Jes Fan, installation view of “Sites of Wounding: Chapter 1,” 2023. Photo: Michael Yu

Jes Fan 

Hong Kong

Empty Gallery

Jes Fan’s exhibition “Sites of Wounding: Chapter 1” (on view through June 24, 2023) is based on a practice deliberately tied to the experience of a body wounded, infected, and dismembered, a foreign body in which a subject’s desires and repressions surface. In the wall-mounted Left torso, four times (2023), four life-size Aqua-Resin casts of the artist’s chest, with arms like long, aerial roots hanging straight down at the sides, are stacked one on top of the other; their surfaces—rendered in pastel greens and pinks and skin tones—support corpulent blown-glass globules resembling organs or exposed tumors. Born in Canada, raised in Hong Kong, and now based between Hong Kong and New York, the transgender artist’s works are often animated by references, direct and indirect, to sexuality, gender, power, and the effects of colonization.

Fan’s recent work employs oyster shells, glass, and resin-coated metal armatures, alluding to materials such as bacteria, fungi, and bodily fluids. “Sites of Wounding” explores the artist’s interest in the Pinctada fucata oyster—a species native to Hong Kong, nicknamed the “Pearl of the Orient.” Pearls are formed by the absorption of foreign matter into the oyster’s body, so the reference prompts an interrogation of infection and its uses as metaphor, both positive and negative: from biohacking and body modification (issues explored in Fan’s earlier work) to trauma, diaspora, exile, and immigration. For instance, the exploration of the body in Left and right knee, grafted (2023), takes the form of exteriorized body fluids and organs, which are objectified and frozen in glass form, like agar jelly set inside a biomorphic, oyster-like mound. Fan seems to be suggesting that within contemporary, alienated society, abstraction is necessary in order to mask the horror or absurdity of existence.

Left and right knees, three times (2023) is installed opposite Left torso, four times in the darkened gallery space. Attached to the wall in a vertical arrangement, the six resin forms look like cross-sections of flesh or bologna, curling in a manner reminiscent of tongues removed from their context in mouths and bodies. These luscious, extra-terrestrial life forms, each holding a smooth, crystalline substance resembling gooey jellyfish, are physically gorgeous. Fan’s ways of mapping bodily or personifying metaphors onto these sculptural objects speak to an aesthetics of the transgender body and eroticism made possible by abstraction. 

Some works have the air of unlikely or alien furniture, a set of designs or systems to accommodate some speculative human anatomy. Bivalve I (2023) stretches its resin-and-metal limbs outward, like a network of Banyan tree branches or roots, the whole geometric frame holding a soft-bodied, giant amoeba structure with pus or mucus pumped by the cyst-like translucent glass globule dangling below.

An interplay between strength and vulnerability, form and formlessness, heftiness and sensuousness, pervades much of Fan’s work. In the video Palimpsest (2023), we observe the artist cultivating oysters in Hong Kong and implanting them with the Chinese characters composing the phrase “Pearl of the Orient.” That the former British colony, now an autonomous territory within China, looks set to shine again, as it remains resilient amid uncertainties, seems to be the message. These works, among others, speak to the show’s strength, namely, to be critically engaged without sacrificing aesthetic impact, to reveal something irrational, disordered, corporeal, erotic, and sexualized.