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Household Gods 「駐家寧神」

By Aaina Bhargava /

Protests and pandemics have relegated us to the domestic sphere, where we’ve been forced to confront the anxiety and fear induced by the past year’s events. In addition to political, economic and social disruptions of unprecedented proportions, we’re experiencing emotional and psychological upheavals specifically reactive to this point in time.

Articulating and reflecting on this complex state of being, Hong Kong artists Shane Aspegren, Nadim Abbas, Tap Chan and Wu Jiaru have come together to stage Household Gods, an exhibition curated by Ying Kwok, on view at Hart Hall in H Queens. Lifted from writer and occultist Aleister Crowley’s early 20th-century play Household Gods, the title of the show explicitly outlines its objective: to question our relationship with the supernatural through our “most intimate setting”, the home. 

Wu Jiaru. Installation view.

The four artists conceived of the exhibition while working alongside each other at Hart Haus’ sprawling 10,000 sq ft Hart Social Studio in November 2019, before the advent of Covid-19. Despite their seemingly disparate practices, the artists find common ground in using domestic objects, exploring how they serve as channels to activate the unknown or uncanny.

Kwok describes this collaboration as one that distinguishes the exhibition from others, as “the subject was not given to the artists as it usually is, but directly emerged from their mutual interests”. In their own distinct ways, they strive to harness this abstract feeling, one that particularly resonates in the current climate of uncertainty.

“The content has to carry emotion,” says Kwok. “We’re trying to explore or understand the supernatural – something we don’t have an answer to. The best way to do that is through emotion. It’s about the psychological status and evoking a feeling we carry. Oftentimes a divine, supernatural being or power provides guidance when we can’t understand something. The spiritual realm is unexplored and represents a big unknown; there’s an abstract quality to it that we want to explore.”

Tap Chan. Installation view.

Abbas’s drive to address this theme stems from trying to “capture something that is slippery and elusive”, and perhaps even non-existent, as “belief is creating significance out of nothing”, says the artist, broaching the topic of faith and the sacred. It’s fitting that the first piece viewers encounter is Abbas’s Homeless Forms for Formless Homes (2020), a striking installation resembling a totemic shrine, encasing goods stockpiled against the apocalypse, such as spam and toilet paper, which is also evocative of the South Korean blockbuster Parasite.

Apocalyptic scenes and dystopian realms from sci-fi and horror films have long fuelled Abbas’s conceptual practice. In 2014, in partnership with Absolut Vodka during Art Basel, the artist created Apocalypse Postponed (2014), an immersive, multisensory installation in a bar, like a post-apocalyptic bunker, through a collaboration in which Aspergen also took part. Continuing the theme of apocalyptic preparation, in the current exhibition Abbas invokes the notion of the supernatural directly through ordinary household objects.

“It brings to mind when something as ordinary as a piece of furniture, like a chair, is no longer just that, but is charged with something electric,” he says. “It changes your perspective on that object.”

Inspired by modular furniture, specifically Ikea’s DIY variety, Abbas constructed the two structures from plywood, scouring pads, dish sponges and cardboard. Using repetition and symmetry as formal techniques to assemble them, he reinforces a totemic visual quality while simultaneously referencing the practice of both domestic and spiritual rituals.

Domestic rituals are integral to Chan’s Threshold Field (2020), a “domestic altar” made from melted polyurethane, on the surface of which she created two round depressions, containing blue and purple mouthwash.

“I’m thinking of daily cleansing rituals,” she explains, “particularly those we perform now and are obsessed with during Covid-19.”

Her choice of material invokes a sense of ambiguity, the melting texture denoting an ephemerality and a dreamlike aesthetic, which Chan attributes to her ongoing inquisition into perception and the dynamic between reality and fiction. 

“It’s wax-like,” she says of the material. “It gives it a sense of impermanence, like a candle. It forms this skeletal aesthetic; it’s very unfinished and not fully functional, as if it were something encountered in a dream or a virtual game.” 

Fascinated with the liminal space between the real and unreal, Chan weaves this blurry aesthetic into the rug on which the “skeletal shelf” stands. Made from common packaging string, from afar the rug appears to be deceptively fuzzy in texture. The liminality is enhanced in Twofold Consciousness (2020), consisting of two white headboards that appear to be deceptively lit by neon halos, hovering on the walls.

Aspegren incorporates reflective, spiritually linked rituals in his work. With his self-styled “abstract” meditative sound piece We may believe the words are not what we may believe (I) (2020), the artist continues his ongoing exploration of the healing properties of sonic frequencies.

Nadim Abbas. Installation view.

A series of small sculptures akin to decorative ceramics accompany his sound installation. Hand-dripped white plaster shrouds deity-like figurines, bestowing them with a mystical quality – literal household gods. The ceramics, while crafted by Aspegren, also consist of found organic material such as coral and rocks. Each one grows out of the other, peeking through dripping plaster, combined by the artist in what he calls a “spontaneous ritual”.

“I like to have a sense of improvisation in my work,” says Aspegren. “I like to make things without thinking about them. I work on these slowly for months, sometimes five at the same time. Even when I’m making them, they’re transforming. They start off as one thing and become something else; they’re transient in that sense, ephemeral.”

