Hao Ni: Ghost Hit Wall at Yellow Peril Gallery

To enter Hao Ni’s exhibition Ghost Hit Wall, currently on view at Yellow Peril Gallery in Providence, Rhode Island, is to step into a space where the familiar becomes strange and the strange becomes eerily, disconcertingly familiar. Bracingly present yet vaguely surreal, the works—ranging from painting and sculpture to video and mixed-media installation—are installed as a cohesive whole. Yet, as this incisive exhibition makes clear, cohesion often masks a deep, disquieting sense of disjunction.

Hao Ni. cig tower, 2015; ash, ashtray, cigarettes, acrylic paint, wood; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

Hao Ni. Cig Tower, 2015; ash, ashtray, cigarettes, acrylic paint, wood; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist.

Both across and within Ni’s works, past and present, finitude and immortality collide and collude; material accretions invoke layers of time, and perceptions of physical wholeness and visual cohesion shift and splinter. In the work Cig Tower (2015), one encounters a single, sculpted form that quickly dissolves into constituent parts: cigarettes, ashtrays, acrylic paint, wood. As the viewer visually deconstructs the piece, the original function of any given element—its once-defining feature, its essential raison d’être—is displaced by connotations and associations, and material meaning yields to an ambiguous being-ness.

The title Ghost Hit Wall is derived from a Mandarin Chinese expression for getting lost, and to walk among the works on view is to feel increasingly adrift within the confines of a fragmented, digressive story. One is in the midst of—what? A scene, a site, perhaps, of some happening whose precise nature is unknowable yet vaguely otherworldly and decidedly dark. Thus, in a corner of the first room, we encounter the work Njoy the Patron Saint of E Cigarettes (2015). Faceless, shapeless, and seated on a wooden chair, this foreboding figure is essentially a cascade of black fabric, its “head” wearing a crown of faux electronic cigarettes. To its left are installed two BMW E90 headlights, whose beams illuminate wafting clouds of smoke.

Hao Ni. window IV, 2015 (detail); windows, stickers, tape, paper, spray paint on glass, acrylic paint on plastic; 48 x 60 x10 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Hao Ni. Window IV, 2015 (detail); windows, stickers, tape, paper, spray paint on glass, acrylic paint on plastic; 48 x 60 x 10 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Indeed, as one wanders from room to room amid the recorded notes of a xylophone, one registers a quiet sense of aftermath: A broken window stands upright on the floor, surrounded by shards of glass; a wall bears pages of a musical score, the individual sheets charred and burned. The former, part of Window IV (2015), also incorporates random stickers, paint, an “Open” sign, and tape. Interestingly, the quotidian nature of the artist’s chosen materials—window frames, stickers, cigarettes—heightens a feeling of disorientation. Decontextualized and appropriated as raw material, everyday detritus both recalls the supposedly known and confronts us with the unknown; it attunes us to the fluidity of meaning and the mystery that resides in even the humblest of materials.

Hao Ni. structure study III, 2014 (video still); video; 10:23. Courtesy of the Artist.

Hao Ni. Structure Study III, 2014 (still); video; 10:23. Courtesy of the Artist.

Elsewhere, the interplay of human senses—of seeing and hearing—informs and parallels that of tangible and intangible elements. In the gallery’s second room, one comes upon Structure Study III (2014), a video documenting a performance by the artist in Taiwan. Here, the score of the aforementioned xylophone music faces a screen on the opposite wall. The screen shows a video of the score being performed on presumably the same instrument heard throughout the gallery. Within the work, process and performance are simultaneous yet distinct, while time and space both expand and contract. The material presence of the score incarnates the ambient tones of the xylophone, the video brings the past into the present, and the music, heard even when the video is not seen, claims a disembodied freedom.

Collectively, the works in Ghost Hit Wall conjure a suggestive yet indeterminate space, one in which the raw, charged stuff of our accelerated age is seized upon and arrested in its expected course toward oblivion. In effect, Ni challenges us to a deeper engagement with what we see, feel, and hear, encouraging us to pull aside the curtain of assumptions that casts so much of life into darkness.

Hao Ni: Ghost Hit Wall is on view at Yellow Peril Gallery through July 19, 2015.