Otherness at Spring Break art show
a collaboration with artist Xiao Wang
New York, NY
September 8–13, 2021
Photos courtesy of Xiao Wang.
Considering otherness, both Wang and Kleiman’s works as immigrants themselves from China and Israel respectively, deal among other things with issues of assimilation and its resulting states of isolation and status as outsider and observer. Throughout this past year, enforced quarantine has pushed society deeper into self-isolation. The resulting sense of detachment has never felt more powerful. This detachment and strangeness presents itself in Wang’s work: people sit across from each other, a great vase obstructing their view of each other and separating them in the same room. Or: an Asian man slumps over a table, looking away. His gaze is fixated on something outside the frame, while a woman stands hovering over him while sipping her drink.
The strangeness, conveying absurdity and artificiality, resurfaces in Kleiman’s work through an alchemy of matter or a shatnez, materials and themes which do not belong together. These materials reference familiar objects and landscapes, like the views seen hiking in the fire-prone forests of California and corsage-like fake flower coffined in a geometric dark shape.
Wang uses a color palette which seems surreal or unnatural to add a sense of impending doom and an eerie feeling that something is not right. Kleiman uses a more whimsical and brightly colored palette to sugar coat the critique of consumer culture. Both artists use veils of repetitive colorful patterns which hold certain truths or secrets if you look closely.
In Wang’s work, nature takes over the frame in a non-traditional, flattened perspective, almost like a wallpaper of camouflage. Theatrical lighting and unnatural colors create a sense of artificiality where nature is shown as controlled and colonized, rather than in its own natural state and colors. The patterning evokes a reinterpretation of medieval tapestry in its tradition of symbolic representations of flora.
Kleiman also opts for an “unnatural” revision of natural scenery in her work, she creates a fountain showing mountainous topography in miniature, as seen from a bird’s eye view, twisting perspective and scale. In the center, a spiral cascade of bare feet serves as pools for water, its natural flow controlled as it pours across the feet much like a champagne glass fountain. Surrounding the oasis, the landscape is of sun-drenched and drought-ridden California. The feet are set into a flame-like base: the threat of wildfire waiting to overtake the hills and create another beautiful disaster.
Both artists choose to subjectively represent reality using symbolic storytelling, whether by creating a site-specific immersive installation or through composition, atmosphere, and lighting. The representation skews the truth and yet becomes it.