Highly improvisational, Wu’s creative process is physically embodied in her paintings, a medium which allows the artist the “fastest expressive release”. Yielding bursts of colour and a fervent energy, door_god I & ii (2020) convey a softer take on the traditionally masculine protective door gods, statues which mark the entrances of many institutions and homes in Hong Kong. The painting depicts two pink-hued nude men “guarding” the entrance of the exhibition. 

Proceeding further into the domestic space, Wu additionally created sculptural collages, beige_objects (2020), from items she uses on an everyday basis, essentially documenting her daily home rituals. Old phone cases, mascara, lipstick, shoes and old toys from McDonald’s happy meals are clustered together with spray foam. Over this she has sprayed a reflective silver, cementing the sculpture in a grey hue, visually evoking a futuristic, dystopian aesthetic. “I made these objects into a sculpture for future use,” she says. “They’ll be relics for future archaeologists.”

When photographed with a flash, the surfaces of the pieces become incredibly shiny, glittering under concentrated light. While this could be perceived as a gimmick, it underlines the artist’s intent to present the possibility of a multitude of perspectives. For Wu, this becomes symbolic of the ambiguity of human memory, and indicative of the fact that nothing is ever what it appears to be or how we remember it. 

“Lights compose everything, and when you shine a light on something it either blurs the details or reveals what is actually there. It questions what is real and what isn’t; it’s like how memories work for humans,” says Wu.

She further contemplates the uncertainties and possibilities of the future by situating humans in the role of creator.

“I’m interested in how we were created and in our relationship with our creator – or God. It’ll be the same in the future with AI; they might have their own thinking about us, as we created them. I want to create data for the future that will help understand this time.”

At this critical juncture, wrought with conflict and tension, we have inevitably turned towards introspection, both spatially and spiritually. The works in the exhibition serve as powerful extensions of each of the artists’ individual practices, exploring their unique takes on the relationship between humans and the supernatural by engaging with domestic objects. Household Gods is a welcome point of reflection, addressing and rethinking ways of perception and living in this moment.

連番的抗爭活動及肆虐全球的疫情,迫使我們退到家居領域,去面對過去一年的事件所帶來的不安和恐懼。除了面對史無前例大幅度的政治、經濟和社會變動,我們亦應對此時此刻,經歷情緒和心理的波動。

為了表達和反思這種複雜狀態,香港藝術家Shane Aspegren、唐納天、陳沁昕和吳佳儒聯手創作聯展「駐家寧神」,由郭瑛擔任策展人,於中環 H Queen’s 地下 HART Hall展出。展覽取材於作家兼神秘學家阿萊斯特.克勞利二十世紀初的劇作《駐家寧神》,作品名字直截了當地概括了該劇的目的:通過我們 「最親密的環境」——家,来叩問我們與超自然事物的關係。

早在2019年11月,新冠疫情爆發前,四位藝術家在佔地10,000平方呎的.HART.匯舍已構思是次展覽。儘管四位的藝術手法看來截然不同,但他們卻一致透過使用家用物件,探索如何激發出未知或神秘的國度。

Wu Jiaru. Installation view.

郭瑛形容是次聯展有別於其他展覽:「是次主題並不如往常般給予藝術家,而是從他們的共同興趣中直接萌生出來。」他們試圖以自己獨特的方式,去捉緊這份抽象感,尤其是對當下充滿不定性的環境所產生共鳴的感覺。

「展覽的內容必須富有情感,」郭瑛指出:「我們試圖探索和理解一種超自然現象,那是一種我們沒有答案的現象。最好的方式就是透過情感去作出探索,這關乎我們的心理狀態,亦能喚起一種內心的感覺。當我們不能理解一些事情時,一股神聖的超自然力量往往引導著我們;這片尚未被發掘的精神領域,代表著一個深遠的未知國度,它的抽象性正是我們想要探索的。」

驅使唐納天探討這個主題的原因,是他試圖「捕捉一樣難以捉摸的東西」,或者它甚至並不存在,正如藝術家所說:「信仰是從虛無中創造出意義」,這正正打開了信仰和神聖的主題。因此,觀眾看到的第一件作品是唐納天的《屋即是空 空即是屋》(2020年),是很恰當的。這件裝置藝術引人注目,像是一個圖騰神社,儲存了用來應對末日的貨品,例如午餐肉罐頭和廁紙等,令人聯想到南韓賣座電影《上流寄生族》。

科幻和恐怖電影中的末日場景和反烏托邦國度,一直推動唐納天實踐他的創作概念。2014年,他和品牌Absolut Vodka 於.Art Basel.合作,創作了《末日延遲》(2014年),一件置於一間酒吧的沉浸式、具多感官功能的裝置藝術品,酒吧彷似末日過後的防空洞,藝術家Shane Aspegren.也參與其中。在是次展覽中,唐納天繼續以為末日作準備為主題,透過日常家用物品帶出超自然的概念。 

