“Beauty is as Beauty Does”, and if the doing is using language as the basis from which to explore states of being, no one does it better than Nebraska-based, Chinese artist Ying Zhu. No Strings Attached, on view at the RNG Gallery in Council Bluffs has already started to come down. The threads attached to the pine needles, in Zhu’s current installation, suspended the branch in the center of the gallery space, until they didn’t. “It fell with such a grace,” Zhu said. “It fell without any effort.”
What does remain are drawings, and a series of branches wrapped with differing configurations of gold colored thread. “The drawings are based on the installation, and evidence of what’s left behind,” Zhu said. “The titles come from the Leonard Cohen lyrics I was listening to while working.” The titles of the drawings explore the theme of “no strings attached.” The framed drawings on mylar, presented in alphabetical order, use pattern and shape to describe space. The box like frames and smooth translucent surfaces give the framed drawings an ‘object-ness.’ “Free as running water” and “Where the wild things go” include a physical cut in the mylar to reference an open door, or a space in which things go in and out of.
The drawings, in total, depict an abstract sequence which moves from simplicity to complexity. The titles can be read as another variable for the viewer’s interpretation, as well as a reference to the exhibition’s theme of ‘no strings attached.’ In presentation and form they evoke visual poetry.
“It all goes back to my fascination with language,” Zhu said. “Things can be interpreted in so many ways. We are all in between things. I was thinking about spaces and the curiosity of going into, or coming out of. The mystery is there, the ambiguity between spaces.”
Just as language is considered to be the human capacity to acquire and use complex systems of communication, the various elements in the exhibition become a literal and metaphorical code. The organization of visual cues provides the viewer with an experience of order mediating chaos. The threads arbitrate the fragility of falling needles with the stability of the walls they’re strung to.
Standing outside the installation, while peering in at it through the gaps in the movable walls, reinforced the sensation of space as container. The moving bodies of the art patrons became another contained rhythm in the larger context of the gallery’s larger floor plan. The drawings and branches, hung on the outer walls, contribute their own variable rhythms and spaces. The entire exhibition provides clues for discovering new insights into the simultaneous nature of being and doing.
Zhu began the work for this installation at the Vermont Studio Center during a 2012 September/October residency. On daily walks, surrounded by nature, she found pine cones attracting her attention. “I like to use materials that are new to me,” Zhu said. “Holding a pine branch really made me think of life. It’s a cycle.”
Zhu’s creative practice feels rooted in her clarity of observation. Her ability to combine keen perception with open-mindedness to appropriate materials makes for inventive problem solving. Using a live pine branch in the process of dying, emphasizing this process by attending to each needle, while simultaneously articulating an architectural experience is breathtaking. Art making this finely tuned is a privilege to experience.
“Her thought process is as long, or longer than physically creating the piece,” Rod Gilmer, director of RNG Gallery, said. “I really think she is going to be a break-out artist, an International artist.”
Ying Zhu is one of four artists selected to design and fabricate artwork for the new headquarters of Project Harmony, a non-profit organization in Omaha dedicated to stopping child abuse. Zhu’s central atrium proposal of a 500 sq. foot water-themed LEGO mural is designed for children with special needs in mind. In creating her proposal, she combined the calming effects of water with the popularity of LEGOs. Having recently received two million LEGO pieces at her Benson studio, the call is out for volunteers.
No Strings Attached, Installation by Ying Zhu continues through the end of January at RNG Gallery, 157 West Broadway, Council Bluffs, Iowa, 51503. Gallery hours M–F, 11am–2pm, 5pm–9pm, Sat brunch 9am–2pm, dinner 5pm-9pm, Sun brunch 9am-2pm; 712.256.4140 dixiequicks.com; yingzhu.org/