The works of Los Angeles-based Chinese artist Karen Hsiao mark a continuation in the gallery's contemporary photography exhibition series examining the characteristic of longing and the boundaries of physical and spiritual existence via an exploration of the broad range of human emotions. On exhibit is a series of exceptional photographed portraits. The individual characteristics of the respective models they portray already lend the portraits a certain degree of emotional variation. These differences are emphasized in the hairdo, facial expression and posture of those portrayed and reach all the way from insolent and sensuous to intoxicated, even aggressive. Hsiao's strong scenic reductionism and the way she covers over the background creates an aesthetic that discloses a disproportionately larger arena of possible interpretations, particularly once the viewer discovers upon closer examination that each model's mouth contains either a whole piece of fruit or a vegetable or a bite from them. Hsiao's fixation on the mouth in these works, at first seemingly strange, reveals itself upon further study to be a fascinating, multilayered inquiry into a much deeper world. Hsiao states that she herself sees her mouth as the most important path to intimacy, the one organ that can express the wide variety of ways her soul is moved while at the same time serving as the capstone of life-sustaining intake and enjoyment. With that, Hsiao forays into the field of the Freudian "pleasure principle," the human pursuit of the fulfillment of physical and psychological needs in which behavior is conditioned by experiences felt as positive. In the first, oral phase of childhood development, humans come to understand their surroundings primarily via the mouth. Eating, drinking and sucking, within this context, are the first natural expressions of the pursuit of satisfaction - also clearly demonstrating that this early childhood discovery of the world with the mouth simultaneously serves as a foretaste and a phase of awakening. Hsiao makes reference to her homeland, China, where this awakening, particularly among women, has not yet taken place at a widespread level; the natural unfolding of a subjective pursuit of pleasure is thwarted by the individual's growing recognition of and assimilation into the respective surroundings. Hence, depending on the society that surrounds viewers of these photographs, their concrete perspective on the photographs can be influenced by many different factors, and the works can call forth a wide array of unconscious and subliminal reactions. From her more distant perspective, with Los Angeles serving as the frame of reference for her highly progressive perspective, Hsiao thus begins negotiations with the "reality principle," one which varies in relation to each respective culture. Fruit also plays a key role in a large number of related narratives. In the beginning, it was the consumption of a forbidden fruit that served as the prototypical symbol of the fall of mankind and that, according to Freud, even marked the beginning of social organization, religion, the limitations of social mores and hence culture itself. Corresponding references to this are underscored using the multifaceted symbolic meanings assigned to fruits, which encompass a broad range of meanings reaching from the religious to sexual fetish. Already in ancient mythology, fruits were associated with overindulgence and abundance. It is in this context that the cornucopia, hinted at in Hsiao's works with broccoli and oyster mushrooms, makes its appearance. A symbol of good luck, the cornucopia also stands for fertility, wealth and abundance. The same is true of the fig, which, as one of the oldest cultivated plants known to mankind, can be traced all the way back to the Cretaceous period. Mythology attributes its discovery to Dionysius, the god of wine, joy, fertility and ecstasy. These themes are common to the oyster mushroom as well, which is also often regarded in the field of dream interpretation as representative of immorality. The oyster mushroom unites an inherent ambivalence within itself, too, navigating a tenuous balance between its life-giving aspects and those that bring about intoxication and even death - good reasons why it should not be eaten in its raw form.
Dr. des. Nicola Schröder Plock
Translated by www.strykerhaertel.de