他說道:「當一些如椅子這麼普通的傢具,再不僅僅是傢具,而是通著電流,你對物件的看法會有所改變。」

受到組裝傢俬的啟發,特別是宜家傢俬的DIY系列種類,唐納天運用膠合板、洗滌墊、洗碗海綿和硬紙板建造了兩組結構,以重複和對稱的形式方法將它們組合在一起,他強化了一種圖騰式視覺特質,亦同時引用了家庭和宗教儀式的實踐。 

家庭儀式在陳沁昕的《絕對領惑》(2020年) 是不可或缺的,這個由熔化了的聚氨酯製成的「家庭祭壇」,藝術家在其表面製作了兩個圓形凹槽,盛著藍色和紫色的漱口水。 

她解釋道:「我在思考日常的潔淨習慣,特別是現在新冠疫情期間我們慣性地及強迫性地進行的潔淨習慣。」

Shane Aspegren. Installation view.

她選用的材料給人一種不確定的感覺,融化的質感意味著一份短暫和如夢境的美感,那是來自她對感知、現實與虛幻之間的力量的不斷探究。 

談及材料時,她說:「就像蠟一樣,它給予作品一種暫時的感覺,就像蠟燭,它營造出粗略的美感;它不完整,亦不完全具有功能性,就像在夢境中或虛擬遊戲中遇到的事物一樣。」

陳沁昕對虛實之間的模糊地帶感到著迷,她把這份模糊的美感編織到地毯裡去,並在地毯上放置「骨架架子」。這張地毯由普通的紡織線織成,從遠處看,它好像帶有毛茸茸的質感。《對摺》 (2020年)昇華這份模稜兩可的狀態,作品由兩塊白色床頭板組成,看似被兩個懸浮在牆上的霓虹燈光環照亮。 

Aspegren則在他的作品中,融入一份深思的、連繫精神層面的儀式感。在他自成風格的冥想聲音作品《We may believe the words are not what we may believe (I) 》 (2020年) 中,藝術家繼續探索聲音頻率的療癒特性。

他的聲音裝置附設了一系列的小巧雕塑品,看似是用來裝飾的陶瓷。手滴形成的白色石膏裹著如神靈的雕像,賦予它們一份神秘感——確確實實是駐家寧神。Aspegren不僅製作這些陶瓷雕像,還選用現成的有機物料,如珊瑚和岩石等。每一個雕像從另一個孕育出來,他們在流滴的石膏之間窺視一切,藝術家把他們結合在一起,並稱之為一種「隨意的儀式」。 

Aspegren 說:「我想在作品中流露一份即興感,我喜歡不假思索地創作,我花好幾個月的時間慢慢創作它們,有時更同時創作五件作品。即使在我創作的同時,它們也在轉變,從原本的東西變成另一種東西,從這個意義上來說,它們是短暫的。」

吳佳儒即興性強的創作過程,具體地體現在她的畫作裡,繪畫是一種讓她得以釋放出「最即時的表達」的媒介。《門神I & II》(2020年) 展現出具爆發力的色彩和強烈的力量,但對傳統的男性守護門神卻作出較陰柔的詮釋,這些神像置於香港許多機構或住宅的大門;是次畫作以粉紅色調描繪兩個裸露的男人「鎮守」著展覽的入口。

為了更深入私人領域,吳佳儒把她日常生活的物件拼貼成雕塑品《beige_objects》(2020年) ,主要記錄自己每天在家裡的生活儀式。她用噴霧法泡沫膠,把舊手機套、睫毛液、唇膏、鞋子和麥當勞開心樂園

套餐裡的舊玩具凝固在一起。她在物件上噴上一層反光的銀色色彩,再把雕塑塗成灰色色調,在視覺上帶有一種未來主義、反烏托邦的美學風格。她說:「我把這些物件製作成雕塑,是為未來之用,它們將會成為未來考古學家研究的文物。」

若使用閃光燈拍攝作品,物件的表面都變得十分耀眼,在聚光燈下閃閃發光。雖然它可能被視為一個噱頭,但它突顯藝術家的創作意圖,呈現出多種視覺的可能性。對吳佳儒來說,這象徵著人類記憶的模糊性,也表明了一個事實:任何事情都不是看起來或記憶中的那個樣子。

吳佳儒說道:「光線構成一切,當你用燈照射一件物件時,它的細節要麼變得模糊,要麼揭示實際上存在的東西。它質疑什麼是真實,什麼是虛假,就像人類的記憶一樣分不清虛實。」

她把人類置於創造者的角色中,進一步思考未來的不確定性和可能性。

「我對我們如何被創造的,及我們與造物主或上帝的關係感興趣。未來的人工智能也將會如此,他們對人類可能會有自己的看法,因為我們創造他們。我想為未來創造數據,幫助人們理解現在這個時空。」

在這個充滿衝突和對立的危急關頭,我們不得不在空間上和精神上的層面作出反思。是次展品是每位藝術家個人實踐的有力延伸,透過融入家用物件來探索他們對人與超自然事物之間關係的獨特詮釋。「駐家寧神」是一個令人省思的切入點,正視和反思當下的感知和生活的方式。 

Featured image: Shane Aspegren. Installation view.

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