Shanghai

Tao Hui, An interview with Leng Shuihua, writer of The History of Southern Drama, 2018, video, color, sound, 10 minutes 46 seconds. From “In My Room.”

Tao Hui, An interview with Leng Shuihua, writer of The History of Southern Drama, 2018, video, color, sound, 10 minutes 46 seconds. From “In My Room.”

“In My Room”

Antenna Space 天线空间

Autofiction, as a genre, has sought to burn the safety blanket of detachment that poets and novelists often hide under, positing instead an authorial “I” that is very much “me,” but presenting occurrences that may or may not be factual. One of the landmarks of autofiction, Guillaume Dustan’s 1998 novel In My Room, brought its author instant notoriety for its (self-) portrayal of drug-fucked faggotry in mid-1990s Paris. Scenes drift from the eponymous bedroom to the darkroom and to the dance floors of Le Queen, a world of almost totally impassive hedonism, where happiness comes in forms that can either be snorted or inserted in the rectum.

“In My Room,” curated by Alvin Li, took Dustan’s novel as a curatorial jumping-off point, a chance to gather a selection of work by artists similarly treading the pathway between the quotidian and the psychopathological, giving the diaristic full bleed. In An interview with Leng Shuihua, writer of The History of Southern Drama, 2018, video artist Tao Hui stages a fictional literary scandal in the form of a dramatic television interview with the reclusive author of an unpublished novel that nonetheless managed to spawn six successful films. As the interview unravels, it is revealed that the manuscript was originally written as a “confession of love” to a film producer who then hijacked the work and capitalized upon it. Tao’s two-channel video work Double Talk, 2018, imagines a suicided K-pop star returned to life; on one screen, a television film crew follows him around, recording his poetic ruminations and reminiscences, while, on the other, students watch the same footage, their teacher standing at the front of the class occasionally barking out commentary: “You have to believe in your own performance.”

Bruno Zhu’s Falling Stars, 2015–19, is an ensemble of sixteen sculptures in chicken wire, the surfaces of which feature a blown-up photograph of Zhu’s eight-year-old sister’s smiling face. Zhu arrived at the sculptures’ forms through a performance in which he instructed dancers to hug the image, thus leaving an imprint of their bodies in the sculpted sheets. Imbued with the touch of others, the rosy hue of the photograph looks, from a distance, like bits of flesh, crumpled up and discarded. Skin was also on the mind of Jes Fan, whose “Diagram” series, 2018–, is inspired by clinical depictions of the epidermis, that outermost layer of skin that accounts for the vast majority of differences in human skin color. Fan’s wall sculpture Diagram VI, 2018, eloquently described by Li as a “living shelf,” is in fact two shelves connected with slithering, vine-like piping and balanced by two transparent glass orbs. Fan’s I think about Lam Qua everyday III, 2019, named after a nineteenth-century painter who specialized in Western-style oil portraits of patients with large tumors and other medical deformities, also features a potato-shaped glass orb, but this one contains specks of color. It is elevated on a plinth and surrounded by a stack of Plexiglas panels that resemble an architectural model.

“You can change any part of your body into a dream,”avers the narrator of Evelyn Taocheng Wang’s Hospital Conversations, 2018, a poignant montage of sound and image that hallucinogenically melds the architecture of a hospital interior with that of the human body. The show also included three pieces from Wang’s ongoing series “Eight Views of Oud-Charlois,” begun in 2018. A riff on a famous lost scroll painting from the eleventh century, Eight Views of Xiaoxian, the series comprises diaristic drawings depicting scenes from Rotterdam’s poverty-stricken neighborhood Oud-Charlois, known as the worst ghetto in the Netherlands, where the artist has made her home.

In the dimly lit environs of the gallery, these works and others communed and dilated, inflowing snatches of life that felt like self-contained journeys, intrusions into private meanings made public, turned outward. Understanding is a lifework. Discovery entails confusion, unbecoming. The irresolute nature and vulnerability of so many of the works in this show endowed them with a strength of purpose that made “In My Room” worth revisiting.