The Greenhouses in Wacline Hertz’s Laboratory: On the Death Represented by Siuan Yu’s Realistic Installations
Text: Michael Wu
To be desired is perhaps the closest anybody in this life can reach to feeling immortal.
― John Berger, The Museum of Desire
No sooner did we gaze at the creatures in Siuan Yu’s artworks, than we would witness eternity and his awe-inspiring aesthetics. Nevertheless, they were identified not so much with our eyes one by one directly as for the attractiveness of the very aura of beauty radiating from the ephemeral creatures in the lifeless “greenhouses” set up in Yu’s artworks. Showing the gradual demise of the creatures in the dysfunctional life-support systems, the artist seeks to preserve the tragic “beauty” embedded in the corpses and the fabricated corrosion, a kind of beauty worth eulogizing on account of the flesh decaying in the course of time. Displayed in an eye-catching manner in the mechanical installations, these dead creatures have been granted a status approximating eternity by the aforementioned eulogies and aspirations. The huge and sturdy corroded metal is reminiscent of an armored knight who took an oath of loyalty to protect the extremely fragile and ephemeral beauty.
In the Greenhouse series, each mechanical installation represents a fabricated and specifically numbered laboratory device carefully protecting the nature of life contained in it. Wacline Hertz, a fictional scientist made up by the artist, serves as the project director. A powerful sense of mission underpins these laboratory devices’ efforts in protecting the preserved creatures (or their corpses). The artist has incorporated his wild imagination and fantasies into this series and transposed the context of the living beings from the nature into fabricated greenhouses in a way of realistic painting, thereby perpetually preserving these creatures as if time stops elapsing. Each greenhouse is a mesmerizing blend of incomplete wings, fragmentary items, and deliberately corroded chunks of metal, which builds a dramatic tension and a sharp contrast between fragile and sturdy materials. Realistic painting has enjoyed a canonical status in the history of art, yet its true essence is nothing more than aesthetically recording and representing real lives, objects or stories. The combination of realistic painting techniques and the sculpture-like retro machines has become the characteristic signature that Yu leaves to project his frame of mind and creativity. However, what is realistically represented in his artworks is not so much life per se as real death; to wit, a post-apocalyptic world haunted by death. Besides, the steelworks bear the indelible traces of organic corrosion left with extremely exquisite sculptural and painting skills. It seems that they passively yet sustainably protect the desirable eternity in the greenhouses in a way that animals passively protect themselves through mimicry or cryptic coloration. The artist faithfully reveals the sci-fi landscapes in his mind by brilliantly combining contemporary sculpture and kinetic installation with time-consuming realistic painting that must be done personally. The incomplete corpses comprised of photorealistic elements in these artworks seem to be hovering between life and death, reality and illusion, oblivion and emergence, grandeur and degradation, as well as between transience and eternity, which not only amazes the viewers but also has many resonances for them.
Such mentality has shaken people’s feelings about the world and the nature, for it is able to resist the corrosion of death. Such mentality enables people to ensoul things when representing them. A new type of art termed nature morte effloresces as a result.
—Philippe Ariès, L’homme Devant La Mort I: Le Temps des Gisants
The time-weathered mechanical installations in Wacline Hertz’ laboratory bear more than a passing resemblance to the incubators shown in the Hollywood film The Matrix, in which human lives are sustained by machines. Many people go to all lengths to fulfill their aspiration towards immortality, while Yu tends to re-create lives rising from the dead. However, what the artist creates are not so much real lives as corpses doomed to decadence. Technologies have continuously evolved and obsolesced in the sci-fi world fabricated by the artist. As written in the book of fate, both technologies and lives can neither escape the ultimate annihilation nor prevent the laboratory devices from being weathered by time. Surges of helplessness keep sweeping through the viewers when they immerse themselves in Wacline Hertz’ laboratory, namely in the fabricated yet expressive death embodied there. The artist construes the languishing in samsara as a kind of beauty, through which he may scratch the ethereal eternity that satisfies his aspiration.
In sum, the artist is consumed by passion for observing the picayune “dilapidation, ruins, decadence and termination” hidden in his quotidian existence. He tries to re-formulate these insignificant details in a meaningful way through his artistic practices that not only breathe new life into the static mechanical installations and retain the warmth of death, but also turn the devices into ideal greenhouses for beauty and eternity. Upholding its new values and spirit, the re-tasked laboratory has anchored for good to the place where time is frozen.