Critics’ Picks

Hong Kong

Inga Svala Thórsdóttir and Wu Shanzhuan

Hanart TZ Gallery
12 Pedder Street 401 Pedder Building
March 22–May 3, 2018

Mathematics is rarely identified as a particularly sexy discipline: Plotting graphs and computing equations do not typically light the average person’s fire. But in this exhibition, at one of Hong Kong’s oldest contemporary art galleries, husband-and-wife duo Inga Svala Thórsdóttir and Wu Shanzhuan’s obsession with figures is evident across 288 works with unmistakable erotic undertones.

Wu and Thórsdóttir have been working together since the early 1990s, when the pair conceived what they call the “Perfect Bracket”—a form made of overlapping brackets that represents infinite understanding. To the artists, as two brackets approach one another in an algebraic equation, the more precise and pure the contents they enclose become, eventually transforming altogether into a transcendental symbol. This form is distinctly vaginal, as seen in many of the paintings and drawings hung salon-style here and dating from 1991 to 2018. In some works, its genital connotations are emphasized, while in others, the artists have manipulated their emblem until it resembles architectural plans for bridges or possibly a figure doing pushups while having sex with a cup. Such carnal humor is also present in pieces made from smashing vegetables together; a painting of abstracted parentheses that also reads as an aerial view of a woman’s buttocks; and Thórsdóttir’s Ode, 1998, an oil reimagining of Gustave Courbet’s L’origine du monde (The Origin of the World), 1866, for which she used her husband’s crotch as reference. The mathematical theme is elaborated elsewhere in works that riff on Fibonacci spirals and geometric patterns. When Wu and Thórsdóttir (hailing from China and Iceland, respectively) met twenty-eight years ago, they did not share a language and resorted to making drawings in lieu of speaking. Out of that collaboration-as-communication, as this show makes evident, mathematics emerged as an unlikely and absurd language of love.