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A Review of “Familiar Strangeness” & “Eternity in the Flowing Space”

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

In January 2021, the Progress Gallery presented two solo shows, “Familiar Strangeness“ by Yuntong (Momo) Wu, and “Eternity in the Flowing Space” by Zhu (Judy) Zhu, distinctively in the West and the East showrooms. Momo and Judy have been close friends and studio-mates for years since they was in school. They graduated from San Francisco Art Institute in 2019. Their representations of art are poles apart; Judy focuses on representational figurative paintings, while Momo utilizes mixed-medium and printmaking methodologies creating abstract imageries. However, in this exhibition, their artworks both incorporate the notion of the inner-connection between the micros and the macros, individual and the planet, the humanity and the cosmos.

Judy is an acrylic painter who often work with large canvases. Utilizing human figure as a symbol to deliver powerful message, her work embodies human figure in distinct and intentional gesture in the center the painting. The large dimensions of the painting incorporates with the powerful gestures overwhelms the audiences as they moving close, and catches their attentions from far away.

Inspired by her personal experiences and family relationships, Judy takes self-portrait and her family as her consistent subject. Judy was born in Japan, raised in Northern China, and immigrated to the United States with her family when she was fourteen. With the cross-cultural background, her work is integrated with multiple perspectives and a broad view of the cultures and the world.

“Into the Circle” is one of her paintings discussing self-awareness and self-identification as an immigrant and a minority in the United States. The washing machines and dryers are commonly used in the United States, while there are different ways of doing laundry and to dry clothes in Asian countries. The living habit, in compare to the language and culture gap, is minimal but is also an every-day obstacle; it reflects to the relationship between the individual and the societal structure. The painting “Into the Circle” manifests a girl laying on the floor with her feet placed in washing machine, without movement or facial expression depicted, which suggests little control or activeness in this situation. When immigrants started to settle in the States, they probably face struggles of unfamiliar culture and societal environment. Said Judy, (in this painting) she attempts to see herself alike the cloth in the washing machine of the Western culture.

Judy has very close relationship with her family and friends. As she lives in a house with several rooms rented to her friends, she lives with her parents, her brother, and a number of friends. Her arts are alike herself—approachable, healing and welcoming. “Early Moment” is one of her painting that reveals a warm and emotional moment that a grandpa cuddles his grandson and put his forehead against grandson’s forehead. Judy’s remarkable representational skills helps her depicting the sensuous moment.

Judy and Momo knew each other from several classes. They have being working on collaborative works and sharing ideas. Many evidences in the art history indicate that established artists were often influenced and nourished by their artist friends and communities.

In a different representation from Judy’s work, Momo’s work appears to be abstract, and it explores the inner-connection between the macro and micro perspectives. Momo’s exhibition is presented in the West showroom. The title of the exhibition, “Familiar Strangeness,” is refer to the series of work that she has started in 2019 during the artist residency in Washington State where there is a little German town.

Inspired by the inter-cultural environment, Momo started thinking about the historical impact of literacy to humanity and our collective history. She wrote two poems in contemporary English and Chinese, and did researches on Runes and pictograph. A pondering imagery revealed as the contemporary words being transformed letter by letter into Runes and pictographs. Aesthetically, the imagery indicates a textuality, yet it is not readable, while the purpose of the words is to be read. The ambivalences are created as the audiences noticing the familiarness of the textual imagery, and at the same time realizing the strangeness of the text. The audiences are not able to understand the words; our forebears who had used the runes or pictographs could not understand the words convey.

Words are primarily abstract, and created essentially for communication. However, as literary history moving on, time creates the invisible obstruction between us and the old languages which we had been using constantly. The series work presented in the exhibition is trying to communicate with this familiar strangeness through the river of time.

Each exhibition manifests an integrate body of work and present a complete theme, while they are integrated with significant collaborative ideas in curation and conception. The discussion of art between the two artists indicates a contest of ideas, and a common interpretation to the world. Therefore, the two exhibitions response to each other. Momo’s work interprets the deep connection between our mutual understanding towards physicality and philosophical enquires, and the historical connection with the planet; Judy’s work reveals the binary composition of the transitory human life and the eternal humanity.

Presented by the Progress Gallery 2021

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