Critics’ Picks

Zhang Wenzhi, Dalny, 2018, ink, archival materials on rice paper mounted on linen, teak wood frame, dimensions variable.



Art Labor Gallery
101 Haifang Lu, Jing'an District
September 1–October 10

Life spills forth most abundantly in a stream of debris and organisms imperceptible to the human eye. Their often unconsidered presence is fully visible in this group exhibition, which opens with two paintings focused on life at its tiniest. Ouma’s series “Phylogenetic Tree,” 2017–, and Marc Standing’s “Chasms,” 2018, depict microscopic growth through flourishing cartoon amoebas and seething viral blooms. Monika Lin’s installation River of Plastic, 2015–18, uses inorganic materials to show the emergence of a new ecology of waste and also serves as the thematic anchor of the exhibition. In this work, a gallery wall becomes a panorama of glowing Styrofoam, acrylic, vinyl, and Tyvek––construction scraps and the plastic surplus of China’s most populous city. Situated next to Lin’s installation is Zhang Wenzhi’s Dalny, 2017: on linen screens hung on a teak frame, the image of an enormous fish, poised to crush a village from which it has seemingly emerged. The piece takes on a deceptively traditional form and signals something primordial, prodding us to imagine what or who might thrive in a river of plastic.

Nonhuman detritus gives way to human wreckage in Pan Jianfeng’s ink drawings on rice paper. In On the Road, 2015, and Wave after Wave, 2015, hordes of smoking, grimacing commuters become the unsocial organs of a new sociality in the metropolis. In pitting different growths against one another, this exhibition tells a story that is not so much cautionary as it is curious, one that places empathy not with humanity but with the strange environs and new life-forms teeming in the runoff of its so-called progress.