By Christie Lee /
It must be a strange moment for ektor garcia. The artist, used to a nomadic lifestyle, is, like everyone, on lockdown, in his case in Mexico, his birthplace. Under normal circumstances, he would have flown to Hong Kong for his show Oax.D.F.L.A.N.O.H.K., yet the pandemic left him no option but to direct Empty Gallery where to place each piece through video conferencing, arranging them to mimic his own living space.
On entering the black box exhibition space, visitors encounter ventanal (2020), which means ‘a large window’ in Spanish. Consisting of spider leg-like forms that twist and knot into each other, the work was created with the ancient lost-wax casting process, where molten metal is poured into a wax cast mold. One feels a perverse thrill looking at these slightly menacing forms. From there, the eye is directed towards Portales (2020), a series of hanging curtains fashioned from metals or animal skins. These are intricately latticed, the shadows they cast on the wall behind adding to the frenzy. While the ones crafted from animal skin are tactile and sturdy, the ones weaved from metal are studies in fragility and resistance. Push one and it might collapse, but you might also cut your hand in the act. As the artist said once, “The process of moulding and twisting materials into the shape one desires is part pain, part pleasure”.
At the heart of the gallery is an assortment of pottery. Scattered around the space, these works look at once randomly placed and meticulously arranged, as if garcia is coaxing the viewer down a particular path. At first glance, they look like replicas of ancient artefacts but a closer look reveals that the artist’s hand is very much present on their surfaces. An ink splatter feels half-done, while another features inks of clay fired and glazed together in knotted clusters on its surface, as if a sinister force is corrupting it.
As with the artist’s past exhibitions, there are no pedestals, frames or labels, giving it the feel of a haphazard studio. The fragility of Portales entices the viewer to run their fingers down them, while one has to half kneel to look at the patterns adorning the pottery pieces. On my first visit, I nearly tripped over one piece when backing away from another. This sense of experience and play, coupled with dark surroundings of Empty Gallery, also evokes an archaeological site. Just as the artist is unearthing traditions and systems that go back centuries, we appear to be uncovering the connection between the maker and these objects – how the maker shapes the object, but also how the object, in ever-evolving state, orients the maker’s experience of the world. Far from being finished art pieces, they are suspended in a state of limbo, waiting for a hand to reach out to bend, twist and mould them anew. In inscribing his memory into the works, garcia also explores how art-making confers agency.
These objects also seem to exist in a liminal space between art and craft, and in doing so defiantly question why pottery and weavingdon’t receive the same critical attention as paintings and sculptures. But the artist does not aim to lift these ancient crafts from the realm of domesticity, rejecting such simplistic hierarchies and relishing their slippages and multi-dimensionality. The artist gives few interviews and consciously chooses not to capitalise his name, a “gesture of resistance against the increasing trend towards contemporary artists turning into celebrities”, says the gallery. The notion of thresholds takes on a multi-layered significance in the exhibition. For example, viewers are ushered into the exhibition space via a pair of sliding doors, denoting a clear boundary between the space housing garcia’s art and an exterior place, which hosted a makeshift bar on opening night and a talk on closing night. The skin that an animal wears acts as a sort of threshold between that animal and the outside world. These crocheted leather curtains are purposely located on either side of the gallery, acting as a proxy of sorts for doors to garcia’s actual living space, provoking the question: are we in the living room of the artist or the womb of a beast? Later, as one ascends the stairs from the 18th to 19th floor, passing by various metal objects, there is also the feeling one is leaving a space, an experience, an idea behind. During the curatorial process, the artist crosses from his Mexico home to his home in Empty Gallery. What does this fluidity between the artist’s two homes mean? What does it mean to pass through a portal and step into an unfamiliar space, both physically and psychologically?
Garcia’s exhibition asks not only personal questions but also socioeconomic ones. What does it mean for these objects, crafted and assembled in various locations, to finally land in Hong Kong? What doors, physical and metaphorical, did they pass through? These questions are perhaps succinctly captured in the exhibition title, which is a cryptic neologism for Oaxaca, Mexico City, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Hong Kong – the places “inhabited by artist during the gestation of these objects”, laying bare the multitudinal nature of identities and the globalised nature of the art industry. What place does this interconnectedness have in a year when ‘decoupling’ has become a buzzword?