The Ecology of Everyday Life by Shirley Tse

LOS ANGELES — Hong Kong, Calif.-born artist Shirley Tse moved from her Los Angeles home to the coastal town of Lompoc, Calif. during the pandemic. The artist’s personal experiences are inseparable from his work: each piece of Stories of Lompoc, his solo exhibition at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, is priced at $3,360, a figure that reflects the fixed monthly cost of renting his Los Angeles studio to support his visual practice. The decision to price his work in this way has become a conceptual element of the exhibition, which focuses on themes of sustainability, both ecological and economic. The press release includes the following note from the artist: “Stories of Lompoc started as Los Angeles became unbearable for me. I want to shift the focus from the commodity to maintaining the condition to do work.

Quite rightly, the challenges of the sculptures and video pieces that make up Stories of Lompoc are both nobler and fairer than the whims of the commodity-driven art market. build on StakeholdersTse’s work representing Hong Kong at the 2019 Venice Biennale, Stories of Lompoc ask incisive questions about what it means to have a stake on a planetary scale, in the context of anthropogenic climate change. Faced with the societal upheaval caused by the pandemic – and the extreme economic disparity it has exacerbated – and the search for a more sustainable artistic practice, the relocation of the artist to Lompoc (whose name means “stagnant waters or “lagoon” in the Chumash language of Purisemeño) reflects these broader conditions. These aspects all intimately inform the interwoven conceptual and material choices that make up his exhibition.

Installation view of Shirley Tse: Stories of Lompoc at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Los Angeles

The material vocabulary at play in the nine exhibited sculptures, gleaned from the artist’s new environment, blends the natural and the man-made at every turn: cat fur, found snakeskin and diatomite coexist and are integrated with fiber optics, a helmet, and a window in the basement. “Framing Device” (2020), is a giclee print of a gray striped cat set up behind a slightly open basement window. The cat, bathed in pale blue light, crouches in front of a pile of yellow safety loops that feature in the sculpture “Net Zero” (2022), where they are strung together like a net cradling a large zero cut out of cardboard. The winding “Lompoc Stories Series: Spacesuit” (2021) is composed of snakeskin, shimmering blue fiber optics, and diatomite, a light-colored sedimentary rock composed of the skeletal remains of diatoms, a kind of single-celled algae with a silica cell membran. Together, these materials weave a story that is both particular to Lompoc – a picturesque town embedded in pristine nature and home to one of the largest diatom mines in the world, but also a state prison, military base and an oil field – and applicable to the hypocrisies of our larger environmental reality, in which the time to search for sustainable models is running out.

These hypocrisies are analyzed in a 2:43 minute looping video, “Lompoc Story” (2022), in which subtitles flash on a black screen, recounting Tse’s experience of wandering the Lompoc desert to a hike only to get lost and later find she had stumbled near a prohibited military base. Tse’s work confronts the incompatibility between sustainable living and systems of inequity, grappling with the coexistence of the natural beauty of the living world and the prison and military-industrial complex. She handles the characters that inhabit her daily environment – animal, rock, plastic, wood, which, although not human, show traces of human existence – to send an urgent message, bringing hope to forge a lasting reality. of an accessible set of materials.

Shirley Tse, “Lompoc Stories Series: Flower Seed Capital of the World” (2022), wildflower seed packet, paper, fallen tree branch, 15 x 7 x 18 1/2 inches
Shirley Tse, “Lompoc Stories Series: Spacesuit” (2021), lost snakeskin found, fiber optics, diatomite, variable dimensions

Shirley Tse: Stories of Lompoc continues at Shoshana Wayne Gallery (5247 West Adams Boulevard, West Adams, Los Angeles) through July 30. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.

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