Zi Yi Wang’s first solo show at Olympia, A thing like you and me, is a meditative journey through a barrage of consumerist imagery. Growing up in Gulin, China, Wang would watch her grandmother, and many of her generation, collect and maintain items in their homes, even after they were no longer functional. This accumulation stems from the residual scarcity mentality from the days of Mao, when many went hungry and survived on little. In contrast, Wang’s parents’ generation was urged to buy products to stimulate the growing Chinese economy.
The artist captures these two ultimately dissatisfying styles of ownership in her work by rendering functional objects — like a backpack or blanket — unusable, embedding and wrapping them with objects, branding, and packaging. The encasement of these items demonstrates how much these goods have become extensions of and definitions of their owners. Wang’s work manifests the experience of being trapped in the darkness of manufactured happiness.
Such sensory engagement is a feature of A thing like you and me. Upon entering, participants are invited to take off their shoes and relax. Old Chinese music and television programming emanates from “pilgrimage backpack of a peanut 花生的 朝拜 背包” (2019-2021). Smoky incense from “hybrid rice’s spirit tablet 杂交 水稻的 灵牌” (2021) fills the space and participants can feel the smooth texture of the satin collage prints of the “Sample Assemble 樣本合集” (2021) as they move the interactive pieces around the gallery. The work contains visual composites of corporate branding and waste from packaging, also found on “safety blanket 百家布” (2019-2021). Within this meditative setting, Wang reminds visitors to focus on their bodies and interiority, over instant gratification.
Zi Yi Wang, A thing like you and me continues through May 1 at Olympia (41 Orchard Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan). The exhibition was curated by Ali Rossi.