By Jessica Philbrick
As a part of KW’s Pause series, Evelyn Taocheng Wang (born 1981 in Chengdu, CN) presents their first solo show in Berlin, curated by Maurin Dietrich and Cathrin Mayer. “What is he afraid of?” is a stamp for Wang’s position as an artist working with ideas surrounding identity and how one’s body is “culturally relative to – and intertwined with – autobiographical structures.”
Wang’s video, sound and fabric installation is certainly a space for pause and contemplation. The site-specific installation reimagines KW’s main exhibition area by creating a space-within-a-space. In the centre of the darkened room a second square room has been successfully created by two large projections on hanging screens and large white fabrics forming four incomplete walls. Wang’s fabrics are reminiscent of hospital wall partitions and instantly setup an emotional sense of distance and isolation. The atmosphere is calm with a hint of poetic mystery.
The artist’s voice fills the space with audio from the video work Hospital Conversations. Wang’s voice is particularly poignant and gives an emotional uncertainty. Voice and dialogue, a tool for storytelling, highlights the contingency of ongoing narratives about the body. Wang’s voice creates an ephemeral space for the audience to consider feelings about the body in the present, past and future. “Hospital Conversations” is a video work consisting of documentary style montaged clips of hospital interiors, external architecture, gardens, dressmaking, windows and hallways. The imagery is symbolic of spaces full of questionable feelings. Wang alludes to an ambivalent experience one has with their body and the self. The combined audio and video for Hospital Conversations concentrates on an autobiographical experience of the body.
Parallel to “Hospital Conversations” is Wang’s second video work “Three Versions of Change”. Based off the infamous story of The Frog King (or The Princess and the Frog), Wang addresses narrative changes and the constructions of identity. The title automatically connects to ideas of the body shifting through personal, social and political narratives of change, all of which is emphasised by the literal bodily changes between the animation characters in her video. Wang has been able to capture the essence of fear, controversy and confusion surrounding change, hence the title “What is he afraid of?”
While the context behind Wang’s practice may not be immediately available in the work, Wang provides the audience with a series of symbols to decipher. Images of architecture, flowers, rooms, hospital-like curtains, alongside the audio, all stitch together a relationship between autobiographical experiences and their intimacy with the self. Wang is also reaching out to how the self and the body is culturally relative to larger structures with an emphasis on dress-code. Wang’s use of so-called Cheongsam dresses specifically links Chinese gender roles through a dress-code which has been confronted by much historical turbulence.
“What is he afraid of?” approaches the fluidity of identity in a variety of experiences. Wang frequently references the construction of identity and its ability to change, and their work is truly an extraction from much deeper connections to race, culture, gender, identity and the political body. Even after seeing the works twice in one day, I still have questions. Wang’s work requires time. My best advice would be to listen to the audio multiple times, contemplate Wang’s repeated words and move around the installation. Spend time inside the square and outside the square. There are endless sub-stories and quiet ideas to take away from the experience.