Curated by Lux Yuting Bai
Artists: James Chan, Jia Chao, Magdalena Dukiewicz, Huiqi He, Zheheng Hong, Liam O’Brien, Liang Shaoji, Jingyu Shi, Amalia Ulman, Richard T. Walker and Graham Wilson
Location: Pfizer Building, 630 Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11206
Opening reception: April 19, 2018, 6-9 pm
Exhibition dates: April 19-May 4, 2018
To schedule an appointment to view the exhibition, please contact Lux Yuting Bai at firstname.lastname@example.org
There are two Chinese proverbs about cocoons: “作茧自缚” (zuò jiǎn zì fù) and “破茧成蝶” (pò jiǎn chéng dié). The former, which means spinning a cocoon around oneself until one is imprisoned, is an admonition; the latter, which refers to breaking the cocoon during the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly, is congratulatory. This pair of metaphors describes two contradictory phenomena in the course of a single life: one is static, passive, and inert—a mere thing-in-itself (en-soi); the other is fluid, active, potent—an animated being-for-itself (pour-soi). These proverbs encapsulate a duality that echoes Jean-Paul Sartre’s notions of facticity and transcendence, that coexist in an ambiguous mixture. One constitutes the givenness of a human being’s here and now: a past, a body, and a social environment; the other entails the freedom of choices one must make in order to interpret and surpass one’s current bearings. A conscious individual is always caught between the immediacy of the concrete present and the unfolding of life into an unknown horizon. Time, with all of its paradoxes, transcends one’s situation into the “happening” however, a person must consciously take up authorship of their future identity to avoid turning into an automaton amid the practicalities of everyday life.
Søren Kierkegaard asks, how does one “become what one is”? Authenticity, or a way of being that is sincere to oneself, is defined by Martin Heidegger as a fundamental condition of achieving the wholeness of Dasein. In the western philosophical tradition of Cartesian dualism, one's consciousness is both the center of reference and the departure point of one’s relationality to the world. In this vein, does one, as Heidegger suggests, encounter one’s utmost potentiality through experiencing the possibility of death? Should one, as Immanuel Kant suggests, take the public use of reason to confront one’s own subjection to the machine, or, as Michel Foucault proposes, shape one’s life as a work of art? Alternatively, and breaking for a moment with the subject-object dichotomy, perhaps truth and liberation lie in the dissolution of the self in the totality of the world like a drop of water in the sea. Along these lines, Zhuangzi advises learning from animals and losing oneself among them in unity with nature, while Jean-Luc Nancy finds freedom in the essential coexistence of all beings. Gilles Deleuze, finally, suggests becoming “imperceptible” in the rhizomatic universe as if by “painting oneself gray on gray.” But how does one transform into a “butterfly” without flying into the void?
Cocoon is a collection of inquiries and answers that address the existential question of being. The exhibition features newly commissioned or recent artworks by James Chan, Magdalena Dukiewicz, Huiqi He, Zheheng Hong, Jia Chao, Liam O’Brien, Liang Shaoji, Jingyu Shi, Amalia Ulman, Richard T. Walker, and Graham Wilson. While some of these artists draw inspiration from a wide range of philosophies—including Taoism, existentialism, onto-aesthetics, eco-phenomenology, and many more—these installations and videos are not mere illustrations of schools of thoughts. Achingly poetic, profoundly philosophical or amusingly absurd, these works share an autobiographical quality in a metaphorical approach, and each reveals the artist’s own method of overcoming and becoming.
Image: Liam O’Brien, Early April (detail), 2016, high definition single-channel video, 5:15min. Commissioned by Open City Inc, publisher of RealTime. Image courtesy of the artist; on view at Cocoon, curated by Lux Yuting Bai.