Julian Yi-Zhong Hou Crossroads, installation view, 4488 Juneau Street, Burnaby, 2021.
Photo : Dennis Ha, courtesy of the artist

New Symbologies: Symbols and Spirits in Works by Julian Yi-Zhong Hou and Zadie Xa

Jayne Wilkinson
One recent morning, I noticed that a small pigeon had landed, upside down, in the palm tree of the garden where I was staying. It was dead; I wasn’t sure for how long. As a lover of pigeons, I took immediate notice. It differed from the familiar rock dove: slightly smaller, diminutive, less-colourful feathers. I often take encounters with dead birds — a not infrequent but slightly off-putting part of city life — as good omens. It’s not that it’s good luck to see them, it’s that the immediate and visceral encounter with death brings to mind ideas of transformation, change, possibility. It’s a pause that envelops otherworldliness. When a bird falls from the sky, it feels symbolic.

We live in a time of restless searching. Thresholds are thin. The boundaries between living and dying, renewal and stasis, demand frequent negotiation. It’s perhaps unsurprising that ideas drawn from mysticism, animism, ancestor worship, and spirituality (although not necessarily from organized religion) are recurrent in contemporary art. In light of perpetual crises, spiritual practices are in high demand. The intersections of art and spirituality are, of course, not new, but they are cyclical. In the long shadow of Conceptual Art, it hasn’t always been fashionable to incorporate aspects of narrative, symbolism, myth, or character so directly. Irony superseded sincerity, and work that performed meaning through figuration was often discounted. As the political urgencies of art-making demand social accountability and change, symbolism has again become useful in connecting spiritual beliefs with aesthetics.

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This article also appears in the issue 105 - New New Age

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