Holy Mosses: Queer Eco-Aesthetics at Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong
13 December 2019
Holy Mosses, the title of an eight-artist exhibition curated by Nick Yu at Hong Kong's Blindspot Gallery, is a playful misspelling of 'Holy Moses', the gospel-inflected exclamation from Elton John's 'Border Song' (1970) made famous by Aretha Franklin's cover from 1972. 'Holy Moses, I have been removed', the song's first verse pronounces. It concludes with a refusal: 'I am going back to the border . . . I can't take any more bad water'.
Exhibition view: Holy Mosses, Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong (19 November 2019–11 January 2020). Courtesy Blindspot Gallery.
The Lens (2019), a feminist drag performance by Victoria Sin opened the show, implying a reference to these lines. In a room lit blue with an ocean-ripple effect, Sin appeared with a heavy mask of cosmetics and prosthetics, busty with plastic breasts sheathed in sequins, evoking references to Marilyn Monroe, Jessica Rabbit, Cantonese Opera, and the myth of Lo Ting—a half-human, half-fish species that appears in ancient Chinese literature about Southern China—that Hong Kong artist Oscar Ho has proposed as the ancestor of all Hong Kongers.
Lip-synching to a recording of their own voice, Sin mouthed the words of a poem they wrote in which the act of sucking a fish head down to the lens of its eyeball is wickedly eroticised. Culinary experience becomes a means to critique the gendering and racialising gaze. 'All I wanted / Was to be seen / But not like this', the poem's protagonist tells the fish they consume. Framed on a wall is Slippery, fatty and tender (2019), one of a series of Sin's makeup wipes stained with imprints of their drag character's painted face. Sin has described these wipes as 'death masks', with each drag act killing an 'idealisation'.
Moses... becomes mosses, the spore-bearing plants whose sexual organs are their tufted stems
In the queer eco-aesthetics of the exhibition, which Yu identifies as 'Taoist', Moses, the biblical figure who heard God in a burning bush, becomes mosses, the spore-bearing plants whose sexual organs are their tufted stems. For all its focus on openings and orifices, Holy Mosses is indeed 'holey'. WangShui's video From Its Mouth Came a River of High-End Residential Appliances (2018) is emblematic: a remote-operated drone repeatedly attempts to fly through the feng shui dragon gates of Hong Kong's luxury residential complexes—holes designed in concordance with geomancy to provide space for dragons to pass between mountains and water. One of the complexes featured in the video is Larvotto, just across from Blindspot Gallery in Ap Lei Chau.
Voids accommodate the transitional beings that WangShui's video longs after, like the algae that So Wing Po makes visible in film negatives of their cellular form through D.I.Y. light projections in laboratory-like vessels (HAHTTDT No 1–5, 2019). The cruelty of the vivisectional gaze simulated in So's installation contrasts with the softening zoomorphism of Lee Lee Chan's sculptures, Receptor (willow-green) and Receptor (caterpillar-yellow) (2019). Chan bolted metal shelving beams together with rows of yellow-and-grey and green-and-grey omni-wheels bought on the Chinese e-commerce site Tao Bao. Marbleised paper clay pressed over some of the wheels gives the structures the appearance of camouflaging caterpillars mimicking the high rises outside.
In WangShui's video-essay, Hong Kong's dragon gates 'represent an ideological resistance', both to Cultural Revolution ideology that suppressed feng shui in China and to Western regimes of rationalism. Openings can be tactical sites of refusal. Angela Su's video The Sewing Machine (2016) is a montage that juxtaposes images of early 20th-century white women pedalling at sewing machines, strapped into corsets, and tied up in bondage, with slowed shots of New York underground artist Kembra Pfahler grinning while her outer labia are sewn shut—an excerpt from Sewing Circle, a 1991 documentary of the action directed by Richard Kern. Su uses a shot from the film in which the hands suturing Pfahler are shown to belong to an Asian woman, performance artist Lisa Resurrection, who is always mentioned in accounts of the action as its 'ace seamstress'.
Between edits of women at sewing machines and women sewing each other, Su's video lingers on Resurrection's gesture. One year before Sewing Circle was made, the city's salon industry—run primarily by East Asian immigrant women—was targeted for discriminatory controls as neoliberal legislature avidly deregulated elsewhere. In recent research on exploitation in salons, one salon worker responded to the question of how she came into this line of work with the response, 'What other work is there?'
Though moss is never present in Holy Mosses, it is everywhere on Wong Chuk Hang's old industrial buildings outside. The area, now under gentrification, is also known for its traces of deep history. Near the gallery are ancient rock carvings described by archaeologists as animals with spiral eyes. Holy Mosses proffers that such boundless beings are augurs of the present, but the gates to accommodate their passage have yet to be built. —[O]