Known for his striking ceramic work, Vancouver-based artist Brendan Lee Satish Tang ventures into unfamiliar territory with his new installation-based exhibition meatspace. The result of Tang’s three-month residency at BAF, meatspace revolves around a series of sculptures rendered in seemingly random configurations of geometric pieces of black foam core and strips of wood. These asymmetrical, abstract sculptures formally evoke everything from architectural scaffolding, metro maps, and cell networks to rhizomes, skeletal systems, and structural formulae for complex molecules.
Tang first garnered attention for his (still ongoing) Manga Ormolu series which features bold trompe-l’oeil mashups of blue-and-white porcelain vases with toys, robots, electric wires and plugs. Critics and curators have theorized these playfully anthropomorphic ceramic sculptures with their unexpected juxtapositions of high art and pop culture, craft and commodity, the historical and the high-tech, as references to Tang’s own diasporic identity as well as to multifarious global histories of empire, cultural exchange, and commercial exploitation.
Writing on Tang’s ceramic-focused practice in 2009, curator Kristen Lambertson observed, “Tang’s work explores technology’s potential to be not only disruptive and violent but also a benevolent force of transformation.” This ambivalent fascination with the high tech and its impact on humans continues to percolate in Tang’s new sculptures at BAF; the exhibition’s title “meatspace” comes from a term coined by web guru John Perry Barlow to differentiate the physical world from the virtual world of “cyberspace.” Tang describes the sculptures as cloud formations: recalling the angular “low polygon” shapes of early 3D computer graphics, these delicate structures poised in BAF’s white cube space suggest not only the clouds above us, but also The Cloud, that nebulous digital domain to which we back up our computers and smart phones, uploading all the many documents, images, and files that undergird our lives today. Tang compares the sculptures—with their black geodesic outgrowths extending from the jointed wooden frameworks—to “cave drawings” that track our often ambiguous yet profoundly symbiotic relationship to cyberspace.
Bridging the digital and the analogue, the virtual and the real, meatspace makes manifest the invisible yet colossal digital platforms that intersect with our lives, and upon which we now fundamentally depend. However, his interest in exploring our dependence on cloud computing and other digital platforms does not pre-empt his commitment to the artworks’ materiality and his employment of a hands-on, labour-intensive process. Each piece is constructed of hand-sawn pieces of wood and carefully cut-out pieces of foam core of numerous dimensions, and Tang maintains a DIY, minimalist aesthetic by leaving the wood unvarnished and the residue of glue holding the pieces together unconcealed.
Unlike his ceramic sculptures with their glossy veneer and aura of precious permanence, these works have the air of a project in flux—each piece could be easily taken apart, tinkered with, and re-configured, like a puzzle or maquette. Indeed, Tang characterizes his experience of building these sculptures as highly intuitive, where he discovers in real time—through the concrete, sometimes clunky process of trial and error—the unexpected paths and patterns that guide their creation. In this way, these works function both as traces of and prototypes for the restless creative process itself.
Learn more about Brendan Lee Satish Tang’s work here: www.brendantang.com