WATERWORKS brings together major new works by GENG JIANYI, WU SHANZHUAN, and YANG FUDONG. Drawing titular inspiration from "Tap Water Factory," an unrealized 1987 installation by Geng Jianyi which questioned premises of seeing and being seen through a maze-like configuration of walls and windows, the exhibition's three distinct positions share a common joint concern with elements that might be described as both infrastructural and natural. The notion of the waterworks—an early industrial structure which enables urban modernity by providing the most elemental of human necessities—becomes a conceptual starting point for these three artists, all of whom are alumni of the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. On the most basic level, each of the three suites of work maintains some connection to that most basic substance, water, and to its manipulation by human structures.
Geng Jianyi's installation THE CONTENT IS DISTURBED BY ITS SHADOW examines the relationship between inside and outside, using a pinhole camera to capture and project a still-life arrangement of aluminum-foil-covered furniture onto the inside of a black box. The utter darkness of the inner room, along with its fragmented projection surface and the upside-down rendition of the objects, makes for a visual puzzle as the viewer waits to see an image emerge. The disjointed familiarity of the projection is heightened by another "watery" device: an automatic bubble-blowing machine situated behind the pinhole, distorting, albeit imperceptibly, the projected image. For Geng, the demarcation between inside and outside—and the distortion that happens in going from one to the other—is an apt metaphor for how information and ideas from beyond are transmitted into China.
Wu Shanzhuan presents a suite of 420 meticulously rendered drawings. Realized between 1992 and 2011, playing on his mythical character of the BUTTERFROG. A witty conflation of the names for the swimming strokes of butterfly and breast (called "frog swim" in Chinese), the character looks at the philosophical principles of "rotation and recovery" which Wu and his partner Inga Svala Thorsdottir derive from their own decade-long conceptual engagement with the sport of swimming. A "sea's worth" of drawings, the project finds its earliest origins in Wu's ongoing philosophical, literary, and artistic project, "Today No Water." Hung on a slightly curved wall, the Butterfrog drawings are divided into five groups: "diagram," "bracket(s)," "configuration," "vectors," and "passer."
Yang Fudong's film THE NIGHTMAN COMETH unfolds inside a movie-lot snowstorm, using the simulacral devices of an earlier era, when soap flakes and fans created the climatic illusions now so often left to digital manipulation. A single-channel, nineteen-minute production, works, like much of Yang's film, on the axis of character and (lack of) narrative, with a woman, a general, and two ghost-like spirits wandering forlornly in the winter night. Its Chinese title plays on the double-meaning of "the general at nighttime" and "nightfall imminent." For the first time, he presents alongside the film a selection of documentary material, including still photos, drawings, and other sources of inspiration, installed in glass cases evoking an old, encyclopedic museum.
Together these three works—created independently but mediated through a process of ongoing dialogue among the three artists spanning nearly one year—offer three distinct notions of what the individual creative impulse might look like today, always in the context and against the background of the wider system and order.