Semiotics of the Art System

by Álvaro Rodríguez Fominaya
Some Rooms, Osage Gallery, Hong Kong, 2009.
Shortly after a few conversations and mishaps Doris Wong decided that she wanted to produce twelve posters of the shows that she always wanted to have but never materialized. I could see a very clear link with the research that she had been conducting through her previous works. There have been two major areas of research through her artistic practice: one around the notion of architectural use of space and its meanings, connecting to the concepts hierarchical dominance and structures, the other being everyday life and its connection with the rationale of the real versus fake.
Doris Wong provides with some answers, in way of critical theory and quotations, she becomes naked (metaphorically) to the eyes of the critic or the historian, or as in my case, the curator. Foucault, with the heterotopia, the place and meaning of power, and Jean Baudrillard with the concept of simulacra, surface often within her writings as she explains her own practice. If we look at her works of art as deeply rooted in post-structuralism, it suddenly starts to unveil many layers of meanings. But decoding this is also a task of enquiring veiled sources as well. As we discussed one evening potential sources of reflection and meditation, Albert Camus’s name sprouted, and she quickly recognized him as an intellectual figure she respects. This willingness to seek an intellectual mirror image also casts a shadow on how we look at her visual production. When I think of this in connection to other great researchers of everyday life and its relational possibilities with the absurd, and here I mean Fischli & Weiss, the prolific Swiss duo, we can see how far away this puts her from, for example, them. As the Swiss duo never give out interviews, never write about their own work, never provide with any intellectual clues towards the reading of their masterpieces. It is up to the critics to do so. But this type of stance or attitude, is obviously quite rare in the contemporary art scene, where even the simplest trace is backed by the words of at least two French philosophers, preferably of the poststructuralist movement. And this is not a bad thing. At least it means we have moved from Picasso to Joseph Beuys. So maybe Doris Wong is a contemporary Fischli & Weiss, but with an instructions booklet. But all this level of complexity is not compulsory, and this is the good thing of her resulting production: it can be read lightly as it is close to our experience, or it can be read with footnotes and captions, with all the baggage that it implies.
The reflection on the “System Art”, let’s use here some Hal Foster, has surfaced on repeated occasions through her work. “The Contribution Of Modern Art” (2007), “Exhibitions On. Fire!” (2007), “Hong Kong Artist Museum” (2007), or even her own curatorial experience “Wong Wai Wheel Art Space” (2008), they all reflect on the idea of how History of Art is constructed and how the system of art, as mechanism, works. And there is a deep sense of humor and levity as she deconstructs these spaces of power and representation of the dominant histories. We might think that this impossibility of subverting the state of things transcends into levity, or vice versa.
Through her development as artist she has evolved from the study of public space and architecture – “Home-moving Furniture”, 2002 and “Mobile Lake”, 2003 to the History of Art, and finally the Art System as a structure, which it does connect with her previous interests. Going back to where we started, with Twelve Posters there is a sense of infiltrating the art world, like a self prophecy of the times to come. They are also a diary where she confesses, or maybe mocks, her own dreams. As if the mere existence of these posters justified a life’s own existence, juxtaposing real and fake again, but without prioritizing one from another. As one would put it: fake is good enough, as maybe, the ultimate audience of this project is not the visitor to the gallery or the exhibition; but the archeologist that will review these artifacts five hundred years from now, and rediscover an artist that had all these exhibitions, and whose remnants are only these twelve posters. But for now, we have these objects which reflect on our cultural experience as art consumers; as they act also as thermometers of our grade of cultural sophistication, in our ultra sophisticated society. As such, we are expected to recognize these cultural and artistic longings, and of course, we would not like to be seen failing to recognize them. Through these memorabilia, Doris Wong explores the genre of the installation, as set up of several iconic objects arranged in relation to the other in the exhibition space. As installation they do work as a closed circuit system, that even obliges us, as spectators, to describe a real circle for contemplative purposes. The artist does adopt the material language of the White Cube and the semiotics of the exhibition space in the construction of this installation, as a process of building these truisms. Many different aspects of the art world are recorded through these posters. Publishing appears in the fictional monograph on Niyiaw Gnow published by Phaidon. But these constructed fictions are not only referring to a future time, there is also a photoshopped image of Pollock that takes us into the idea of photography as documentary and archive. One her first themes for these series was a two person exhibition with Thomas Demand. Who knows, it well might happen. All of this might happen, then I would have to rewrite these words.


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