Beijing

Hong Hao, As It Is—The Writings of a Hundred I, 2011, pencil on found paper mounted on aluminum, framed with wood and acrylic, 47 1/4 x 76 3/4 x 2 3/4".

Hong Hao, As It Is—The Writings of a Hundred I, 2011, pencil on found paper mounted on aluminum, framed with wood and acrylic, 47 1/4 x 76 3/4 x 2 3/4".

Hong Hao

Beijing Commune 北京公社

Hong Hao, As It Is—The Writings of a Hundred I, 2011, pencil on found paper mounted on aluminum, framed with wood and acrylic, 47 1/4 x 76 3/4 x 2 3/4".

For the past decade, Hong Hao has made work that deals in the economies and aesthetics of accumulation. “My Things,” a photographic series begun in 2001, is made up of composite images derived from the scanned photographs of the artist’s possessions. The objects range from the mundane to the whimsical—books, toilet paper, passport, pens, wallet, toothpaste, letters, and so on. The effect is both intimate and overwhelming. At the time, the series was read as a statement on excess and contemporary China’s burgeoning material and capitalist culture. One piece in particular, My Things No. 6—The Hangover of Revolution in My Home, 2002, featuring all the objects from Hong’s house relating to the Cultural Revolution era, served as the exception that proves the rule, making explicit the tension between Communist history and the consumerist present.

The fascination with found objects continued in Hong’s latest exhibition, “As It Is.” Scraps of the artist’s own napkins, notes, receipts, correspondence, and other kinds of paper were combined into obsessive displays of collectorship, intricate arrangements of structure. Hong has chosen to display the blank backside of these documents, copying in pencil the outline of words or images from the front with a slavish attention to detail so that they read backward. The materials generally manifest transactions, some literally, as in Parasitizing—Trade (all works 2011), which displays a history of hefty transactions from a bank slip in reverse. But whether or not they deal in cash, all of the documents in the show render an exchange of goods, of histories, of thoughts, of feelings, and, above all, of ideologies. Here, the detritus of society is society.

Often, the pieces highlight a single phrase. In Reborn—All Are Paper Tigers, the Chinese characters for the work’s subtitle are traced backward, in pencil, on the reverse of a Socialist-era poster, the red background and outline of Mao Zedong’s face clearly visible through the yellowing original. Or they reproduce the entirety of hallowed texts as storied as the Chinese Constitution (Parasitizing—Constitution) and the Tao Te Ching (Thinking to Match the Good—Tao Te Ching) but, again, they are written backward, traced from the verso of a found original. Hong has remarkable control over the pencil, reproducing printed images and typefaces with a precision and delicacy that achieves completely credible mimicry.

The title of the exhibition, a classical Chinese phrase from the Yuan dynasty that invokes the concept of inertia, itself carries a history. The gallery has translated it to “as it is,” though some dictionaries render the phrase as “to make use of momentum.” Accordingly, Hong offers no resistance to the found materials that make up his works, his modifications—such as lines traced from the originals’ borders and boundaries—departing from the originals themselves. But in this instance, tracing is also an act of subversion. Parasitizing—Plain Map I and Reborn—Location Plan, are an English-language world map and a Chinese-language map of Tianjin in northern China, respectively. But both are useless and barely legible, with landmasses and type reading in the wrong direction. A map rendered in reverse is dysfunctional, and perhaps even heretical in its upending of space and world order. The same goes for foundational texts; after all, the constitution most clearly visible in Hong’s Parasitizing—Constitution is a nonsensical and perverted version of the original. Although the mechanism is subtle, its implications are immediate.

Angie Baecker