Yerba Mala

Yerba Mala, installation, Campeche, CDMX, February 2022

Is it the pandemic or my age? More often than not these days I’m attuned to art troubled by what Avery Gordon names, ghostly matters. Today, the artist speaks with reverence of The Menil Collection. The rarity of contemporary art unapologetically keeping company with totemic relics from grand, non-Western traditions. Power objects of the colonized. A resonance found in the work at hand.

Yeni Mao’s work hurtled from the future into Campeche for a winter moon cycle. Undoubtedly, it survived a flaming journey through the atmosphere landing softly, if solidly, before our eyes. Obviously, the works were blown up from the earth’s molten core, transmitted through volcanic processes of electro-plating. Clearly, it’s 4AM and the dance floor empty but for one backlit dancer psychically holding these very objects in a mesmerizing, internal loop of drumbeat and dream.

In the studio, the sculptures popped up like seals where the swells break, in and around Mao’s recent themes: the fragmented body, the loss of migration, an alchemical relationship to materials, intersections into the built environment, and the way ancestral stories are misremembered.

Labyrinthian, nested against I desire the strength of nine tigers (May 2021), this is sculpture as distillation. Built like a temple more ziggurat than pyramid, this one invites viewing from above and below. While at the room’s edge another has infected the architecture’s support. A zodiac, a refracted menagerie. Animal, animacy, mythological circuity. Heavenly chain blossoms restraints.

Forms as tightly packed impressions (organs and sex, rooster head, lion/foo dog claws, knotted serpent) sequenced between intervals like stutters, like our ever shifting attention. Layers of recovery, nothing in that drawer, nothing in that drawer, nothing in that drawer.* What is an origin story anyway? Is Mao’s mother explaining the dislocation of a Chinese girlhood spent in Malaysia? Or is she simply afraid of snakes?

What if the Abstract Expressionists were onto something? What if I am or you are experiencing, somatically, lacking all rational explanation, what Mao sent into the art? What if we are energetically receiving the spirit he called up in forming these works? With his hands, his touch, he imbued these fetishes with revelations that are released under the energy of the eye. It feels so.

Amy Sadao
Mexico City, January 2022

* Ron Padgett, “Nothing in that drawer,” in Great Balls of Fire (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1990)

Art In America review