Doris Guo, Back, 2023 / Installation view
Doris Guo: Back
Dec 8, 2023 – Feb 17, 2024
Empty Gallery
Hong Kong

Empty Gallery is pleased to present Oslo-based artist Doris Guo’s first solo exhibition in Asia. Existing in the interstices between embodied duration and affective labor, Guo’s practice coalesces around the cultural and material gestures which structure our attempts to form a communal life. Back centers around a collaborative project of material care which Guo and her mother, Weili Wang, have undertaken to organize and conserve the latter’s artwork. Formerly lodged undisturbed around her Seattle home, Wang’s oil paintings and sketches – mostly executed between 1980 and 1990 around the Yangtze River Delta – bear witness to an artistic life partially abridged by circumstance. These works are presented as diptychs together with Guo’s pinhole photographs depicting the suburban interior of Wang’s study – replete with cardboard boxes, filing folders, and other marginalia. With their crowded, seemingly off-the-cuff compositions, Guo’s photographs channel domestic inertia into aleatory landscapes. Poised somewhere between comfort and claustrophobia, their gauzy surfaces and indefinite forms go beyond merely simulating the ambiance of memory to express something of the unconscious abstraction with which we move through the world. In parallel, Wang’s works in various media bear witness to a series of complex movements between the urban and the rural, the intimate and the official, personal expressivity and sanctioned style – during a now lost moment of social change.

Guo uses the formal grammar of the diptych not only to create novel juxtapositions between works of radically different means and eras, but more importantly, to create a space of charged potentiality between the individual components of each pairing. The works truly exist in this ellipsis between one frame and the next – within the imaginative leap needed to reconcile the emotional, ideological, and spatio-temporal differences of one concrete life-world with another. Underneath the facticity of Wang and Guo’s relationship lies the radical difference embodied by any two lives given aesthetic form, even those as close as mother and daughter. However, we are also forced to think about what might connect them – with all of the aesthetic strangeness which this may constitute. Perhaps, this psychic labor is nothing more nor less than the mundane telepathy of daily communication transposed into the space of the gallery. Guo’s diptychs constitute a highly personal form of evidence, speaking to the paradoxical manner in which physical or geographical proximity can amplify distance, and separation can foster feelings of closeness; the familiar, but rarely remarked upon intertwining between intimacy and anomie.

This body of work is accompanied by a suite of new projector sculptures in which found objects are enlarged and transmuted. In these sculptures, the quietly domestic assumes the charged contours and haunting proportions of memory. Appropriating devices which are commonly used for tracing and enlargement, pieces such as Fallen Jewellery (2023) present enigmatic tableaux in which the ambient residues of past trauma are transposed into the space of the present. They function as both commentary and enactment, furnishing a mirror-stage within which the human compulsion to project – to return to past objects in search of comfort, mastery, or familiarity – is met with both deference and gentle derision.

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