Hong Kong

Ho Sin Tung, Mystery of Love, 2019, pencil, ink, and gouache on paper, 53 × 39 1⁄2".

Ho Sin Tung, Mystery of Love, 2019, pencil, ink, and gouache on paper, 53 × 39 1⁄2".

Ho Sin Tung

Ho Sin Tung’s “Swampland” collapsed a spectrum of failed utopias into one exhibition, from the breakdown of the artist’s relationships commemorated in Same Old Sweet (all works cited, 2019)—in which melted chocolates, candies, and antacid pills gifted by former paramours are molded with clay and resin to appear like feces in storage vessels—to the implosion of sociopolitical projects evoked in Dead Skin, comprising nine child-size ghosts, their hollow eyes cut not from bedsheets but from the flags of no-longer-extant states, colonies, and empires. These defunct territorial entities, which include the Holy Roman Empire and British Hong Kong, were not only reflected in the nomenclatural associations of the Prussian blue of the gallery’s walls, but were also echoed in Over, eleven framed prints hung in a high and ascending diagonal line. The images all depict eyes belonging to historical rulers, including Puyi (the last Chinese emperor) and Mikhail Gorbachev (the Soviet Union’s final leader), and to the archetypal fascist libertines—the Duke, the Bishop, the Magistrate, and the President—of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final film, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975).

Based on the Marquis de Sade’s novel The 120 Days of Sodom (1785), which outlines the torture of young men and women incarcerated in a castle in the Black Forest for the depraved pleasure of four aristocrats, Pasolini’s film changes the setting to the Republic of Salò, the Nazi puppet state that was Mussolini’s final stronghold. 1001 Nights After, a geometric carpet on the gallery floor, was copied from one featured in Pasolini’s film; another, 1001 Nights Before, was based on a carpet from Arabian Nights (1974), the final installment of Pasolini’s “Trilogy of Life”—Salò’s foil in its celebration of erotic freedom. Both references heightened the metahistorical ambiguity this exhibition raised, as underscored by Mystery of Love, one of three large grayscale drawings named after songs by Sufjan Stevens. A hilly landscape under a black sky is foregrounded by broken columns amid sculptural fragments, their forms responding to mentions in the song’s lyrics of Alexander the Great and his lover Hephaestion, and to a scene in the 2017 film Call Me by Your Name in which statues influenced by the fourth-century BCE sculptor Praxiteles, radical for introducing sensuous form, are described as ambiguous and ageless. “I think the future belongs to the corruptors,” the artist has said of the work, “and they have been here for a long time.” What is unclear, however, is who these corruptors are—the rulers, those who subvert their power, or both.

Six drawings arranged to form an upside-down cross pointed to a possible response. Inspired by the apostle Thomas, who doubted Christ’s resurrection until he saw his wounds, the work features the same scene in each frame: Fingers poke a vaginal slit on a bare torso. The blood seeping out ranges in color from green to pink, in reference to an episode from season one of the Japanese anime Sailor Moon (1992–97) in which a girl is undisturbed by the green blood of her extraterrestrial lover. Amid the allusions of “Swampland,” the title Your Blood Is Green and That’s Okay felt complicated by a connection to the blue-blooded perpetrators of Salò—a point in the show’s density of connections and conflations that But Something in Him Was Still Homesick for the Ice seemed to confront. Cutting across the gallery space and essentially dividing the room in two, this work was a horizontal light box displaying pages, mostly blank, from books on Ludwig Wittgenstein. Based on Derek Jarman’s 1993 film exploring the philosopher’s reluctant acceptance of friction in a world unable to survive on pure logic and his continued dreams of a perfect smoothness likened to ice, the installation was Wittgenstein’s icy reverie made manifest: the impossible pursuit of worldly perfection rendered as elusive and divisive form.