New Gallery Exhibit Challenges Perception

Chase Shustack, Reporter

A chair made entirely of photographs. A picture of women riddled with bullet holes.  Plaster busts of human forms that contort and warp into bizarre forms at just a touch. These are just a few of the pieces  on display as part of the “Emerging Dimensions” exhibit in the Pauly Friedman Art Gallery.

The  installation is unique—as few have ever had a chance to experience the works outside of   run-of-the-mill metropolitan museums. Thanks to a partnership with New York’s Eli Klein Gallery, the exhibit is presented to the general public.  The display is chiefly comprised of the works of Cai Dongdong and Li Hongbo, whose art is best described as a combination of abstract and “found” art. The artists’ works differ in medium, and yet they have similarities in tone and expression.

Hongbo’s work can only be described as paper-thin in the literal way: It consists almost entirely of sheets upon sheets of paper that come to resemble plaster molds in busts and other sculptural forms, which appear at first glance to be just that: molds and casts made of of hard, solid plaster. But then they contort and change. Faces grow and stretch, necks unravel and lengthen, and pillars fall and collapse like brand new Slinkies. Carved out of block of thousands of sheets of paper, glued together in a very precise way – 2 cm apart! – Hongbo’s work becomes elastic and bouncy, appearing at once rigid and delicate. In other mediums, Hongbo’s art becomes the printed word-and again, quite literally. Carved from a series of  Chinese and American workbooks, a figure of a little boy emerges from the jagged, black-and-white pages. A bust of the head of an anonymous fifteen-year old boy, composed entirely of shifting plates formed from workbook pages and covers, fit like jigsaw pieces sliding together to form a picture.

When not taking humanesque forms, Hongbo’s work carries a bit of culture from his native China – a pillar, composed of nothing but paper, “melts” and bends down to the ground, where its sides are painted in thin watercolors to form beautiful contemporary Chinese art.

But why use humans in such a way? If anything, Hongobo could make truly wild and exciting pieces of art, utterly transformed by his unique style. The answer is simple: it’s relatable. People may not recognize certain Chinese flairs or more otherworldly designs in the abstract, but they can recognize the bust of a woman or the shadow of a young boy.

Hongbo said the “sense of astonishment is heightened when viewers see familiar forms contort and change in extraordinary ways.”

Dongdong’s work is another study of the extraordinary. The artist began as a “documentary photographer” for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, under the former leader Mao Zedong. In that period, all things printed or photographed had to be submitted for approval, to see if the subject was appropriate or or needed to edited to better suit the purpose of the nation. Most of Dongdong’s work is what can be described as photo-sculptures, in a nod to the Dadaist movement of Marcel Duchamp, which questioned what can be defined as art, if anything. Through a unique brand of “surgery,”or specific edits, Dongdong alters and juxtaposes his photography in bizarre, almost deliberately nonsensical ways. A shovel jammed through a photo. A faucet impaled through the background of two women with rifles along the coast, as if turning the tap will spit out the ocean. Mirrors reflect and warp back at their viewer, and bullet holes shimmer with light in a picture of women returning from a firing range. The most amazing of all, and perhaps the most Dadaist of  his works, lies in the corner a chair whose back and front are composed not of string, but hundreds of tiny wallet-sized photographs. Some have notes and dates on the back, irrelevant to the viewer but meaning something to someone at one point, others are pictures of strangers and people, as if reclaimed from some antique shop. Indeed, some of the photos are either unused works, or “found,” as in detritus from dumpsters. The work questions the viewer, recalling his work as a photographer for the Liberation Army: Is the picture real? Is it seen as it is meant to be seen? Does it convey a reality now?

Both of the artists invite viewers to interpret meaning in their works, as implied by the name of the installation itself. Both men’s works defy and challenge perception and expression and forces the viewer to understand a new concept, a broad new dimension that must be seen to be understood. Through the sheer nonsensical surgeries of  Dongdong’s work, to the warped paper dreams of Hongbo, the viewer experiences the dreamscape techniques of Salvador Dali, with the Dadaist, unconventional styles of Marcel Duchamp to create a broad, new dimension that transcends all understanding.

The Gallery holds love demonstrations of Hongbo’s work every Friday at 10 a.m., 12 noon, and 2 p.m. To request a tour or demonstration at other times,  contact Lalaine Little, Gallery Director at (570)-674-6250.