The other day I was discussing with a friend the success of artwork that attempts to represent the dislocation experienced by immigrants. My friend was searching for a visual analogy for the process (or, rather, over-criticizing the aptness or her own experience as a transplant), and mentioned packing—an image that epitomizes the in-between feeling that an itinerant or immigrant feels after moving to a new place. I found the analogy mundane and offered instead the metaphor of Frankenstein. I mentioned that she could capitalize on the paranoia that some drastic change had happened to her, and build the metaphor of a monster created by the crafty but blind hands of modernity. Yet this still seemed a bit of a stretch.
Recently, I came across a book called The Attack of the Blob by Hanna Pitkin. Pitkin compares social philosopher Hannah Arendt’s concept of the Social with the infamous killer blob made pervasive by the 1958 film, The Blob. Pitkin traces a notion of the evil quicker picker-upper through Arendt’s idea of the pariah and parvenu. Pitkin explains that, as a Jew, Arendt wrestled with the compulsion to assimilate, as a parvenu would, or embrace her Jewess identity and express solidarity with other Jews, in effect becoming the pariah. The book dovetails with my independent observation that something about the monster film genre effectively captures the experience of alienation. To boot, some of the monsters are actually aliens from outer space. The amorphous blob also has a connection to the history of Modern painting, beginning with its first manifestations in Expressionism and culminating in artists like Elizabeth Murray and one of my favorite blobby artists, Dieter Roth. (Roth liked using blobby materials, and he was quite rotund. He often used food as medium.)
Taiwanese artist and SCAD grad student Yi-Hsin Tzeng is one more artist who uses the blob. Tzeng’s recent exhibition entitled Flow at SCAD-Atlanta’s Trois Gallery is a quasi-installational collection of items composed from Tzeng’s painterly explorations of paranoia using foam. Unlike the foam work of Folkert De Jong and Tom Friedman who fashion elaborately articulated figures, Tzeng allows her foam to expand and assume its natural aberrant shape. However casual the process seems, Tzeng skillfully coaxes the foam, adding haphazard and deliberately expressive layerings of paint to her surfaces. Her paintings and a series of small painted plinths, which Tzeng calls invisible boxes, are explicitly sculptural. Her paintings are often replete with studio refuse that manages to find its way off the canvases and onto the floor. Tzeng’s brand of flow seems to deal as much with sexual tension and release as with cultural alienation. Her eddying blobs swallow and belch up refuse, and her tampered photos depict subjects that prolifically vomit yellow flow onto other subjects, reflecting Freudian phases of sexual development (minus the anal phase).
Tzeng’s video work can be seen at Soho20 in New York. In a work titled The Last Painting in Modernism, Tzeng stares intently at the camera as her head is shaven and doused with the three viscous primaries, which prevent her from breathing in some instances. As mentioned above, Tzeng’s work seems to derive from the overwhelming paranoia of being devoured—by something cultural or something from the inside. The work exemplifies jouissance, and the sensual antagonism of inventing the monster also known as culture. And the work’s formal brilliance hints that Tzeng enjoys this antagonism.
The closing date for Yi-Hsin Tzeng’s Flow was July 31. However, you can still view photos from the exhibition and more at the artist’s Flickr page, here.