New York

Ti Shan Hsu

Leo Castelli; Pat Hearn

Can the technological be made expressive? Is the technological inherently expressive, much as we think the organic is? Has the “modem” task of art been to draw out this “new” expressivity, in celebration of the dominance of technology in our lives? These are the questions Ti Shan Hsu addresses. They are not new questions. They emerged with Constructivism and were sustained by Minimalism. What is new is that Hsu’s technologically oriented, geometrically conceived objects–among the most innovative (some would say eccentric) that I have seen in a while—are ambivalent rather than affirmative about technology. They accept its inevitability in our lives, but they do not exactly jump for joy at the “triumph of instrumental reason.”

John Dewey once said that we are only as good as our instruments, and the Constructivists believed that they could design modem instruments that would satisfy all our wishes. Minimalism can be understood as the stylistic dregs of this conformity to the utopian credo of early Modernism. Today, such utopian instrumentalism is not only in disrepute but seems naive and absurd; events have caught up with it. How, then, to get beyond the naive utopianism of the streamlined, and to signal the new melancholy of the technological? Hsu suggests an answer: by introducing, within the sign of all-controlling instrumental order—the grid, now associated with the silicon chip—a textural “dysfunction,” an “atmospheric” disturbance, an oddly phantasmal energy. Many of the current “neo-geo” artists have tried something like this, but none of them has succeeded as brilliantly as Hsu, or has been so underivative of traditional Modernist geometrical abstraction. None has managed to give us the sense of unclassifiable expressivity that belongs to but also seems to defy the technological. Thus, in No Name, 1986, and Bumper to Bumper, 1987, a certain murkiness infiltrates the form. In Liquid Circuit and Cell, both 1987, it is contained by symmetrical sections of the structure—but one senses it festering, a plague in a Petri dish. Curvilinear shapes within the “dis-eased” space echo the curved corners, tokens of the smoothness of technological control and of the false placidity it induces. Although the expressive ooze germinates within the structure of control, it is at once destructive of it and emblematic of the destructive force latent within it. Hsu brings out the morbid expressivity of technological control, its seductive Mephistophelian character. Its promise is spent, but it is still poisonous.

Hsu’s expressivity is non-gestural, but it is not simplistically mechanical; it is the electrostatic of technological burnout, the sizzle of a short circuit in a fully functional system: the source of the “mystery” of technology. The system may recharge itself, as in Cell, where the organic matter is packaged in rationalized units of streamlined clarity. But within this brave new cellular order, “redesigned” from the mischievous, obviously eccentric expressivity of Ooze, 1987—in which system and expressivity are seamlessly one—the poisonous atmosphere is embedded in the surface, permeating the grid and creating a visual tattoo that commands our attention.

Donald Kuspit