Body BlockedFebruary 26, 2013
Thumbnail: Takming Chuang. Body Blocked, 2013; installation view, Right Window, San Francisco, 2013. Courtesy of the Artist and Right Window, San Francisco.
In his solo exhibition “Body Blocked,” Takming Chuang manages to shoehorn a significant amount of work into Right Window’s diminutive exhibition space. The seven works on view could easily command a much larger gallery, but Chuang has elegantly squeezed the exhibition into the tiny right window of Artist Television Access’s Valencia Street storefront. By complexly mixing performance, sculpture, photography, and printmaking, Chuang creates a highly personal and formally rigorous project that eludes easy categorization.
The artist sculpts and imprints familiar art materials such as paint, ink, canvas, brass, and photo paper with his own body. The gestures Chuang enacts are often difficult. He sometimes exercises vigorously to generate the necessary body heat or sweat with which to make his marks. He has also sat, stood, wrapped, squeezed, and pressed himself against his materials for hours at a time. The diverse supports and constraints that aid Chuang in his endurance performances complicate the interaction between Chuang’s body and his materials. Some, such as pillows and weights, remain invisible while others, which resemble Norwegian fish-drying racks, leather-tanning methods, and salumi-cording patterns, assert themselves as integral aesthetic aspects of the work. It is wonderfully uncertain whether Chuang’s actions, their impact, or the resulting objects are more significant. None clearly holds center stage, and each acts as a necessary complement to the others.
Chuang has performed some of the actions for this exhibition in private, such as Place (2011) in which he stood motionless for six hours atop two sections of painted canvas until his body’s heat hardened them into undulating green imprints of his feet. Other actions have been documented by a photographer at a predetermined time. Still others have been performed in the exhibition space, including Reps (2013), in which Chuang exercises shirtless in the front window until he sweats; he then holds bent brass plates under his arms so his body’s heat and corrosive perspiration create a patina on the plates. The numerous fresh plates are arrayed in a grid on a low plinth-like shelf that fills the front window, and the patinated plates are hung on a double-sided triangular steel rack in the middle of the gallery.
For all their complexity and performance-filled energy, Chuang’s works are refreshingly calm. Their sense of rightness and completeness is particularly unexpected considering that none of the works included in this show are entirely complete. Each remains elusive, hovering between the materials and the actions that transform them. Some pieces include photographs that capture a moment or two of Chuang’s endurance acts, but even these images omit more than they show. Chuang heightens and highlights this crucial displacement through selective omission. The brass blocks that embossed his body in Nov 18 2012 Ass (2012) are as integral to the iterative piece as the successive prints he made of the progressively fading marks on his bare buttock. However, the blocks are intentionally not displayed. They remain part of the piece; they are just not present at the moment.
Absence and impermanence are key to Chuang’s work. His vestigial traces evoke a body that is never present. The exercised-fueled, obsessive marking records the steady march of time even as he fights against it. Like Roman Opałka’s colossal project 1965/1 to Infinity, Chuang’s work confronts mortality by accepting that all that can endure are traces, residues, and remnants.
Despite the latent morbidity inherent in Chuang’s work, his pieces are elegant and funny and unaffectedly call to mind a range of other artists and art movements. His predominately photographic works, such as Embrace (2011)—in which a wad of painted canvas sits below two framed photographs that document Chuang’s arm squeezing the crumpled wad and the raw red mark left on his skin—evoke the displaced documentary strategies of Land Art. His novel performance-based process and fascination with decay connects him to Japan’s Gutai group; his minimalist evocation of the body is distinctly reminiscent of the work of Félix González-Torres; and his more explicitly object-based works particularly call to mind Eva Hesse’s postminimalist sculptures.
Even with all these associations, Chuang’s work remains remarkably unassuming. His objects and actions are unimpeachably honest; they constitute an evocative investigation of impermanence that strives to achieve a measure of grace within an inevitable descent.
Body Blocked is on view at Right Window, in San Francisco, through February 26, 2013.