Entering the glass-walled gallery space adjacent to UCSB’s Department of Art during the brief run of this enigmatic two-person show raised more questions than it answered. Even after locating a photocopied list of the works on display, it remained difficult to fully resolve what was happening. In their show called The Autobiography of Red, Alice Wang and Taro Masushio offered up tantalizingly few clues to anything resembling biography, and there was, rather emphatically, no red whatsoever.
What was there? To one side, there was a room full of photos by Masushio, faint images in black-and-white printed on large 42”x60” sheets of paper and hanging freely from pairs of holes in their surface reinforced by washers. Masushio printed “Untitled I-III (re: the place between our bodies)” in both “(Poz)” and “(Neg),” yielding a total of six individual pieces, each of which is based on a photo taken in an unusual way. Masushio lives in New York, while his partner lives in Los Angeles. By shipping a pinhole camera to Los Angeles with its shutter open the whole way, the artist recorded a visual representation of, as he puts it in the title, “the place between our bodies.” With this context in mind, these dangling sheets of alternating dark and light abstractions take on a certain poignancy, but without it — and there was no explanatory note available in the show to reveal it — their personal subtext remains as concealed and unknowable as the open shutter of that pinhole camera was when it sat in the cargo hold, indistinguishable from all the other packages on their way from New York to L.A.
Next door, Alice Wang’s contributions, listed as “carnivorous plants, sensitive plants, 24K gold gilded on 400 million+ year-old fossils, digital prints on aluminum, drawing on carbon paper,” took an experience already shrouded in mystery to what seemed an even more confounding level of ambiguity. Yes, these were carnivorous and sensitive plants, and yes, the objects in the vitrine, which were indeed gilded, and resembled nothing more than a few cigarette butts, must be the fossils. But the images, mounted low on the walls, offered no apparent clues to the meaning of it all.
When I met with Wang the next day, she acknowledged the exhibit’s distance from one’s ordinary expectations in regard to documentation. Presenting me with yet another enigmatic object, the “flip-book” that she and Masushio prepared for the show (available through +81 Gallery), which contains an essay on “the genealogy of mentors” in art education by UCSB Professor of Critical Studies Colin Gardner, she began to unfold the path that led her to UCSB, where she teaches Intermediate Photography and Visual Arts as Culture. In the process, I discovered an underground of artists trained in the latest critical theory who have an ambivalent relationship to the market-driven cults of personality that animate so much of the contemporary art scene. Wang will continue to make her subtle, undercover art here in multiple media. Watch for her to emerge further into this wordless space she continuously redefines.