Huang Yongping, Bâton Serpent III: Spur Track to the Left, Power Station of Art, Shanghai

Power Station of Art
  • Huang Yongping, Head, 2011–2016, exhibition view, Bâton Serpent III: Spur Track to the Left, Power Station Of Art, Shanghai, 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Tang Contemporary Art
  • Huang Yongping, Head, 2011–2016, exhibition view, Bâton Serpent III: Spur Track to the Left, Power Station Of Art, Shanghai, 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Tang Contemporary Art
  • Huang Yongping, Bâton Serpent III: Spur Track to the Left, exhibition detail, Power Station Of Art, Shanghai, 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Power Station Of Art, Shanghai
  • Huang Yongping, Bâton Serpent III: Spur Track to the Left, exhibition view, Power Station Of Art, Shanghai, 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Power Station Of Art, Shanghai
  • Huang Yongping, Circus, 2012, exhibition view, Bâton Serpent III: Spur Track to the Left, Power Station Of Art, Shanghai, 2016. Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Red Brick museum, Beijing
  • Huang Yongping, Chefs, 2012, exhibition view, Bâton Serpent III: Spur Track to the Left, Power Station Of Art, Shanghai, 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Red Brick Museum, Beijing
  • Huang Yongping, Bâton Serpent, 2014, exhibition view, Bâton Serpent III: Spur Track to the Left, Power Station Of Art, Shanghai, 2016. Photo: Courtesy of the artist and the Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing
  • Huang Yongping, Bâton Serpent III: Spur Track to the Left, exhibition view, Power Station Of Art, Shanghai, 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Power Station Of Art, Shanghai
  • Huang Yongping, Three Stacks, One Heap, One Pile, 2011, exhibition view, Bâton Serpent III: Spur Track to the Left, Power Station Of Art, Shanghai, 2016. Photo: Courtesy of the artist
  • Huang Yongping, Abbottabad, 2013, exhibition view, Bâton Serpent III: Spur Track to the Left, Power Station Of Art, Shanghai, 2016. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Huang Yongping, Bâton Serpent III: Spur Track to the Left
Power Station of Art, Shanghai, March 18–June 19, 2016

In his Theory of Religion (1973), the French intellectual behemoth Georges Bataille attempted to codify the intimacy between humans and animals through the act of sacrifice. In the most elemental sense, sacrifice is a moral lapse and its subsequent repair: humans transgress by joining the object of sacrifice in animistic communion in order to become whole (and wholly human) again. Huang Yongping’s exhibition, Bâton Serpent III: Spur Track to the Left, turns Bataille’s religious assertions into an aesthetic practice. Yongping creates a world of religious objects and tableaux populated with headless animals caught in the moments following sacrifice, a time and place where new orders of nature dominate, staged in ways that move between the familiar and the foreign.

The exhibition begins with Head (2011–2016), a train car suspended in the air with dozens of headless animals spilling out onto the tracks below. Is this the aftermath of an accident or have the animals been set free? Maybe both, but either way they now inhabit our world—and we theirs—as we are forced to maneuver through their seemingly random placement throughout the lobby of this recently-converted power station. So much of the exhibition is hinged on chance, as though these once-living creatures were caught unsuspecting in the same moment in time. The logic of this world is not always clear. It is impossible to identify any discernable taxonomy: a jackal, a polar bear, a lion missing his mane, a white tiger, a horse, a lamb, etc., are for whatever reason now transported to a new plane of mutual habitation. In fact Yongping appears suspicious of taxonomies altogether. He arranges his objects as a way to establish new cosmologies. In Circus (2012), a giant wooden hand suspends two monkey skeletons by puppet strings as they perform for fifteen headless animals under the wooden frame of a circus tent. In Yongping’s world, things are laid bare (skeletons, scaffolding), but still some hidden drama unfolds in each scene. Behind a red curtain is Chefs (2012), a massive metal kebab skewer upon which we find impaled animal heads arranged according to size. Chefs is at once a meal for whatever species is next on the food chain and the gruesome remnant of religious sacrifice. Even the massive Bâton Serpent (2014), an aluminum snake skeleton—its head at floor level, its body coiled and hanging in the air—is filled with religious ambiguity. The description Yongping gives for Bâton Serpent emphasizes its religious elements (the rod of Moses turned into a serpent), which the work certainly conveys, but of greater significance is the supernatural element of its scale, which perverses nature and alerts us to something aberrant in our midst.

Religion plays a starring role in the theatre of Yongping’s imagination. In Om Mani Padme Hum (2000) and Ehi Ehi Sina Sina (2000–2006), the artist manipulates scale without the naturalistic obscenity of Bâton Serpent. In the lobby of the museum, an enormous Tibetan prayer wheel reaches several stories high, its mechanical spinning pendulum whirls, surrounded by massive prayer scrolls tucked into giant cylinders. These are the objects of worship for giants. Later in the exhibition is Three Steps, Nine Footprints (1995), which evokes a Taoist ritual through what Yongping calls “an image of the three-legged walk” between Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. The installation uses the oversized footprints to distort and amplify the idea of ritual, creating a kinship of pious action closer to Yeti than the shoe size of the average museumgoer. Here, process is key. In Three Stacks, One Heap, One Pile (2011), the artist records the life cycle of Nestle shelf-stable milk through different stages of decay and destruction, from its shipment in wooden crates down to the final remains in piles of putrid, burnt foil—from body and form to deterioration and cremation. The life and death of highly-processed milk.

Yongping is not afraid to betray his secrets. The greatest revelations come in the form of Album 19 (2010) and Residue (1994–2014). Both works consist of long glass cases filled with preliminary sketches, prototypes, experiments, and tests of materials and patterns for his various works. Rather than simply holding the meagre beginnings of his final works, the installations speak to the different ways he develops his conceptual framework. There is nothing self-conscious here, but rather more exposure. In many ways these are the most pleasurable moments of Bâton Serpent III: Spur Track to the Left: the creative and monastic labour of bringing forth art before it yearns for aura.

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