Ye Shufang’s latest exhibition is The Loss Index II at The Private Museum, a sequel to The Loss Index: Perishables and Other Miscellanea in 2013. Comprising deceptively simple surfaces in unconventional forms of presentations – the three works are suspended by functional black binder clips, laid flat on a white plinth and in small plastic cups respectively – Ye reaffirms her affinity with the mathematical precision of a grid and manifests loss through honey.
The first piece, depending on how you wish to navigate the space, is Exercise in Counting (27,005 days). Short, vertical strokes of pink or red are lined side-by-side like matchsticks in a box, forming thirty-nine rows packed in a dense grid. Each slender line is rendered in a shade of watercolour lighter or darker than the previous one, producing a rhythmic ombré pattern, sparingly accented by snatches of non-pink or red colours. These recordings are inscribed on a piece of paper, whose serrated edges still bear trace of the crinkly adhesive that binds a drawing block together.
Instinctively, one could view this as Ye’s remarkably disciplined exercise in recording the passing of each day, with the highlighted lines representing days of personal significance. The parenthesis in the title would then be a hyperbole, for there are no 27,005 lines on the paper, and Ye is no septuagenarian. What Ye does is to hold eternity not in a grain of sand, but on a piece of paper. The long-drawn process of creation through quotidian recording is juxtaposed against the quick viewing experience of the seemingly simple surface, as she materialises the accretion of days lost and time past in a calendar-like rectilinearity. A morning alarm, an editorial deadline, a wedding anniversary – what is life but an exercise in counting?
Art theorist, Rosalind Krauss, once declared the grid to be “what art looks like when it turns its back to nature”. In Ye’s case, this is not quite true, as she reprises the grid and turns to nature in In Vivo 25mg, or more precisely, draws from nature in vivo, using sweet viscous honey. This time, translucent multi-coloured dots of honey – each no larger than the size of a pea – speckle a white surface in an 55 by 37 invisible order. There is an uncanny resemblance to Damien Hirst’s spot paintings, in terms of the use of the grid and colour harmony, except Ye’s synthetically-coloured droplets of honey are much more diminutive, and uneven in size, like the lines in Exercise in Counting. Collectively, these drops look back at us flatly, resembling piped icing on a cake. This gives rise to a naked materialism in In Vivo 25mg, and I invariably think of the bees and their honeycombs, where these twenty-five milligrams of honey are extracted – within the living.
The conceptual possibilities of the honey medium are stretched in the last piece, found sequestered in a corner. Atop another white platform is a large mason jar of 100% longan honey, flanked by stacks of plastic cups containing that very liquid, “available for take-away”. A title and the name of the artist are absent in the label, which only states Ingredients: 100% Longan Honey, a notice that it is free and an allergy warning. I think Ye is trying to say something about the production and consumption of art here. In a sense, we have commercialised the bees’ ‘loss’ of their food stores as a human ‘gain’, what with the well-advertised health benefits of eating honey. She cannot claim that she has produced the medium, and just as we are consuming the art, she too, is a consumer herself in repurposing the honey for an art exhibition. Thus, what results is a curious triangulated relationship between the original producer, the appropriator, and the end-consumer.
This certainly is not Ye’s first time using honey, the previous instance being Project: Honey Sticks (6,425) at the Singapore Art Museum, where multi-coloured honey sticks are dispensed from a rectangular receptacle. By the end of this exhibition, the end-result of would not be too different from Project: decreasing quantities as the process of loss is stretched out across the span of the exhibition and finally, an empty container noted for its absence of material, reminding us of the stark, ineluctable presence of death. Unlike the decomposing agar-agar used in The Loss Index: Perishables and Other Miscellanea (2013), you will not find any decomposition before your eyes here, for honey does not decay as easily. Instead of showing loss and the passing of time during the exhibition, this inevitable process has already happened before the exhibition. In these installations, we bear witness to the sum of her age, honey in its post-extraction and post-processed form, proffered for public consumption. Static, solitary and distinct, The Loss Index II is an extension of Ye’s lament on the cruelly slow realisation of loss.
The Loss Index II is on at The Private Museum until 15 May 2016
All images courtesy the author.
Alex Foo is all mirth and no matter, both the innocent flower and the serpent under it. He luxuriates in the arts and views Paradise as a life in museums, a library and the theatre.