THE CRACKS WE CAN­NOT SEE

Ahead of her solo show at Gagosian Hong Kong, con­cep­tual artist Taryn Si­mon talks po­lit­i­cal floristry, global rit­u­als of death, and how mak­ing art is like be­ing trapped in a ham­ster’s wheel.

The Peak (Hong Kong) - - Art & Design - STORY CHRISTIE LEE

Few could put such a po­etic spin on po­lit­i­cal treaties as Taryn Si­mon.

The Amer­i­can mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary artist, who has pre­vi­ously turned her lens to sub­jects in­clud­ing the in­side of a nu­clear waste stor­age fa­cil­ity and a hi­ber­nat­ing fam­ily of bears, cen­tred her 2015 ex­hi­bi­tion “Pa­per­work and the Will of Cap­i­tal”, around a rel­a­tively harm­less agent: the bou­quets present at the sign­ing of in­ter­na­tional treaties.

For the se­ries of pho­to­graphs, Si­mon recre­ated and pho­tographed the bou­quets af­ter iden­ti­fy­ing the flower species with a botanist. Each im­age, ac­com­pa­nied by Si­mon’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the treaty, rep­re­sents a frozen mo­ment in global his­tory.

While fun­nel-shaped Por­tuguese gla­di­o­lus ac­com­pa­nied the sign­ing of an agree­ment on the Bei­dou nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem be­tween China and Pak­istan, the bou­quet for the sign­ing of a 30-year nat­u­ral gas con­tract be­tween Gazprom and China Na­tional Petroleum Cor­po­ra­tion com­prised Amer­i­can bear grass, Dutch cym­bid­ium or­chids and Lisianthus.

The dis­crep­an­cies are un­miss­able: reams of minis­cule text sid­ing up against gi­ant bou­quets; the weight­i­ness of the treaties negated against flower ar­range­ment, con­sid­ered a friv­o­lous ac­tiv­ity in many quar­ters, and the im­mac­u­late ar­range­ments be­ly­ing the oft-tu­mul­tuous re­la­tion­ship be­tween the sign­ing par­ties.

The essence of “Pa­per­work and the Will of Cap­i­tal” re­calls the ‘im­pos­si­ble bou­quet’, a 17th cen­tury Dutch style of paint­ing that com­bines many na­tive and non-na­tive species of flow­ers that could have never ex­isted at the same time.

“For­mally, I love [Dutch still life]; the sim­plic­ity and the feel­ing of ac­ces­si­bil­ity. Yet at the same time, it’s com­pletely sur­real,” notes the 37-year-old artist dur­ing our meet­ing at Gagosian Hong Kong, where her solo show, “Por­traits and their Sur­ro­gates”, is run­ning un­til Au­gust 5.

The ‘im­pos­si­bil­ity’ of the fea­tured bou­quets also speaks to the fragility of the in­ter­na­tional treaties them­selves – of the 36 agree­ments that Si­mon picked for the pro­ject, many were later bro­ken or re­main un­ful­filled.

THE UN­USUAL AP­PROACH

Si­mon, who was born and raised in Lon­don, re­veals her ob­ses­sion with the idea of fram­ing goes back two gen­er­a­tions: her grand­fa­ther was a physi­cist who built tele­scopes. “He ground the glass that be­came tele­scope lenses – it was all about the be­yond, all the min­er­als and the con­structs of the phys­i­cal world”, she says. Si­mon’s fa­ther worked in data col­lec­tion for the US Depart­ment of State. An ar­dent am­a­teur pho­tog­ra­pher and col­lec­tor of sur­re­al­ist photography, it was he who bought Si­mon her first cam­era.

While study­ing semi­otics at Brown Uni­ver­sity, Si­mon took photography classes at the Rhode Is­land School of De­sign on the side. Upon grad­u­a­tion, she worked as a pho­tog­ra­pher for the New York Times and did ad cam­paigns for Stella Mccart­ney. Now mar­ried to film­maker James Pal­trow, brother of Gwyneth, Si­mon’s open­ings are reg­u­larly at­tended by Hol­ly­wood A-lis­ters such as Cameron Diaz and Tilda Swin­ton. Sal­man Rushdie is a close friend, though per­haps for a dif­fer­ent rea­son. In an ex­hi­bi­tion es­say the writer – him­self the tar­get of a fatwa af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion of The Sa­tanic Verses - pon­ders on the artist’s dare­dev­il­ish ten­den­cies.

In­deed Si­mon, while lithe in frame, has the heart of a lion. In the past decade, the artist has will­ingly ex­posed her­self to 120 mil­lion curies of ra­dioac­tiv­ity at a nu­clear waste fa­cil­ity in Wash­ing­ton, stepped foot into a cave of hi­ber­nat­ing black bears and their cubs, and thrown her­self amid 75 corpses in var­i­ous stages of de­cay at a Ten­nessee re­search fa­cil­ity.

01 01 Plas­tic­guns with­greenbbs, Pocket­nine (il­le­gal) (de­tail), (2010), archival inkjet print.

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