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Garbage, Meet Nature

Taipei-based artist Wang Yahui and her magical pollution-erasing lens

TAIPEI, CHINA -- In this climate of self- and other-inflicted waste, pollution, and inconvenient truths, there are many of us who long for a life without buildings. But not Wang Yahui.

Wang is a Taipei-based artist working primarily in video and installation, and her recent exhibition of photos and moving pictures, “Pick up a Leaf When It Falls,” is full of work generated in fresh and fearless breaths. The show wrapped up a month at Tomio Koyama Gallery Kyoto on February 25th, and featured drawings on the gallery walls, two series of photography titled “Leaf Holes” and “Make a Flower Arrangement for Me,” and a video work titled “You are my sunshine.”

It’s not that Wang is pro-development or that she prescribes to the ‘do nothing’ school within our global warming-centric society; there is nothing so fatalistic about her. Rather, her work presents the harmony that exists as-things-are between man and nature, even as towers eclipse half the sky, corroded cans and barbed wire curb grassland.

While some artists actively glorify the untouched, or make a spectacle of the monster industrialization, Wang is middle ground but no less provocative. Her lens cleans the urbs of their dirt, their heaviness, and creates a stage wherein nature and the very structures that ravage it can play. Within her frame she captures unpopulated vistas of steel. Strong-stemmed bouquets of oxidized glass. And in her installations, both in photo and video form, you will find a most perplexing interplay of natural and man-made—artificial trees, city leafscapes—that at once disorient and assuage.

In “Leaf Holes” (as seen in Photo 1), Wang creates the illusion that a single leaf can envelop a whole building by cutting holes and mapping her distance. In so doing, the photos invert the spatial hierarchy to which large cities such as Taipei are accustomed; the shadow of a fallen leaf renders a building invisible. The vividly colored shots also, as Wang points out, capture sturdy and fragile in one frame, and so is the balance of these elements questioned, too.

The attraction of “Make a Flower Arrangement for Me” (right wall of Photo 2) is a bit darker. Most of the surrounding green gets replaced by dry gravel lots, the shiny buildings by dusty bottles, and amid this are limbs of natural life. Somehow, perhaps by virtue of the arrangement, the subdued energy that these softer photos exude comes not from the plants, but from the inanimate objects.

These are combined in the video “You Are My Sunshine,” (as seen in Photo 3) a flickering study of light, perspective and how a change in either can drastically alter reality. The space itself complemented the artwork—both quiet and surprising compromises of rigid and unrefined (in a good way; refer to Photo 2).

An aesthetic exploration of texture and color realms, Wang’s exhibit was most worth seeing for its surprising rendering of our own world; the works betray expectations and force viewers to revise their basic understandings of ‘natural,’ ‘manmade,’ and how these extremes interact. All is illusory, and truth, as Wang will show you, depends on where you’re standing.

Photos courtesy of Tomio Koyama Gallery