In a climate of political duress, counterfactuals can supply an agile grammar of yearning and questioning. True to the title of their show, curated by James Elaine, the twelve mainland Chinese artists gathered here—all of whom grew up after the Cultural Revolution—let loose idiosyncratic, lyrical imaginations into worlds of what-if.
Fanciful episodes flit across Zhou Yilun’s small sketches and suites of collage, seemingly sprung from histories half-learned, half-dreamed in childhood. Why are PLA soldiers in Untitled, 2010, feeding a crocodile they’re pinning with sticks? Are those comets or missiles swooshing into a halcyon landscape in Electric Party, 2010? Likewise engrossing, Chen Zhou’s tripartite sculpture Character M, 2011, could be a topology puzzle or everyday life bewitched: Variously tiny, tilted black pyramids—few larger than a gem stud—rest like a prickly colony atop a diagonal pedestal, while an adjacent table and tipped chair sprout svelte spandex cones.
On one screen of Li Ming’s three-channel video Nature, 2011, the paper windmills spinning unevenly in endless rows come to life. Both funny and sad—a few flopping in the wrong direction—they reveal friction’s natural grace, as distinct from mechanical fluency. On another screen, Li recoils in a stairwell corner while boomeranging spray paint through a floor fan, in ardent, helpless self-sabotage. Similarly, the lion dance stricken by ashen rain in Zhou’s big, brushy painting Suddenly Cloud When Jubilation, 2008, seems to whirl on—manes ablaze, masks of gaping muzzles conveying as much euphoric huzzah as harried yowl. In Lu Yang’s video Krafttremor, 2011, ambivalence intensifies to a rattling pitch.
Close-ups on uncontrollably trembling Parkinson’s patients are digitally altered—for apocalyptic backgrounds, black-hole eyes—and set to a quavering drone, in an unnerving, sharply mediated interface with these marginalized elderly men. Throughout the show, such forays into blind spots and time warps, limbos and wonderlands, willfully abide by a sense of possibility.
— Chinnie Ding