Sun Yuan and Peng Yu are Beijing artists that uses provocative, sometimes absurd materials and arrangements to illustrate some human behavior or relational structures that might seem logical on one level, but absurd on another.
Civilization Pillar (2001) which was based on the shape of totem poles found in ancient civilizations, was made from real human fat recovered from liposuction cosmetic procedures, which might cause one to wonder why such a title would be deemed appropriate. Are we defined more by the excess fat in our bodies from over-consumption, than our other achievements, in technology for example? Does glutony, greed or good image define us more than anything else?
In Dogs Which Cannot Touch Each Other (2003) the most ferocious breed of dogs are held on a leash and placed on treadmills facing each other, producing what must have been quite a racket.
Compared with Civilization Pillar (2001) these dogs are the opposite end of the spectrum. They represent… us, at our worse behavior, in trying to beat the other into submission, or in relational structures where one side dominates and the other submits, all the time, like in the army.
Old Persons Home (2007) features a group of ultra-realistic human figures of frail-looking old people in electric wheel chairs which slowly move about, changing directions autonomously when they bump into each other. Sometimes they are arranged in a loose circle, sometimes they randomly move about, engaging and disengaging with each other.
One or two of them vaguely resemble famous world leaders, a Saudi king here and a Lebanese war general there, but upon closer inspection, doubt sets in and one is unsure of one’s intuitive judgement.
In Freedom (2009) a massive hose dangles from the ceiling within a steel-lined water-tight room, spraying what looks to be brown sea water while thrashing about from the reactionary forces of the water spewing out and its unrestrained head section.
The violence of the water flying out in almost all directions and the hose thrashing around is abstractly reminiscent of a prisoner in cage, struggling for freedom, or a police water cannon suppressing dissident demonstrators, ubiquitous nowadays in most major cities.
Teenager Teenager (2009) is quite an innovative intervention, of having kids engrossed in a game of soccer in an art museum, juxtaposed with some hyper-realistic adult figures with huge stones as their heads, sitting on a sofa, oblivious and unable to communicate or participate in the action going on around them.
While those who work with children might think this is the most mundane event ever, it is undeniable that children playing can change the atmosphere in a place; their imagination and desire for play makes them live in their own world, and what better place to do that but in a stoic art museum? For in an art museum, one is supposed to behave in a certain way, with guards watching at every corner, considering the high value of most artworks displayed in museums, and that way is definately not by playing sports.
In Hong Kong Intervention (2009) several Filipino maids are given a toy grenade to place in their employers homes and instructed to take a picture of it, which might seem a bit silly at first, but to someone unaccustomed to this whole idea of having a worker from another country, a stranger basically, come into your house and live with your family to do house chores might be a bit strange also, just like sticking a grenade in the middle of a tidy room – it doesn’t quite go together.
But this also alludes to the concept of the democratization of ‘kingship’; where having male and female servants at home used to be the privy of kings and emperors, now middle class people can pay at a fraction of what it used to cost, since collectively they are buying in bulk, and be ‘like a king’ at home.
In I Did Not Notice What I Am Doing (2012) a life-sized replica of a triceratops dinosaur and a rhinoceros are displayed together; their similar front horns, size and armor plating causes one wonder if they are from a related family of animals, that one evolved from the other, since they look similar.
This notion is dispelled as Sun Yuan states in an interview that the creatures developed independently in different ages and in different parts of the world and that ‘the connections we see between them are largely in our minds’. In other words, we made up this inference, lead astray by what we see with our eyes.
As opposed to Old Persons Home (2007) where the puppets look real, but we know they are not, here we’re not so sure what the truth is, unless we are experts in the subject of rhinos, and so ‘intuitively’ we make a judgement. This intuition, the ability to make a quick judgement or response on a situation without proof and based only on previous experience that we hope turns out to be true, is a game we sometimes play which also saves time, without having to wait or go through some procedure to verify what we think is correct before taking action.
This sculpture strives to prove that ‘things are not always what it looks like’, a commentary on illusion and reality which lies at the heart of many of Sun and Peng’s installations.