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Splendor of the Sun

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Key takeaways

1. Curated by Zoie Yung, the group exhibition presents new works by 12 artists; Leelee Chan, Kara Chin, Dave Chow, Katie Grinnan, Steph Huang, Ashlee Ip, Alessandro Keegan, Kong Chun Hei, Kong Lingnan, Cathy Lu, Joohye Moon, and Doris Wong Wai Yin

2. Inspired by the manuscripts of early scientific observations of the alchemist, the exhibition aims to draw an aesthetic parallel in contemporary art

Galerie du Monde presents the group exhibition Splendor of the Sun curated by Zoie Yung, on view from 5 January to 25 February 2023.

The title of the exhibition is a reference to the 1582 eponymous alchemical text, Splendor Solis. The curatorial concept arises out of a series of illustrations in the text depicting the alchemical processes in glass flasks, which are used as a jumping off point for ruminations on how we observe and understand light, the exploration of the portals within, and theatricality of, alchemy and science. The exhibition space is divided into seven parts: the main area of the gallery represents the interior of the flask, while the side-room and the window display represent the exterior.

Alchemy is the medieval forerunner of chemistry. The aim of alchemy was to purify, mature and perfect objects, through the process of chrysopoeia, the transmutation of base metals, search for and creation of the panaceas, including an elixir of immortality, and the perfection of human soul and body. This last element might influence artists in search for perfect forms that reflect ideals of the immaterial world.

Glass was the primary material for progression in science, offering humanity a new way of looking: the glass in the optical instrument of the binoculars allows us to be able to observe, for the first time, the movement and patterns of planets other than the earth. Here on earth, in the depths of the alchemist’s workshop, the glass flask carries within it the alchemist for whom control and manipulation is second nature. As a transparent, heatresistant container, the flask allows the alchemist to observe from a safe distance, and record the unpredictable and formidable concoctions taking place inside the flask.

The 12 participating artists offer contemporary interpretations on these alchemical processes. Their works are shown in a space that is carefully designed by architect Charles Lai, taking inspiration from Bruno Latour’s concept of “force reversed laboratory” as spatial representations of the functional structure and experimentation in alchemy. By coating the walls of the room with a thin layer of grout to allow the character of the space to stand out. The seemingly airy walls and its concrete exterior subverts our notions of what is light and heavy, is a gesture towards the concept of “force reversed laboratory.”

(1) Initiation
Wong Wai Yin’s work It’s You Who Leans is situated at the entrance of the gallery, marking the beginning of the experiment — the Initiation — as well as the thin border between the inside and outside. Within this composite blend, the imbalance in different elements triggers various chemical reactions.

(2) Intangible Cycle in Flux
Featuring the works of Kong Chun Hei, Alessandro Keegan, Kong Lingnan, Kara Chin, and Steph Huang. The through line of these works is the repeated occurrence of themes of cycles and loops, and the ambiguous space between modification and sublimation.

(3) Color / Material in Emergence
This section features Leelee Chan’s mixed media paper and fabric works, as well as Kara Chin’s sculptures. The color and light emitted in the oxidation of metals imply that their original state is closer to chaotic dark matter, but gains clarity through the process of experimentation, and hence the crystallization of metals is a process that symbolizes purification and elevation.

(4) Heat / Melting / Spiritual Transformation / Portal
Featuring Kate Grinnan’s video work Electric Dave Wave Serenade / Dissolving the Rock, which draws comparisons between our meditative brainwaves that exist in a space free of ego, with the weathering of rocks in deserts. The work employs the language of contemporary video and sculpture in its depiction of the process of transmutation in alchemy.

(5) Completion / Stabilization
Featuring the works of Steph Huang, Kara Chin, Cathy Lu, and Joohye Moon. The last step in a process of alchemy is for the women to be in charge of tidying up and recording, and this division of labor is a nod towards the categories of gender in social anthropology. This section also serves to explore the notion of the sanctuary for the multicultural nomad and the Hestia’s domestic sphere in ancient Greek mythology.

(6 / 7) Observation and Time
The sections that depict the outside world are the parts of the space dedicated to “observation” and “time”. The former revolves around Dave Chow’s installation work that are observations of the transparent and reflective properties of Claude glass, while the latter showcases Ashlee Ip Wai Ting’s Racing Thoughts and Steph Huang’s Broken Time — illustrating the difference in the perceived flow of time in a micro- and macroview of the world.