gray sway 2021 TV monitor, metal container, light bulb, motor, ink with water, audio video splitter and cameras. © the artist. Photo © White Cube (Théo Christelis)
It is a show that questions the dualities: East and West, artificial and natural, individual and collective, spectator and watched, and above all, the often intangible space in the middle of these poles.
As a student, the Beijing-born artist trained in the modeling techniques of the Soviet school and used the techniques of socialist realism to imitate the neo-realist styles of the West. He was also inspired by 1960s minimalist sculpture and Japanese architect Kurokawa Kisho’s “grey space” concept. In his art exhibition in London, he develops the central thesis of the 1933 essay by the Japanese writer Tanizaki Junichiro Praise of Shadows. In this influential text, the author argues that light is used differently in East and West: Western cultures seek illumination and clarity; East Asian cultures embrace shadow and subtlety.
Wang has long probed the contrasts between his native China and the United States, and the dazzling, sometimes overwhelming complexity of living in a globalized world. Parts such as Legible landscape (2019) combine traditional Chinese landscape painting and Western conceptual art.
Above and above: Wang Gongxin, Legible landscape 2019, Wood, marble, copper, LED light and light controller. © the artist. Photo © White Cube (Ollie Hammick)
“After arriving in New York, when I was hesitant to abandon the two-dimensional plane, I experimented with partial abstraction, abstraction and minimalism, before finally experimenting with three-dimensional installations of various materials,” says Wang. “If there is a gradual enlightenment here, could it be found in this gradual progression of my practice? If you ask what drive or motivation was behind this, I believe the artist’s work is driven by an obsession with creativity and the pursuit of a complete spiritual world.
Three marble wall panels bear words associated with landscapes, including ‘horizon’, ‘river’ and ‘farmland’. These are engraved on the back of the tiles, readable only when illuminated from behind. Attached to the marble are 3D printed objects: ornate picture frames, more light bulbs and electrical cords, and a bar of soap. There’s also a row of real hangers located in the upper left corner of a panel, a nod to Trap, ready-made by Marcel Duchamp from 1917 which uses the same type of hanger.
Wang’s work, often in black and white, but never frank, composes a dynamic exchange between the movement of the work and that of its spectator. When people are involved, tightly controlled elements can lead to unexpected results. The spectator sees the work, and is the work, as humanity sees the enigma, and is the enigma. §