10 June - 11 July 2021
Mediation repeatedly emerges as a tactic through which artists disrupt art making practices - not only from a perspective of art history, but also through the reformulation of the artist-object-viewer relationship. Though the idea of “disruption” tends to conjure up visions of chaos and destruction, the mediations and interventions taking place in Splitting circle are more meditative, poetic and cyclical. In this in-between space, the artists - Gailan Ngan, Wayne Ngan, Paul P. & Lam Wong - present material residuals of absent bodies, and engage in practices that disrupt the histories of materials as well as the socio-cultural spaces that house them. The artists’ works act as archives of gesture, feeling or an impression made by or for the body: the subject is always present, if not always visible.
Fitting for this era of social & environmental decay - commonly dubbed the “Anthropocene” - the earth repeatedly re-emerges in the works present as both informer and subject. In Gailan Ngan’s and Wayne Ngan’s works, the earth functions as both the aesthetic catalyst and the objects’ larger framework; inseparable from the earth, with its plethora of clays, metals, minerals and oxides. In addition, the works’ forms take on mimicries from the surrounding landscape of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. For this exhibition, Unit 17 will exhibit works by Gailan Ngan and Wayne Ngan that may not be immediately recognizable as their signature styles of working, but sit in parallel to their larger practices and material experiences.
Paul P. takes up landscapes in his watercolour depictions of Wreck Beach in Vancouver during intense forest fires in summer 2017, revisiting these memories through the single oil on linen work again in 2018. Landscape as a genre is often laden with ideological baggage, unsurprising given its role in numerous nation building projects from Canada’s Group of Seven to Ansel Adams in the United States. Rather than carrying on any of the pre-existing narratives often found in landscape art, the artist calls upon the liminality of this space as a meeting place of those on the social fringe, a place for queer bonding and licentiousness.
In this exhibition Lam Wong acts as a sort intermediary, who’s paintings of his wife contextualize the art historical subversion of Paul P. while activating Ngans’ ceramics from his own collection through a tea ceremony performance & installation. In dialogue with P.’s works on paper and linen, are Wong’s oil paintings that appropriate Dutch Baroque period pieces. Rather than a white, Dutch woman at work, he portrays an intimate subject of different, & subjective, background in the midst of lace-making (one of these portraits takes place at the artist’s home and another in the Louvre cafe; the museum that houses Vermeer’s The Lacemaker c. 1690-70). This symbolic subversion of the Dutch genre painting calls up all the figures not portrayed in the canonized images of the past - that is, the colonized subject, producing the material wealth of Europe.
Historical lineages and their subsequent shifts are a key focus for Splitting circle. Through exhibiting works by Gailan Ngan and Wayne Ngan alongside each other, this becomes all the more evident in how material practice might shift over time. Another sort of historical burdening that has been lifted in the 21st century is the arts-craft divide. Now fully acknowledged within the larger field of art history, the medium of ceramics has the ability to not only leave poetic traces of the artist's hand & relate to quotidian objects but also articulate a wide range of philosophies or intellectual traditions. Ceramics, like any art, can be activated by the viewer and new meanings can arise from this interaction, physical or non-physical. As ever, this viewer activation is contingent on form. For Splitting circle the artists have used atypical objects as plinths & other presentation methods, such as bricks, wood, paper & mirror, to further contextualize the materials and forms of their artworks.
Through the use of ceramics in Lam’s installation & performance, the artist draws out complex intellectual histories (such as reading the work as a kind of analog to relational aesthetics). Through this practice, meaning is produced through a social environment mediated by the artwork. Lam’s tea ceremony is both the art object but also the nexus in which new meaning is produced - not only through social relationship between artist and viewer - but through the activation of these artworks. The body - in its myriad, absent & invisible forms - is key to Splitting circle.
Gailan Ngan graduated from Emily Carr University in 2002, and since then her works have been exhibited across Canada and the United States, including at The Apartment, Art Los Angeles Contemporary, Centre A International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Western Front, and the Museum of Anthropology. Her work is in numerous collections including the Vancouver Art Gallery & the Doris Shadbolt Collection at the Helen and Morris Belkin Gallery, University of British Columbia. Ngan lives & works in Vancouver.
Wayne Ngan (1937 - 2020), born in Canton, China, was a studio potter based in Hornby Island, BC, Canada. Ngan channels the presence and spirit of Far-Eastern ceramics in his own sculptural creations. His work has been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions since the 1960s including The Apartment in Vancouver, Canada; Gardiner Museum in Toronto, Canada; American Crafts Museum in Concord, Massachusetts; Hanart Art Gallery in Taipei, Taiwan; Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in Canada; National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Canada; and Nathalie Karg Gallery in New York. Ngan’s ceramics form a part of the collections of various institutions such as the Gardiner Museum, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Canadian Museum of Civilization, and the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery.
Paul P. (b. 1977) was included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, New York and the 2018 Front International Cleveland Triennial. He has participated in numerous national and international exhibitions, including at Queer Thoughts, New York (2021/2019); Cooper Cole, Toronto (2020); Lulu, Mexico City, Mexico (2019); Scrap Metal, Toronto (2017); Participant Inc., New York (2017); Griffin Art Projects, Vancouver (2017); Maureen Paley, London (2020/2016); Broadway 1602, New York (2014); The Suburban, Oak Park (2013); Freud Museum, London (2011); Institut Valencia d’Art Modern, Valencia (2010); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2009); Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg, Austria (2009); and the Power Plant, Toronto (2007), among others. P.’s work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Modern Art New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Hammer Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Whitney Museum.
Lam Wong is a Canadian visual artist, designer and curator. His interest is primarily rooted in regional West Coast art history, with an emphasis on the development of painting and its avant-garde narrative. Lam’s creative approach is often concerned with blending Eastern philosophies while testing notions of painting. As an immigrant from Hong Kong during the 1980s, Lam studied design, art history and painting both in Alberta and British Columbia. He practices painting and tea related artwork as his main media. Lam sees art making as an on-going spiritual practice. His main subjects are the perception of reality, the meaning of art, and the relationships between time, memory and space. Lam has lived and worked in Vancouver, Canada since 1998.