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Wu Jiaru 吳佳儒

To the Naiad’s House / Flowers Gallery / Hong Kong / Sep 29 – Nov 12 /

The story of Southeast China in the 1990s is one of breakneck transformation. Cranes worked in tufts of dust, new structures climbed steel frames to scrape the sky, and opportunity was in the air. For many millions of people in Guangzhou, Shenzhen and smaller townships, the proverbial first bucket of gold seemed less like a fantasy and more like a real possibility.

As China’s economy opened up, Southeast China felt closer to Hong Kong than ever before. Media and information moved across the border. Even though a border and bureaucracy separated Guangdong province from Hong Kong, people couldn’t help but form impressions of the city through glimpses offered in films and portrayals on television.

For her recent exhibition at Flowers Gallery, Wu Jiaru mined her upbringing in Guangzhou and feelings as a Hong Kong transplant, revisiting experiences as a child who spent time in her mother’s restaurant, watching the world change through a TV screen.

The solo presentation To the Naiad’s House takes its title from a room in that restaurant. The room itself is named after a location inhabited by one of the protagonists in Dream of the Red Chamber, the famed 18th-century novel.

One smaller canvas in Wu’s show, daycare_twoWaitresses (2022), is painted in the shades of the seats found in the Naiad’s House. An amber disc – perhaps the sun – shines behind a mess of limbs, shrubbery greens sprout forth and savoy blues glide off flesh tones against a smoky blue-gray background. Wu characteristically features figures in her paintings in positions of intimacy, dropping them into settings where they share moments of private poignancy.

Lifting even more elements from her mother’s eatery, Wu mounted two pairs of canvases on wheeled frames, making them moveable in the gallery. These mobile canvases mimicked screens that could be erected for privacy in dining areas, and had acrylic chandelier “crystals” dangling from them, sandwiched between each pair of paintings, playing off the inexpensive interior decor that was incorporated by many restaurateurs of that era. 

Unknown Tales i & ii by Wu Jiaru, Oil and Acrylic on linen 175 x 135 cm (each), 2022.
Courtesy the artist and Flowers Gallery.

A set of metal mesh drawers, again mounted on wheels, housed painted closeups of faces belonging to Kobe Bryant  (eyes closed, standing before a background of Lakers purple) and Diana Spencer (eyes open, bright orange behind her auburn-not-blonde curls) – a nod to Wu’s love of basketball and her mother’s fascination with the late Princess of Wales, another stream of influence from Hong Kong, with colonial culture flowing north of the border. Keep exploring to find tangled balls of the artist’s own hair, collected out of habit: strands of herself shed to mingle with her art.

Wu’s gestures left on her canvases are not so much melodic as they are rhythmic, much like the way personal and shared histories ebb and flow. Figures from the past are untethered from the realities of grinding until success is in sight, and grafted into scenes with a mythic quality. Everyone from the artist’s past looks like they are free.

A tender moment glows through in the show. In familyTime_97_liveStream (2022), Wu’s mother is seated with legs crossed on a Baroque chair, the artist nestled within her embrace. Affection warms the frame as mother and daughter are hugged by the canary yellow upholstery, a lilac wall soothing the distant view. In July 1997, Wu would have been four years old.

 familyTime_97_liveStream by Wu Jiaru, Oil and Acrylic on linen, 120 x 90 cm, 2022.
Courtesy the artist and Flowers Gallery.

Whereas this image of maternal tenderness was one of the last works viewers saw in the show, it called back most strongly to one work near the gallery’s entrance that was not made by Wu — a piece of fibre folk art produced by her mother in 1989, two years before Wu was born. It shows an ox under a crescent moon and two shining stars. Wu’s mother was in fact an artist herself, and used the money earned from selling artworks to open her restaurant.

Perhaps To the Naiad’s House is only half of the presentation. The other half would be in the room Wu remembers, where a child wondered about a city that was within reach but still felt like a world away, and then more than two decades later let mythology meld with memory as she made sense of moments from the past that continue to shape her art.

The moment in familyTime_97_liveStream is imagined. Wu told me she was never cradled in that position on the chair depicted on her canvas, nor was there a room in the Guangzhou restaurant painted with that shade of pale purple. This hardly matters. Memories bend and shift, but the feelings of care and attachment felt by Wu cut through time.

轉轉瀟湘館 / 弗勞爾斯畫廊





展品之一是一幅細小的畫作《daycare_twoWaitresses》 (2022年) ,靈感來自於「瀟湘館」裡的梳化,以沙梳化的色調繪製而成。背景是煙熏調的灰藍;尤如太陽般的琥珀色圓盤,照耀在一片混亂的肢體形態背後;灌木般的蔥綠及天藍的色彩,則順著肢體的膚色上滑落。吳佳儒以其一貫作風,刻畫其畫中人親密的姿勢,並將其置身於私人的哀傷情感中。

吳佳儒從母親的餐館裡,提煉出更多意象。她把兩對油畫豎立在帶有滾輪的畫框上,使它們在畫廊中隨意移動。能移動的油畫模仿餐館把餐區劃分為私人聚會空間的屏風,油畫上懸掛著亞克力膠製成的 「水晶」 吊燈,夾在兩對油畫中間,與那個年代許多餐館所採用的廉價室內裝飾相映成趣。

一組金屬網製的抽屜同樣豎立在滾輪上,存放了兩位人物臉孔的特寫畫作,包括Kobe Bryant  (他雙眼緊閉,站在一個湖人隊的紫色背景前)和戴安娜史賓莎(她雙眼張開,以鮮橙色的背景襯托她那金褐色捲髮),這表達出吳佳儒對籃球的熱愛和她的母親對已故戴安娜王妃的傾慕,這些都是源自香港一股帶有殖民色彩的文化向北漂流所產生的影響力。除此以外,吳佳儒還慣性地把自己打結的頭髮收集起來,從中不斷地探索且把脫落的頭髮和藝術品融為一體。


展覽中還流露了動人的一刻 ,在畫作《familyTime_97_liveStream》 (2022年)中,吳佳儒的母親盤腿坐在一張巴洛克式的椅子上,女兒依偎在她的懷抱中,母女在鮮黃色的椅子環抱,親情洋溢,從遠處望過去,畫中淡紫色的背景讓人感到平靜。這是1997年7月,當時的吳佳儒大概四歲。




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