Enduring but Fragile Coexistence in Geng Xue’s ‘Mount Sumeru’


In her previous exhibition at Klein Sun, Borrowing an Easterly Wind, artist Geng Xue (耿雪) used cobalt blue-colored wind lines on a large photograph of a forest and on the walls and pillars of the gallery to visualize an unseen breeze.  A metaphysical experience was created from seeing the wind move unhindered from the outdoors to the indoors or perhaps from a reality to blank white spaces.  Geng continues this transcendental immersion with Mount Sumeru, on view at Klein Sun Gallery, which takes its name from the sacred mountain said in Buddhist cosmology to be the juncture of the physical, metaphysical, and spiritual worlds and revisits her interest in Chinese porcelain and the strange.

The gallery is imagined to be this mystical nexus.  Atop islands of white pillars and platforms are arrangements of white porcelain sculptures of which only the outlines can be seen from afar against the white walls.  As the viewer approaches, many are revealed to be otherworldly scenes – a cross between surrealist art and Chinese painting.  Parts of the human body are scaled to the size of mountains and bodies of water to form landscapes, suggesting mankind’s permanence in the universe alongside things created by deities and measured in geologic time. Like their porcelain representations, man and the physical world are enduring but fragile.

Beyond integrations into landscapes, the sculptural pieces, accented and further defined with ink and bronze details, interact to suggest dynamism between mankind and nature.  At times, the relationship is violent — in Solitary Enlightened One 2, a foot weighs heavily on an formless mass, and in Kshana 3, a hand and forearm comes in contact with jagged mountain peaks.  Other times, there is serenity, as in Ocean’s Roar in which slender fingers lightly touch the water to create ripples or Accordingly Rejoice which sees people commune with nature.

‘Ocean’s Roar’, 2016. Porcelain and sound installation. 39 3/8 x 13 3/4 x 7 7/8 in. (100 x 35 x 20 cm)

A few works include sound components – birds chirping and clinks and bellows of temple bells – that are meant to further immerse visitors into the scenes, but are instead unexpected and distracting.

Time can be observed through the works.  Youth exudes from the recumbent male head of Sound-Hearer 2 which rests peacefully beside a lake and mountain.  Elsewhere, the porcelain pieces appear like ruins, and eternity is felt.  In View Delusion 1 and View Delusion 2, nature is seen to have overtaken the human form.  A broken bone is split between peaks in Mountain Gate.  Yet, there is the promise of regeneration and new life, as suggested by Kshana 1 in which a bone touched by a hand is spirited with swirls of wind or water and by the mother swaddling her infant in Radiates a Light.

Apart from the cluster of pedestals in the front of the gallery are two large works, the stately Three Realms Voice in which a human torso extends from a pedestal segmented like a bamboo stalk with mountains near its base and the larger-than-life bronze Big Woman Statue, the only piece which shows a complete human form.

There are a number of installations scattered around the gallery.  When seeing the show, circle each display.  Consider that the porcelain pieces have been arranged but are movable. Then, view the arrangements at various eye levels and angles to appreciate how a change in perspective affects the views of human coexistence with the physical world.

'Kshana 1', 2016. Porcelain, 11 3/4 x 15 3/4 x 5 7/8 in. (30 x 40 x 15 cm)

'Accordingly Rejoice', 2016. Porcelain, 11 3/4 x 11 3/4 x 5 7/8 in (30 x 30 x 15 cm)

'Stopping and Contemplation', 2016. Porcelain and sound installation, 19 3/4 x 15 3/4 x 9 7/8 in. (50 x 40 x 25 cm)

'Solitary Enlightened One 2', 2016. Porcelain, 15 3/4 x 17 3/4 x 15 3/4 in. (40 x 45 x 40 cm)

'Mount Sumeru' Installation View

'View Delusion 2' (detail), 2016. Porcelain, 19 3/4 x 15 3/4 x 11 3/4 in. (50 x 40 x 30 cm)

'Radiates a Light', 2016. Porcelain, 15 3/4 x 11 3/4 x 5 7/8 in. (40 x 30 x 15 cm)

'Kshana 3', 2016. Porcelain, 13 3/4 x 11 3/4 x 7 1/8 in (35 x 30 x 18 cm)

'Kshana 3', 2016. Porcelain, 13 3/4 x 11 3/4 x 7 1/8 in (35 x 30 x 18 cm)

'View Delusion 1', 2016. Porcelain, 19 3/4 x 15 3/4 x 11 in. (50 x 40 x 28 cm)

'View Delusion 2', 2016. Porcelain, 19 3/4 x 15 3/4 x 11 in. (50 x 40 x 28 cm)

'Kshana 2', 2016. Porcelain, 11 3/4 x 9 7/8 x 7 7/8 in. (30 x 25 x 20 cm)

'Mountain Gate', 2016. Porcelain and sound installation, 15 3/4 x 31 1/2 x 7 7/8 in. (40 x 80 x 20 cm)

Mount Sumeru is on view at Klein Sun Gallery, 525 W. 22nd Street, May 4 – June 17, 2017.

Lead image: Sound-Hearer 2, 2016. Porcelain and sound installation 19 3/4 x 13 3/4 x 5 7/8 in. (50 x 35 x 15 cm).

Images by Andrew Shiue