Sky Patch / CHAT / Hong Kong / Oct 31– Feb 28 / Ysabelle Cheung /
There were multiple entryways into Yin Xiuzhen’s solo show Sky Patch at the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile, but the timeliest introduction was situated at the main atrium of the building. Here, diaphanous suitcases, stitched together by the artist and her volunteers using recycled clothing, hung like gliders above a facsimile airport check-in, complete with a conveyer belt, luggage carts and attendants. In an era of empty airports and isolation, the work felt especially haunted, the sheer cloth pieced together by collective memory, the futility of the eerie simulacrum evident in the absence of a destination.
As a sensitive observer to the socioeconomic developments that shaped post-1989 China and the ensuing struggles for personal identity, Yin Xiuzhen oscillates between homogeneity and individuality in her works, identifying cohesive patterns of loss and intimacy through her use of vintage textiles. However, the assembly of old and new works in Sky Patch often lacked connection, instead confusing subtlety with grand gesture.
The traditional entrance to the exhibition featured two diametrically opposed works, Prajnaparamita (2019) and Fashion Terrorism (2020). The former is a sculpture comprising dozens of plush ivory cotton tubes shaped to resemble the soundwave of a Buddhist sutra read aloud. The wall text described how each piece should be given to a different visitor via a lucky draw – to disseminate the sutra’s teachings around the “perfection of transcendent wisdom” – but there were no further instructions how to participate. A docent informed us the draw was not yet organised, and to follow updates on social media.
This incomplete work was awkwardly paired with Fashion Terrorism, a sculpture and photo series showcasing ill-fitting clothing resembling weapons, specifically AK-47 rifles, correlating fashion with violence.
Separately, these works mine the artist’s interests in the personal and the global, hinting at collective practices that wield power. Unfortunately, together they promoted a discombobulating message, the binary themes of material terror and spiritual purity more distracting than generative.
The rooms that followed then abruptly pivoted to Yin’s reflections on personal memory and cultural identity, presenting the strongest curation in the exhibition. In particular, a recreation of an old industrial fabric workshop, plucked from her mother’s memories, merged seamlessly with a reproduction of her own current studio space via 16 vintage sewing machines used by the two women.
This theme of intergenerational dependence and heritage through textiles flowed into an older series, Dress Box Photo (1995), in the next room. The work features photographs of second-hand clothing that Yin had folded, sewn together and then fossilised in concrete. Printed anecdotes written by the artist reveal each object’s significance, such as a school dress sewn by her mother from rationed scraps, and a pair of denim jeans worn religiously in her youth (an unorthodox item of clothing in China in the 1980s), tracing the histories of China’s poverty and garment industry, and the artist’s own era of rebellion and individualism through fashion.
After these two exhibits, however, the show’s thematic strength seemed to dissipate. A large hall showed Portable City (2001-), miniature cityscapes assembled from fabrics collected on the artist’s travels; large industrial wall sculptures that hint at the infinite cosmos; and a photo series featuring Yin’s daughter, Song Errui. A nod back to the hanging skylit suitcases in the atrium, the soft landscapes in Portable City connote place as a malleable, tactile experience comprising personal narratives, yet the work was reduced to a conversation about earthly currencies when paired with the cosmos sculptures. Additionally, Song Errui’s soft, inquisitive face, partially obscured by a round fan, seemed anachronistic – not the artist’s intent, I imagined – in juxtaposition with the suitcases and jet-black surfaces of the metallic sculptures. The combination of so many themes diluted the complexities of each work and instead forced one-dimensional readings – for how else are we supposed to interpret these works, if not for their sweeping statements about the Earth and cosmos, the collective and the individual?
The show’s final chapter hosted a collection of newly commissioned videos. In one room, dedicated to the artist’s daughter, we see videos of Song typing, playing and relaxing, the occasional peal of laughter underscored by a moving orchestral track. Although a highly cinematic installation, the works lack context – it is unclear whether they were created in collaboration or not, and as such, Song appears more as a passive object rather than active subject. In an online walkthrough by curator Wang Weiwei, she reveals that the visitor is meant to interpret these videos to form their own narratives of adolescence and growth, but the instruction was discomfiting. Shouldn’t Song possess agency over her own body and story, even in these ambiguous, cinematic flashes?
A second, longer video was more conceptually sound, presenting a portrait of Yin’s family in their day-to-day lives, but presented major technical and accessibility issues. Played without subtitles or a translation, the Mandarin-language video automatically excludes visitors who only understand Cantonese (still the principal language of Hong Kong) or English. Additionally, for those with hearing impairments (myself included), the video’s audio was almost completely obfuscated by overlapping ambient noise, a problem usually resolved with closed captions.
Sky Patch fell short on several curatorial levels, even for a long-time admirer of Yin’s work like me. The show’s material connection to CHAT was often overemphasised – for example, the artist’s addition of red pennants to a permanent exhibition on Hong Kong’s textile history seemed forced, almost aggressively so. More context could have been provided for other nuanced, complex relationships, such as between Yin and her daughter, and between transnational, globalising processes and singular cultural identities. While it can be tempting to present disparate samples of an artist’s practice, especially one as illustrious and wide-ranging as Yin, it would have been wise to pick one theme and expand on it.
Featured image: Installation view of Sky Patch at CHAT (Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile), Hong Kong, 2020. Courtesy the artist and CHAT Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile.
補天 / CHAT六廠 / 香港 / 10月31日至2月28日 / Ysabelle Cheung /
展覽的傳統入口處有兩對截然對立的作品，《Prajnaparamita》（2019年）和《 Fashion Terrorism》（2020年）。前者是一個雕塑，其中包括數十根毛絨的象牙棉質管，其形狀類似於大聲朗讀的佛經的聲波。牆上的文字描述如何通過幸運抽獎將每件作品贈送給不同的訪客，以傳播有關「超越智慧的完美」的佛經教義，但沒有進一步說明如何參加。一位導賞員說抽獎尚未安排好，告訴我們要關注社交媒體的最新動態。