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Wing Po So

From the Body to the Body Through the Body / de Sarthe Gallery / Hong Kong / Sep 7 – 21 / Vivienne Chow /

Change is the only constant in life – which is why sitting on one of the bean bags inside Wing Po So’s From the Body to the Body Through the Body could induce a warm sensation of strange familiarity and calmness in viewers. The 11-metre-long immersive installation is like a gigantic cocoon, a pit stop where one can hide and seek solace during what could be a painful process of transformation before being reborn into a better version of oneself, like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon or a phoenix rising from the ashes.

From the Body to the Body Through the Body is the title not just of the monumental installation but also of the artist’s first solo exhibition at de Sarthe Gallery. The show is the conclusion of the third edition of its annual artist residency programme deSAR, which was inaugurated with Andrew Luk’s Practice in 2017. Instead of staging haphazard group shows of limited appeal during the summer low season, the gallery opens up its vast space to artists who transform it into an artist studio for two months and produce works there. The artists, particularly those based in Hong Kong, are given the opportunity to create works they normally wouldn’t have the space and resources for. If Hong Kong is determined to be an art hub, more initiatives like this are needed.

Changing States Phase3 by Wing Po So, 170 x 122 cm, 2019. 
Courtesy the artist and de Sarthe Gallery.

But then, do we still know what Hong Kong is determined to be? It is in the process of transformation or metamorphosis, with the city gripped by the ongoing pro-democracy protests sparked by the controversial extradition bill, which would have allowed suspects to stand trial in mainland China.

The importance of So’s monumental installation is magnified by that context. Hailing from a family of doctors of Chinese medicine, the artist grew up at her father’s pharmacy and is well versed in the language of Chinese herbs and natural resources. From the Body to the Body Through the Body, which is made out of dried corn silk, is a continuation of the artist’s exploration of these resources. Corn is one of the most common ingredients in Chinese medicine, and the dried corn silk was
manually combed and arranged during her residency to create an organic cocoon that breathes, smells and allows rays of light to seep through the woven skin.

The installation is accompanied by a series of sculptures made from clay and corncob. They appear to be prehistoric fossils, as the corncob embedded in the clay disintegrates when the piece is heated with fire, leaving traces of what looks like animals or bugs. In Changing States, a new body of work carved from a layer of plaster on board. Fictitious, prehistoric-looking sculptures might suggest a fabricated narrative of the past. But this is not static: the thread will be transformed as it goes through the cocoon. From the Body to the Body Through the Body gives viewers the time and space to contemplate the meaning of transformation. It is a force of nature and necessary at this time, no matter how painful it is.

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