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Saturday, June 22, 2024

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ArtArt ReviewCast iron dumpling sutures and winding graphite snakes in...

Cast iron dumpling sutures and winding graphite snakes in resonant ‘Malar’

Alice Gong Xiaowen and Kennedy Morgan's sinuous dual show at House of Seiko summons digestive alchemy

Malar“—a two person show with Alice Gong Xiaowen and Kennedy Morgan up at House of Seiko through June 25—embraces opacity from afar and rewards those who step inside for a closer look.

Simultaneously delicate and dense. Held together and unraveling. There is a material resonance between graphite and cast iron in Morgan and Xiowen’s verging-on-monochromatic sensibilities, but these formal echoes are just the beginning of the conversation. (“Malar” is defined in the show as “gradient emerging, a rush of blood, numbness, dust particles, a wash, a presence that is released.”

Morgan’s graphite drawings, their sheen subtly emerging from a dark ground of charcoal wash on wood panels, depict snakes contorted into ouroboros-like spiraling configurations. Their titles (Hatching Sky, Ra & River) recall the symbol’s origin in ancient Egypt, perhaps referencing the mystery of cyclical time. Besides the alluring quality of Kennedy’s smooth gradients and subtle curving lines, the snakes, alongside Alice Gong Xiaowen’s sculptural work, have me thinking about digestion.

Kennedy Morgan, ‘Hatching Sky,’ 2023. Graphite and charcoal on pine. Photo courtesy House of Seiko

Xiaowen’s tripe-like abstract forms that resemble folded intestines, or skin with puckered seams and sutures, are actually sand casts of pinched dumpling dough.  

An immense amount of dexterity and practice are required to make dumpling folds appear consistent while remaining structurally sound enough to hold in all the filling. Like knitting, the results accidentally reveal a trace of the maker’s experience and state of mind. What are the implications of repeating this movement ceaselessly, and casting it in metal? Xiaowen is transmuting a gesture taught to her by her grandmother, and her varied iterations emphasize the uncanny territory between body and object, industrial and domestic, absence and presence.

Alice Gong Xiaowen, flour + water, 2019. Cast iron and wax. Photo courtesy House of Seiko

The open-ended dumpling skin becomes a container for ideas about diasporic nostalgia, translation, and how the familiar can become unfamiliar through fragmentation and remixing.

Many of the artifacts of the casting process remain intact with gates, runners, and spills functioning like sturdy spines to hold up Xiaowen’s pinch-braided handiwork. The deep, metallic tones of the cast iron are punctuated by green soapstone rods and bits of white wax that accentuate rather than disguise ventilation and entry points for molten metal. Xiaowen tempered the dumpling skin before making an impression of it in the sand, but the occasional doughy bubble on the surface gives the impression that it was beginning to react to the heat.

This evidence of transformation frozen in time keeps the work alive, foregrounding labor and process. Reminding us that art is a form of alchemy.

MALAR at House of Seiko runs through June 25. More info here.

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