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The low ceilings of the Physics Room and its intervening load-bearing pillar contribute to feeling ensconced in a pocket dimension.  While I am here in the exhibition Distance is a blade, it seems normal that gilt frames have turned molten in Olyvia Hong’s work. The artists in this show are going about forging personal mythologies and making archetypes anew. While the show deals with distinct pop culture references like the disconcerting ASMR clarity of snail slime sounds and the xxx at the end of a plea, they harbour real anxieties.

Ultimately, Akil Ahamat’s relationship with a snail, represented through a screen that lies in an oval of dirt with a speaker above it, tenderly broaches the discomfort of reconciling emotional existence as corporeal forms.  Ahamat’s tiny, embossed snail motif glitters with the golden jibe, be tormented by me, babe, and I am reminded of the ridiculousness of the idea that anybody can ever know anyone else completely. Inevitably, we will misconstrue and stumble over each other (joyfully too), snails or no.

Hong addresses a similar pain in what it is to remake yourself or otherwise be remade. The kumiho, denizens of the liminal, the mythic, spiritual, of deception and transformation, are represented as single-tailed foxes wading through watery murk. The globular silver frame casting topographical shadows on the wall and the overhead view of the foxes read as a portal. Like a magic mirror the tidy perspective of the work makes the wall behind it seem like it could be liquid too. The trickery is not malicious, in the same way lucid dreaming doesn’t feel wrong, but it is uneasy.  The water, frame, foxes, and perspective all seek to make mercurial what might be considered rigid reality. But perhaps it is in this realm that the unsteady unmaking gives way to transformation.

Some find this metamorphosis more easily than others, like oysters, who start their life male and often become female after a year.  Yumoi Zheng unites this image with the connecting body of the ocean that she turns to, to carry lost affection. In her audio-visual moving image work the corded headphones keep me tethered closely to the screen. I see the artist’s world represented in a giant fisheye, I can only see her, the beach she is on and a paper bird she flies above her.  In a split screen she lies above a bed of oysters.  Soon the audio loops to a repeated I always love you and it takes a long time for me to step away. 


Akil Ahamat, Olyvia Hong and Yumoi Zheng

Distance is a Blade

The Physics Room, 301 Montreal St

The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora,

4 April – 19 May


1. Yumoi Zheng, Intangible (飘飘渺渺) (video still), 2024. Single-channel video and sound, 5’08”


The Physics Room Distance is a blade

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