Randian: Wang Kaimei on "Chimera"

Published in Randian

By: Wang Kaimei

Translated by: Daniel Ho

Dec 08, 2016

According to Greek mythology, a “Chimera” is a hybrid, fire-breathing creature; Chimera also happens to be a type of 3D modelling software developed by the University of California, San Francisco. While scientists establish analytical logic based on facts, artists can enable science to break out of the protective vacuum of the laboratory, affording poetic imagination of the shapes under the microscope.

For Nadim Abbas’s first solo exhibition at Antenna Space, the space has been divided into a laboratory and display area. “Human Rhinovirus 14” (2016) shows various facets of the virus as images which are projected onto spheres hovering in the air. Accompanied by the noise of whirring blowers, viewers have entered a fictional world populated by viruses. This is first of all a very odd “human invasion” by an artist into the world of viruses; who knew there could be a certain romance and sentimentality about viruses blown up to thousands of times their actual size? The images projected on the spheres have something of the freehand suggestion of ink painting, and are wafted in the air by the blowers. The several spheres floating together prompt viewers to astronomical imaginings and, at the same time and in spite of themselves, to imagine the destructive act of turning the blowers off. Thus, a sense of the unknown and perplexity are what is intriguing about the work. If this sense is still connected to the human, then the “supermoon” talked about recently seems to offer an example closer to home; of course, the roar of the blowers in the gallery space also pulls us back to Mother Earth.

Nadim Abbas’ work cuts across worlds. Ultimately, he is an artist who imagines and adds to science. “Chamber 667” (2016) goes so far as to preserve the setting for a “super-scientist”, their hands shielded in gloves that reach into and out from a sealed tank; the models scattered about inside these tanks echo the original meaning of modelling. From the rolls of toilet paper in their sealed chamber (#668), we might imagine a physiological reason for the scientist having rushed from the scene. Just like the “blancmange” wallpaper installation in this exhibition, in which a photo of the famous dessert with a fly on it hangs against wallpaper printed with a host of mini-blancmanges, Abbas’ game originates in wordplay that becomes the atmosphere of his science fiction scenography; it is an atmosphere of lunchboxes and snacks left around for too long inside an otaku’s bedroom laden with the artist’s identity and background. Whatever is left behind in translation after playing with English words might be a most effective way of reinterpreting the artist and his work.

With art that takes science as its point of departure, the first problem encountered is the way to view or deal with the world. Science demands accuracy, while art lends a rich and chaotic element. For the philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend, the fuzziness and nonsense of poets, painters, and musicians served to dissolve the rigidity and objectivity of scientists (in his own words: “The only principle that does not inhibit progress is: anything goes.”). Abbas’s viruses celebrate the want of meaning.

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