Taryn Simon – Portraits and Surrogates @Gagosian Gallery, HK
May 25 – August 5, 2017
reviewed by Hilary Tsui
Experienced eyes will be able to spot Simon’s conceptual stagecraft that has been polished close to the point of perfection. Her research-based practice has been meticulously painted over by the most thought-through aesthetic, that is especially distinct in her “Paperwork and the Will of Capital” (2015): Blown-up images of specially-arranged floral bouquets, being quietly placed and photographed as the centerpiece. This seemingly calm and elegant imagery, yet hinting untold stories, glaring mysterious vibes, inevitably evokes curiosity among viewers.
A tiny panel attached to each work provides the needed context: from nuclear disarmament of Ukrainian in exchange for security assurance in 1994, an astronomical natural gas trade deal concluded between Russia and China in 2014, and cooperation treaty between China and Pakistan on the Chinese Beidou Navigation Satellite System to counteract the dominance of US GPS System in 2013, to banking conventions, diamond trading and many more high-profile international political agendas. The artist not only put to the fore how political power and world economy are formalized through treaties and accords that can transform systems of governance and international order. Yet, using the floral bouquets as the key subject, it also raises the question of how short-lived and unstable these political accords could be.
The bouquet as the visual centerpiece naturally reminds us of the 17th century Flemish flower still life and especially the concept of “impossible bouquets” – a fantastical arrangement of flowers that, at the time, could never naturally coexist, due to limits of season and geography, which however, has made possible through our globalized economy nowadays. The “impossible bouquet” as a point of departure of this series has rounded up the stories of political and economic (dis)order of our globalized world beautifully. “Paperwork and the Will of Capital” has managed to shed light in conceptual art’s strength and depth when done properly.
Another two series of work by Simon, “Contraband” (2010) and “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I –XVIII” (2011-13) are shown alongside. Both series were done by the same methodology of rigorous research, travels and data collection to produce an assemblage of hidden stories, to reveal the impact of international control systems and power structures. The stringent research of the subject matters and the precise staging in Simon’s work have inevitably won her the attention and gravitas that she deserves.