BERLIN — With the latest iteration of Horizontal Vertigo, the Julia Stoschek Collection hosts an eerie nowhere-land where mythos meets modernity in an exhibition of works by the New York-based studio WangShui. In their video works and installations, WangShui considers themes of technology, identity, and diaspora, often fusing time-based, architectural, and sculptural practices.
The show is dimly lit and dramatic, bringing together organic elements (such as live silkworms) with futuristic technology. At its heart is the Shen dragon of Chinese lore, an ever-shifting, ephemeral creature transmitted across time. By tying the dragon to elements of the contemporary everyday, WangShui highlights the slipperiness of legend, demonstrating how the mythic — including the futuristic — clashes with the realistic, expressed at a coded, almost clinical remove. Much like a traditional narrative, the show highlights one work per gallery space, snaking dramatically through the Collection to sequential effect.
Installed at the entrance of the exhibition, “Gardens of Perfect Exposure” (2017-18) features a central gallery filled with pupating silkworms — which will continue to grow throughout the duration of the exhibition — visible on a suspended, glowing wide-screen TV. The silkworms, which wriggle across an enclosed labyrinth of metallic bath fixtures, are highlighted by circular “selfie lights.” Upon closer look, one realizes both the worms and oneself are being surveilled by several DSLR video cameras suspended from various corners, which then project their footage onto the gallery’s walls.
As an introduction to WangShui’s aesthetic, “Gardens” speaks volumes; jarring and unsettling, it leaves viewers with more questions than answers. This is a motif of the show, which unfurls like coded referents until visitors reach its most lucid (or at least traditionally narrative) work, “From Its Mouth Came a River of High-End Residential Appliances” (2017-18), a 13-minute, single-channel HD video that plays on loop. Amid dramatic, swooping shots, a monotone male narrator tells the poetic story of enlisting a drone operator named Hercules (another mythic character, also displaced). Our disaffected narrator has employed Hercules to fly his ‘bots through holes constructed in various skyscrapers bordering the South China Sea. According to our narrator, the holes — much like the passageways between the galleries, intentionally left unadorned by WangShui for this exhibition — were built to allow mythic dragons to pass from the mountains to the ocean, a nod to the mythic that exists within (and in defiance of) modern sterility.
The highlight of the show is “Weak Pearl” (2019), in which strings of knotted LED lights stream from the ceiling and drip, outstretched, onto the floor. Undulating with ambiguous activity, it is only from the farthest gallery wall that one can decipher an animation of a mollusk, ancient and alive. In the world of WangShui, tendrils of legend, fable, and diasporic memory flit just out of reach, somehow both timeless and ephemeral. Fittingly, then, “Weak Pearl” is mysterious, bright and mesmerizing, but poignantly, its subject is legible only from afar.
Horizontal Vertigo: WangShui continues at the Julia Stoschek Collection in Berlin (Leipziger Straße 60) through December 15. The exhibition is part of Horizontal Vertigo, a year-long program curated by Lisa Long at the collection’s locations in Düsseldorf and Berlin.