The Anything Machine
26 May – 22 Jul 2018
de Sarthe Gallery, Beijing
Machines and electronic devices are ubiquitous in our daily lives, dominating almost every aspect of them. For The Anything Machine, her first solo show at de Sarthe Gallery in Beijing, Mak Ying Tung 2 investigates through a new body of work two ideas related to machines. While some of the works question whether we exaggerate our veneration of these devices, others query whether these electronics can play an even larger role, such as in the creation of art.
The latter theme is addressed in her installation Physicality II (2018), in which two Dyson fans, one blowing hot air and the other cold air onto thermal paper create an array of hues ranging from sand to indigo to green. While the art is properly framed and offers a pleasing visual display of colours, we are left wondering whether fans can replace the mind, heart and hand of an artist.
The installation Physicality I (2018) employs another household appliance: a piece of hard cheese is placed on an electric blanket, which is set to a medium heat for the duration of the show. The cheese slowly changes its form from its original state, mimicking a form of artistic creation without human intervention.
A group of robotic vacuum cleaners busily sweep away several mounds of sand piled on the main gallery floor. Mak found inspiration in artist Francis Alÿs’ work When Faith Moves Mountains (Lima, Peru, 2000) where over the course of one day, 500 volunteers were able to only minimally move sand dunes. Alÿs went by the principle, “maximum effort, minimal result”. Here Mak does the opposite, setting the robotic vacuum cleaners a task at which she knows they will eventually succeed. This is also the case in the parable to which the work owes its title Mr Fool Wants to Move the Mountains (2018), in which an old man ultimately achieves the seemingly impossible through sheer perseverance and determination.
The upstairs gallery is reminiscent of a small chapel complete with pink walls, two pews and five lenticulars depicting imagery usually associated with Christian iconography – except that, in the very centre of each, among those images of fluttering angels, sheep, candles, flowers and fruit, is positioned an outdated first-generation electronic device emitting rays of light. In its choice of medium and by associating religious iconography with outmoded gadgets, such as the Discman or Game Boy, Relic (2018) elevates them to a station worthy of worship and adoration. The works also convey a sense of nostalgia and kitsch, a longing for an era of innocence when electronic toys and gadgets where still novel, and mainly associated with leisure.
Taobao, one of China’s largest internet shopping sites, is where Mak found images of treadmills for her installation Running on Taobao (2018). The size of the machines is grossly exaggerated in relation to the size of humans running on them, not unlike the embellished descriptions of items by sellers on the shopping site, which stand in contrast to the more negative comments by buyers after they have used the goods.
In The Anything Machine, Mak has chosen a light-hearted but probing approach, to help us contemplate the importance and status we ascribe to electronic devices, as well as suggesting alternative uses for them. Employing seemingly simple methods and materials, she reminds us that at times we might exaggerate their importance to the point where we elevate them to the ranks of sacred relics.