Mo Kong: Making A Stationary Rain on the North Pacific Ocean

Installation View of Mo Kong’s Making A Stationary Rain On The North Pacific Ocean
Mo Kong, Seeking The Common Ground, 2019. Mini freezer, handmade popsicles with newspaper confetti, dish racks, preserved tropical fruit, frozen cube fruit, plant lights, 18 x 19 x 27 inches
Mo Kong, Roundtable No. 2, 2017. Tape, foam, metal, glass, prints, marble, ceramic tiles, battle fish, 65 x 35 x 42 inches.
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Brilliantly satirical,  offering new ways of considering a host of issues that are very much of this moment, Mo Kong’s installation at his new exhibition at Cue Art Foundation mix references to geopolitics, neo-nationalism, immigration and trade routes.

Text: Barbara Pollack
Images: Courtesy of Cue Art Foundation

Installation View of Mo Kong’s Making A Stationary Rain On The North Pacific Ocean

 

It was only fitting that it stormed  the opening night of Mo Kong’s current exhibition.  Coming out of a torrential downpour,   viewers entered the gallery shaking off umbrellas and making puddles on the floor only to be greeted by a mini freezer basking in the pink glow of a grow light.   This work, titled Seeking the Common Ground,  2019,  held the clue for the rest of the exhibition by juxtaposing frozen fruits and popsicles on its inside with dried and desiccated fruit assembled in piles on top.  Symbolic of the meeting of two fronts–cold and warm–creating the weather conditions for rain,  the work also spoke to the imminent trade war between the U.S. and China with refrigerator magnets spelling out the names of various foods subject to the new tariffs mounted on its front door.

 

Mo Kong, Seeking The Common Ground, 2019. Mini freezer, handmade popsicles with newspaper confetti, dish racks, preserved tropical fruit, frozen cube fruit, plant lights, 18 x 19 x 27 inches

 

Mo Kong is a young Chinese artist based in New York who is both a researcher and a maker.   All of his works are the results of pseudo-experiments that combine scientific data,  historic facts and outright fictions.  The installations that filled this exhibition were alternatively intriguing and bewildering,  mixing references to geopolitics,  neo-nationalism, immigration and trade routes in ways that were not immediately accessible.  But a careful reading revealed clues to Mo Kong’s ideas which are often brilliantly satiric offering new ways of considering a host of issues that are very much of this moment.

For example,  working with Brown University biology laboratories,  Rhode Island School of Design Natural Lab and Shangxi Agricultural University,  Mo Kong studied bee pollen from different honey samples in the United States,  proving that labels attesting to “American Honey” are merely myths.  According to Mo Kong,  bees were only introduced to North America in the 16th century and that honey today is most often made from strains from various countries, even as the U.S. puts constraints on imports from China.  In two works in the exhibition–“Dream,” Guid, 2018 and Black Cloud, Thin Ice, 2018–the artist combines these findings with hand-blown glass,  honey,  beeswax and pollen to comment on his own journey as an immigrant,  the obstacles he faced with the visa process and his own sense of a blended identity.

In Roundtable No. 2, 2017,   Mo Kong turned a vitrine filled with packing foam into a study of geopolitical relations.   The foam mimicked patterns of waves,  like a yellow polluted sea,  punctuated by signs for fictional government commissions such as the National Committee for Marine Resources and Energy Information or the People’s International Cooperative Development Center.  The signs clashed with each other as if mapping a conflict in the North Pacific Ocean certain to occur in the near future.   To underscore the notion of combativeness,   two live fighting fish,  each in its own glass bowl,  stood watch  atop poles on either end of the installation.

 

Mo Kong, Roundtable No. 2, 2017. Tape, foam, metal, glass, prints, marble, ceramic tiles, battle fish, 65 x 35 x 42 inches.

 

Tying the exhibition together was a pattern of blue tape,  gridding out the gallery into longitude and latitude lines.  There were also two biomorphic diffusers,  one labeled Echo: China and the other Echo: US,  both from 2019,  suffusing the air with scents indigenous to each country.  With various other installations covering the floor and walls,  the entire exhibition conveyed the sensation of stepping into a three-dimensional map or a surrealistic science lab.   Moving from object to object,  clue to clue,  the ideas behind the works slowly revealed themselves,  telling a story of  two countries on a collision course,  the U.S. and China,  in an age of global warming.

Mo Kong has often spoke of his training in “self-censorship” due to his background as a journalist in China prior to moving to the U.S. to get his MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design.  As a result,  he is a master at keeping his audience at bay,  caught in a web of blank spaces and omissions rendering elusive his true meaning.  Nothing is ever delivered in a pointed or didactic fashion.  All truths come to the surface like messages in bottles floating to shore from a vast ocean.  But it is clear from this thoughtful exhibition that this is an artist with a lot on his mind.   Fortunately,  he knows how to embed meaning into multilayered installations that are rewarding to look at,  even if they are challenging to understand.

 

 

Mo Kong:  Making A Stationary Rain on the North Pacific Ocean
Cue Art Foundation
May 30 to July 10, 2019

 

 


 

Barbara Pollack has written on contemporary art for such publications as The New York Times, the Village Voice, Art in America, Vanity Fair and of course, Artnews, among many others since 1994. She is the author of the book, The Wild, Wild East: An American Art Critic’s Adventures in China and has written dozens of catalogue essays for a wide range of international artists. In addition to writing, Pollack is an independent curator who organized the exhibition, We Chat: A Dialogue in Contemporary Chinese Art, currently at Asia Society Texas and she is a professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She has been awarded two grants from the Asian Cultural Council as well as receiving the prestigious Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writer Grant.

 
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