WEB REVIEW BY LAUREN LONG
“I would like to write a novel,” remarked Lu Lei while working on his latest solo show, “about my memories and perceptions, as well as all the absurd ideas.” The resulting presentation, “Wander Giant,” transformed ShanghArt Gallery into a chimerical universe through scattered sculptural installations drawn from his childhood memories and imaginings. Assembled from industrial materials and familiar components in unexpected ways, Lu’s works are like fragmented dreams, farcical but also full of wonder.
Each of the rooms represented separate chapters of Lu’s tale. The domed entryway, titled the “Game of the Giants,” set the stage. Lying on the ground was a large sand-and-resin molded constellation with incised celestial coordinates, the map broken into seven pieces. Sand-ball planets were randomly dispersed around the sun-bearing centerpiece, depicted in the medieval tradition with a radiating halo surrounding a human face. The work’s title, In the cold winter, the giants gather at the center of the square, playing marbles game with sand, according to the direction of the stars (all works 2019), reads like a line from a novel, invoking the aftermath of a colossal game of marble using the Milky Way. With the stars permanently frozen and the board shattered, In the cold winter alludes to the irreversibility of the past, as when one inevitably outgrows one’s favorite childhood game—a fitting introductory piece for an exhibition that ultimately reflected on life’s linear journey.
At the periphery of the vast board game, resting precariously on metal cones, were dark-red factory structures with elongated chimneys, the sculptures’ surfaces corroded as if from age. Mirroring constructivist Soviet architecture, the buildings reference Lu’s parents, who were factory workers. Titled In the summer night, the giants use bat catchers to attract bats, the work was inspired by Lu’s memories of the flying creatures swarming out of abandoned factories, only here the edifices are employed by the giants to trap the animals. Bats are auspicious as a Chinese homophone for “good fortune,” the motif itself frequently appearing in Chinese art. The usage of the unlikely buildings, a remnant of the artist’s past, to capture bats portrays nostalgic and hopeful yearnings for peace and belonging.
The next room, “Reveries of the Giant,” exerted a phantasm of visual and aural stimuli. Long Live the Roar!, two aluminum, trumpet-like cochleae models with intertwined posterior canals acting as the base, sat opposite W&H Were Hit by Lightning, a pair of male and female metal busts, each with spikes extending from the neck and encaging a large light bulb in place of a head. Each instrument faces their companion as if in deep dialogue, but with no mouthpiece, no sound will be emitted. The metal spikes raise the bulbs skyward as if ready for lightening conduction, but with wooden stubs as filaments, no electricity can flow. Caught in perpetual limbo, the sculptures are preparing for functional roles that cannot be realized except, as the chapter title suggests, in the giant’s fantasy, reminding viewers of the futility of reality.
The last room, “The Giant Walking,” served as a climactic finale. In The Parentheses Corridor and Hand Washing Basins, water flows through a seemingly endless row of faucets attached to an imposing spiral-shaped hand-washing basin, reminiscent of Russian architect Vladimir Tatlin’s unrealized helix structure, Monument to the Third International (1919–20), or the Biblical Tower of Babel. Both buildings serve as icons of hubris, of dreams not meant to be. Installed on a circular, tiled floor and enveloped by a semi-circular metal wall, Lu’s winding wash basin, equipped with working faucets which viewers can turn on and off at will, also serves as a memento of his past experiences of communal living in the residential blocks near the factory where his parents worked.
“Wander Giant” projected a collection of Lu’s inner thoughts and desires, reflecting his nostalgic longings and also his deliberations on the realities of adulthood. Throughout the visual narrative, the protagonist giant never made an appearance, but perhaps that was the point. As one navigated the gallery, following the footprints of the absent hero, each viewer became the giant, reinterpreting Lu’s fantasy and filling the space with their own stories.
Related Artists: LU LEI 陆垒