New York

Tishan Hsu

Pat Hearn Gallery

Tishan Hsu’s sculptures have become at once maniacally irrational and maniacally intellectual. They are strange hybrids, seemingly primitive organic creatures and sophisticated electronic machines simultaneously. Cellular Automata, 1989, looks as though it contains Frankenstein amoebas; the piece recalls the site of some successful technological operation. In the wild Feed Forward, 1989, computer-generated images that in themselves seem new forms of life receive a transfusion of human blood. The sinister red-alert emergency telephone on the wall suggests the danger of bringing such viral images to life. Living Color, 1989, suggests that the red objects it contains may be all too dangerously alive. Double Bind, 1989, presents a chest X-ray that seems to radiate with its own uncontrollable life—this seems to be the reason it must be caged and strapped down like a madman. Hsu’s sculptures, which sometimes combine freestanding and wall elements (as in Security, 1989) have realized the demonic potential they always had. They deal with one of the plagues of civilized life—invented bacteria/automata, which may invade and poison our lives. Certainly Hsu’s cells, and his works in general, seem more toxic than benign. They already demonically possess our minds: they are fantasies that have become actual.

I think Hsu’s artistic point is that abstraction lends itself to articulating life forms, particularly the technologically innovated forms of elementary life. He implies that abstraction is not only the “natural” language of the modern technological world, but also the inherent language of nature, which operates with abstract techno-logic. Hsu is not simply revitalizing abstract forms or showing the inherently abstract character of biomorphism, but trying to articulate the oneness of abstraction and life. He suggests the underground symbiotic intimacy of geomorphic and biomorphic forms in art—the way each has fed on and been assimilated by the other. This metaphorically implies the vitality of abstraction—and the abstractedness of vitality, even at its most spontaneously metamorphic. Hsu’s sculptural images and imagistic sculptures can be interpreted as articulating the spontaneous technological generation of abstract life. They suggest the abstract simulation of our technological world—life forms as abstract texts—reminding us that abstract art is still capable of serving as the profoundest articulation of the zeitgeist. They speak to the unconscious dread aroused by the fact that we can no longer differentiate between the concrete and the abstract, the real and simulated.

Hsu is, in a sense, the Cézanne of post-Modernism: the master whose contradictory currents of quotation and theatricality are used to articulate the uncertain character of desire in our increasingly synthetic world. Desire is uncertain today because it does not know if its object is dead or alive. Where Cézanne deadened the life he desired by esthetically idealizing it, Hsu brings the dead, but life-simulating forms that are the object of post-Modern desire, to actual life by suggesting their inherent (rather than esthetically imposed) pathological character. Hsu’s arbitrary objects are an advance beyond the simulated symptoms of Surrealism, because they are rooted in the actual. These works show that the arbitrary abstract forms invented by art can be genuine symptoms of a pathological world, as well as indications that today the world only enters art in pathological form.

Donald Kuspit