Solo show by Isaac Chong Wai now on display at Zilberman Selected in İstanbul
Zilberman Gallery is a contemporary art gallery with a social and educational programme based in both İstanbul and Berlin. The main gallery space in İstanbul occupies 2 floors in a lovely art nouveau building in Beyoğlu, established in 2008. The more recently established space, Zilberman Selected, is in the Piyalepaşa quarter of the Beyoğlu district. I had the pleasure of visiting both on a warm June afternoon, recently this summer 2022.
“Controllable/ Uncontrollable Tears (2022)” by Isaac Chong Wai at Zilberman Selected in İstanbul
Zilberman Selected is currently displaying a contemporary art exhibition with political overtones titled “If we keep crying, we will go blind” by Isaac Chong Wai, a contemporary artist based in Berlin and Hong Kong. The exhibition addresses the different practices of crying and wailing in public, specifically in the public mournings and funerals of historical figures in both China and North Korea. Compelled to cry in public, as if in a show of patriotism, Isaac questions the authenticity of collective tears in these contexts. In his installations, he ‘recreates artificial tears’, in a way. The exhibition includes the installation of large street lamp structures in the exhibition space, a 2-channel video playing back performances, a series of silk prints and a light box. During the opening day on May 17, 2022, a performance also took place titled ‘Controllable/Uncontrollable Tears (2022)’.
“Crying Streetlight (2022)” by Isaac Chong Wai at Zilberman Selected, in İstanbul
The street lamp installations, titled ‘Crying Streetlight (2022)’, are cold and metallic. They mimic the public street lamps that are installed in the squares of Tiananmen, Beijing, China, and in Pyongyang, North Korea. The betraying details, however, are the tiny cable chain necklaces that are installed within the metallic frames; they resemble falling tears. In this installation, Isaac is manifesting and fixing the tears that are the main theme of the exhibition.
In contrast to the monumental and stationary street lamps are the videos, constantly playing back two different performances. The artist on one channel is obviously mourning (performing), yet no tears are falling. The artist in the opposite channel is crying with the help of the cable chain necklaces that fall from her palms, held closely to her face. The reference is, again, to artificial tears.
What do tears constitute of if performed publicly? Must sadness be expressed publicly in order to show genuine mourning? What if the act of mourning is compelled? Are the people in the squares then genuinely lamenting the loss of their leaders, or are they each drawing on personal experiences of grief in order to showcase their sadness? In this show, the artist is creatively exploring the meaning of crying tears when grief is politicized.
I found the exhibition to be truly intriguing, posing questions of a political and cultural dimension that I had not reflected on before. The body of Isaac’s work in general poses strong political messages, often confronting his audience with discomforting realities and questions that often remain unanswered, yet must be asked.
“If we keep crying, we will go blind” by Isaac Chong Wai will remain on display at Zilberman Selected, İstanbul until July 30, 2022.
All photos courtesy of Zilberman Gallery.
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