"Temujin/Bortei", 2014, unique letterpress on Rives BFK, 30" x 22", detail
Second Street Gallery is pleased to present The Conqueror, a solo exhibition of new work by Yeni Mao. The show will open on Febuary 6th and run through February 28th, 2015. An opening reception will be held on Friday, February 6th from 5 to 7:30 pm.
The Conqueror, Yeni Mao’s latest body of work, questions the myths and beliefs associated with three films made about Genghis Khan between 1956 and 2007. The exhibition spans both gallery spaces and features a single-channel video, sculpture, drawings, and a suite of letterpress prints. These works engage the iconic imagery of these films, manipulating media ready-mades to further undermine their historical narratives.
Anchoring the exhibition is the portrait of John Wayne as Genghis Khan, as played in the 1956 film “The Conqueror”. This film presents portions of the murky history of Genghis Khan and fits them into a typical Hollywood narrative. Mao, in turn, fictionalizes these mythologized narratives of Genghis Khan, which are themselves based on a semi-fictionalized history. By re-appropriating elements from this film, Mao at once pays homage to its role in the reproduction of the myth of Genghis Khan but also deflates the film’s authority as a masculinist history.
The main gallery features a suite of letterpress prints, made in collaboration with 10 Grand Press, where the prime colors of the printing process- Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black-are rolled onto photopolymer plates and run through a high-pressure press in a wet-paper printing process. In these prints, Mao assigns each film’s three main, archetypical characters—Genghis Khan (Temujin), his best friend Jamukha, and his wife Borte– a geometric representation of the first three numbers in the Fibonnaci sequence, 3, 5, and 8. The Fibonacci sequence is the basis of the Golden Mean, and by extension, Western aesthetics. By layering portions of this numerical system onto the three characters in the three films, Mao filters the chaotic history of Genghis Khan through a scrim of European geometric rationalization. Genghis Khan 1162-1227 and Leonardo Pisano (Fibonacci) 1170-1250 share roughly parallel life spans in linear history. The High Middle Ages in Europe saw the introduction of the Hindu-Arabic numerals by Fibonacci during the rise of ethnocentrism. During the same period, young Temujin was named Genghis Khan and set about to violently and efficiently conquer and unify Asia and its western reaches. Mao conflates these two events to emphasize the relatively inward tightening of European culture and the outward reaching force of the Mongol empire.
A selection of geometric studies are presented in tandem with the letterpress prints. The works are drawn only with a compass and a straightedge, taped off, and rubbed with compressed charcoal. Mao works with regular polygons, exploring these patterns as they reproduce, tighten in to shapes, and explode. These prime shapes are broadly used as symbols for tribal affiliations, ranging from the occult sigil to the national emblem.
Further disassembling the three movies, Mao de-centers the heroic narrative and restages the landscape in a digital video and two sculptures.
The video The Conqueror, 2015 screens in the Dove Gallery, its title lifted from the original movie, as well as the namesake of the exhibition. In contrast to the prints, which concentrate on the characters, Mao cuts directly to the scenes featuring the fictional landscape, slowing the edit down to an ominously glacial pace that emphasizes the setting. Mao’s video is informed by the fact that these toxic landscapes were shot on location in Utah near an atomic testing site. As a result, all three leads and many in the cast and crew later contracted cancer. The video ends right on the threshold of the clash between two battling armies. By aestheticizing the build up to the violence rather than the violence itself, Mao reassigns importance. These armies, this warfare, this landscape, this manufacture are anonymous stand-ins, questioning the authenticity of the representation of historical events.
The sculpture Empire is a sculptural refraction of the video. Three triangular glass plates are digitally printed with film stills. Each plate is in the shape of the “Golden Triangle”, a shape that reproduces graphically in a logarithmic spiral and is related to the Golden Mean. As with the prints, Mao layers moments on a mathematically graphic and aesthetic rigor, in this case referencing the temporal nature of cinematic topography.
I Desire the Strength of 9 Tigers is a large steel floor piece, comprised of two shapes connected by chain. The elements are dodecahedron-based cages, electro-plated in copper. Copper is a chemical element , highly conductive energetic properties. Here, Mao takes a cue from natural occurrences in form and materials, and expands the sculpture’s references by placing a potentially generative object in context of the destructive force of the Mongol Empire. How do we apprehend this object: Is it an object of value, with its gem-like facets, a treasure from the transcontinental conquests of the Mongol hordes? Or, perhaps, an object of warfare, a weapon for a gargantuan warrior?
This body of work stems from Mao’s larger practice, centering on the distortion of archetypical narratives through a range of mediums including sculpture, installation, photography, and video. He is especially interested in oppositions such as authenticity vs. history, physicality vs. fantasy, and archive vs. memory. The work uses a diverse artistic lexicon to explore the cyclical regeneration of history, often with specific historical or mythological references.
Yeni Mao (b. 1971, CA) received a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, subsequently trained in metal casting in California, and the architecture and fabrication industries in New York. Recent solo exhibitions include “Regatta” at Munch Gallery in New York and “Whiskey Papa” at Zidoun-Bossuyt Gallery in Luxembourg. Group exhibitions include the IX Bienal De Artes Visuales Nicaraguenses, Allegra LaViola Gallery, Andrew Edlin Gallery, DOB Hualamphong Gallery, Hionas Gallery, Maquis Projects, and ROM for Kunst og Arkitektur. Residencies include The Lijiang Studio and Red Gate Gallery in China, The Fountainhead Residency in Miami, OAZO-AIR in Amsterdam, and Flash Atöyle in Turkey. Mao’s work has been written about in The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate, The Village Voice, and the Bangkok Post. In 2015 he will be artist-in-residence at Casa Wabi in Oaxaca, Mexico. Mao lives and works in New York City.
all digital files ©2015 Yeni Mao Studio