2017-12-04 19:21
How ruling class controls the public
Gao Lei's "Test Substance" / Courtesy of Arario Gallery

Gao Lei addresses power, violence 

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Chinese artist Gao Lei explores the power, control and violence of the ruling class in contemporary society through witty and allegorical art.

Titled "Enzyme of Trial" and held at Arario Gallery Seoul, this is Gao's first solo exhibit in Korea in five years.

Gao is one of the ba ling hou, or “after ‘80s,” generation artists in China, whose work differentiates from the previous generation. This generation grew up in a materially affluent environment, benefiting from the rapid economic development. Their works encompass a wide range of methods from painting to installation and media art, compared to the previous generation known for bold paintings.

Among the ba ling hou generation, Gao's works incline to be more philosophical.

"I was inspired by French philosopher Michel Foucault's thoughts on power and control," Gao said during a press conference in November. "I'm based in Shanghai now and there are factories near my studio. The change of environment also influenced materials used for my works."

Gao Lei's "Confession" / Courtesy of Arario Gallery

As visitors descend stairs to the underground gallery, they encounter a video of drain hole with the sound of running water.

This piece is closely related to "Confession," an installation work which features torture tools in a bathroom-like setting with a CCTV instead of a showerhead.

"Bathroom is a private space and I want to arouse the issue of an individual, power and invasion of privacy," Gao said. "The hanging object holds two meanings of a criminal and a martyr ― the guilty one and the innocent one."

For Gao, CCTV controls people in a psychological way as it is a modern crime finder. "There are many fake CCTVs in China, because it can suppress people just with its presence."

"Test Substance" shows commercial objects such as chair, bookshelf and floor lamp from furniture giant IKEA UV printed on aluminum boards. The backdrop looks like an abstract image, but in fact it is a rendition of mushroom cloud from nuclear explosion.

"I think it is my interpretation of still life. The three objects are some of the most popular models from IKEA. IKEA advanced to Asia and changed the lifestyle here, unifying the standard of beauty all around the world," Gao said. "The background looks warm due to its colors, but in fact it is very violent image from nuclear explosion."

A series of "Untitled" photographs on the first floor is Gao's metaphor to the conflict between love and oppression.

The powder blue paper used as the background comes from the Felix Gonzalez-Torres exhibit held at Shanghai's Rockbund Art Museum. Visitors were allowed to take a sheet of blue paper and it represents Gonzalez-Torres' sharing of love.

Gao used this symbol of love against controlling objects such as a roll of birth control education film, a microscope and a mechanical calculator.

The exhibit runs through Jan. 7. For more information, visit arariogallery.com or call 02-541-5701.