Empty Gallery is pleased to present Gravitational Currents and The Life Magic, Susanne Winterling's first solo exhibition in Hong Kong. Winterling's practice often addresses the encoded hierarchies and power dynamics of the modernist/rationalist worldview in its various manifestations. In recent years her practice has turned more explicitly towards the subject of a shared ecological imaginary and how this mediates our response to the contemporary reality of environmental and social crises. Gravitational Currents and The Life Magic brings together a constellation of recent works exploring the relationship between marine ecology, climate change, and the anthropocene through an oceanic worldview.
The Life Magic's main protagonists are the mysterious aquatic microorganisms known as dinoflagellates. They populate the exhibition space in a multitude of familiar and unfamiliar forms, appearing as 3D-printed sculptures illuminated by UV light, microscope photographs, and pulsating CGI renders. These creatures play an invisible but crucial role in the maintenance and self-renewal of marine ecosystems, providing a foundation for the continued existence of more familiar life-forms such as plants, fish, and even ourselves. They are also at the origins of this planet. While Wintering has previously likened bioluminescent varieties of dinos - which emit light when moved or touched - to touch-screen technology, these creatures might also be considered live sensors or intelligent monitors in an altogether different manner. As ancient cultures have long known (and science is only just beginning to discover) these tiny creatures behave like living indicators of the ocean's health - communicating urgent status updates on the composition of the waters they inhabit by 'blooming' in response to unusually high temperatures or concentrations of pollutants. Winterling has placed these organisms at the center of both a new 4K moving-image work and a multi-channel sound-installation commissioned by Empty Gallery. Planetary Loop of Gravitation (2018) immerses the spectator in a field of floating particles (at once reminiscent of the sky, the deep sea, and interplanetary space) as gargantuan algae whirl and dance around them. Planetary Opera In Three Acts, Divided By The Currents (2018) is a composition of sounds natural and synthetic, documentary and imaginary, including hydrophone recordings of algae, the sound of green turtles hatching, crabs rubbing their claws together and other ecological marvels. Both of these pieces enact a sensory inversion of the dominant anthropocentric logics which govern our awareness through their dramatic reversals of scale and focus, deploying historical forms of media usually associated with the internal drama of men to instead express the drama of the planet. Participants are immersed within a grand marine imaginary which aims to generate a new sense of interspecies alliance with the creatures that dwell within planetary space and through the currents. On the 18th floor, Sensors For The Commons (2018) brings together an assemblage of spiritual-intuitive and rational-scientific tools for divining the health and status of the planet. Ideas of planetary 'sensing' and sensitising one's self towards the ocean are at the core of Winterling's exhibition. Gravitational currents are more than sculptural forms. They move all of us; the planet and the Commons.
The Life Magic transforms both floors of the gallery into a spatial installation consisting of sculpture, moving image, and a multi-channel algae 'opera' in which the dinos are the star, with guest appearances by the endangered green sea turtles of Lamma Island. These works as a whole are unified by a certain delicacy and sense of precarity: fragile 3D-printed organisms floating in the darkness of the gallery, a turtle sculpture cast out of sand, dinoflagellate flags hanging casually from segments of bamboo, as if to delineate a territory or alliance. Some have theorised that our disregard for the environment is symptomatic of an impoverished imagination; a failure of our epistemic system to construct a convincing mental image of the futurism, complexity, and synchronicity of the natural world. The Life Magic gestures towards creating the conditions for a different understanding of the ecological sphere in which we find ourselves embedded. From its genesis as a series of fishing villages through its emergence as a global hub for the shipping, finance, and big data, the destiny of Hong Kong has always been linked to the continued existence of its coastlines and harbors; Winterling's exhibition invites us to find new vectors of relation to these over-utilised and underempathised waters which surround us.
Press release courtesy Empty Gallery.