Exploring the limits of material and reality is nothing new for Omaha installation artist Ying Zhu. Her art embodies an ambiguous contravention of formal arrangements and interactions intermingled with abundant energy that ultimately creates its own language.
Zhu’s new show, Crumbs of Tenderness, at the Lied Art Gallery show her experimentation with everyday objects and gives her art a rebellious freedom of discovery which in turn affects our perception of the familiar. The exhibit includes two multi-media installations, one in each of the venue’s two spaces.
The first features a kaleidoscopic, mirror mosaic that hangs and scintillates from the ceiling not unike the proverbial mirror ball. As a result, the dance of shadows and light play against a rainbow of colors, allowing the viewer to be mesmerized with silhouettes that become as essential to the piece as the mirrors themselves.
The large yet ethereal sculpture captivates with the subtleties of its construction and movement. Jamie Danielle Hardy, who has assisted Zhu on numerous installations in the past, was integral in working with Zhu on this project. Together they have created a multii-dimensional, multi-level “hall of mirrors” which on careful viewing include audience facial features.
With Zhu’s work there is always a magical quality that transforms the space and its limitaitions and allows the viewer to explore the work without a predetermined objective. This encourages the viewer to experience the work and interact with it emoitionally without judgment or interpretation.
This piece emerged after she did a show at The Union’s Wanda D. Ewing Gallery, where she used broken mirrors and attached them all over the gallery creating a commentary of sorts where images reflected and reverberated off one another with both perception and distortion.
In the second assymetrical gallery space there is a more complex multi-media installation whose mirrors and palette of diffused green and blue light reveal a completely different point of view. Video was added to the darkened space, creating a very tranquil and meditative area. The focus here seems to be the parallelism of relationships and how they connect to the journey of experiences one might have to strive for perfect balance.
There is a kinetic, yet fragmentary flow to the work with its documentation of human interaction within life experiences with the viewer caught in the middle. Veiled assumptions and thoughts that explore the possibility of a narrative are reinforced by the tone of illusive light and shadow and odd viewing angles, creating virtual reality and near confusion.
There is a sense of both longing and frustration at the core of this more contemporary video installation with its limitless possibilities. Zhu’s own cultural complexity often helps unite her work, especially in today’s interconnected world, and within that context, these meanings tend to converge.
She may make culture a secondary issue with her work, but always seems to have a sense of what is current. As she says in her artist statement, “The feeling of being a foreigner is not limited to migration between countries, but applies to local and emotional geographies as well.”
Exploring relationships with and within a urban environment we are so used to, but within an unfamiliar space and perspective, challenges the viewer to draw from memory even as it transforms us. There is the “real” of the images that we know and the “real” in the work. Unlike her more decorative, detached installation, Zhu’s piece here demands attention and intervention beyond the mere sensual. As she adds in her statement, an unfamiliar setting (i.e.gallerires) can keep us from making assumptions.
“Novel environments permit us to become conscious of the acts we take for granted, such as speaking, walking or gesturing. These situations can cause an immediate shifting of gears and we suddenly feel like foreigners in our own body.”
There is a conceptual practice to her work. Zhu is a master of exploring and using various media in her pieces. With our popular culture constantly inundating us with texts, images and sounds, this piece helps us see its direct correlation and impact with the daily experience we have. Juxtaposing the fraility and fragmentation of the mirrors with the beauty and complexity of our environment paradoxically reveals as much ambiguity as clarity.
Zhu’s work offers a little something for everyone. It is a reflection of our surroundings that makes the border between what is real and what is not rather ambivalent. The sculpture’s rudimentary fabrication serves as both its strength and its weakness. While it is mesmerizing in its entirety, the work can be perceived as primitive if one does not take the time to observe its beauty… and its complexity.
Crumbs of Tenderness, continues through October 17th at the Lied Art Gallery in Creighton University, located at the corner of Cass and 24th Street. For details, go to www.creighton.edu/liedgallery.