The rosy pink wonderland that is Wang Xin’s current solo exhibition at De Sarthe Gallery — her debut in Hong Kong — is very much like a condensed amusement park: It starts with the purchase of a HK$10 ticket; you go through a turnstile; step on a rose-coloured carpet; listen to recordings that prepare you for the ride; experience a (slight) queue for the main attraction and then you enter it — a shallow ball pit featuring a VR experience in its centre. 

For Wang, who grew up in Hubei and is currently based in Shanghai, the signature cheery colour in her works renders the entire gallery space with a soft pink glow — from the pink fluorescent lights to pink headphones down to the little pink plastic balls, which you can freely take away from the gallery. Open one up to find a slip of paper detailing a different ‘unknown artist’ in each plastic orb — the exhibition is titled “The Must-See Art Show Where You Can Find 10,000 Artists” for a reason. Despite the chipper pink theme, a more solemn air envelops the space as you strap on Wang’s VR goggles, which give a glimpse into her inner world — a desert wasteland that you can navigate and view the discarded carcasses of her past artworks.

Playful and pink though the entire installation may be, hidden under the lighthearted air and humour is a serious attempt to reaffirm the significance and value of an artist’s work, whether through the ritualistic act of scanning your ticket at the QR card reader, bringing attention to the inevitable death of exhibited work, or simply, contributing HK$10 at the reception.

The exhibition is designed to be experienced as a journey, culminating in a realisation that Wang has essentially created a mechanical metaphor of the art world in the gallery space.

It’s a ‘meta’ commentary on how each element of the art world infrastructure interacts, from viewers to artists to galleries to artist agencies — a theme that Wang has touched upon in an ongoing series. By sheer chance, the ‘unknown artist’ name you pluck out from the pool of talents may well be the one that gains wider recognition — but what about the rest that are left forgotten on the floor, or in a limbo within Wang’s database of 10,000?

Wang Xin - The Must-See Art Show
Visitors require a ticket to enter the show.

Before her exhibition closes this weekend on the 18 November, we quiz Wang Xin on the emotions and fascinations she has with the art world, on her obsession with pink, and why she hopes you won’t glibly discard another starving artist.

De Sarthe Gallery, 20/F, Global Trade Square, 21 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Hong Kong, +852 2167 8896, Open Tue–Sat 11am–7pm

When did you start wondering about and challenging the structure of the art world? How do you explore that through your work?

The fascination started after I finished my MFA degree in the US. At that time I had not yet participated in any exhibitions yet except a graduate show, also in the US. I felt more like an outsider and an observer of the art world there.

To familiarise myself, I visited many shows and art fairs such as the Armory Show, Art Basel Miami Beach, and many galleries in New York. I also visited local artist studios and galleries with a collector friend, and got the chance to observe how a collector looked at art work, communicated with artists, galleries and curators. After I returned to China, I continued to visit Chinese artists’ studios with him, observing how a collector interacted with the art world and the people in it, and how he/she bought art.

I started to think about the system and how its structure was built up. There are several emotional experiences that triggered me to start my series. I do not want to share these specific experiences, but at this point I would like say it was really necessary and meaningful for me. After that, I started my project ‘The Gallery,’  which became the first in a series. Why do I challenge the art world? Why not? I think that the old structure needs to be changed and further developed.

In this show, the main installation is the ‘Unknown Artists Agency’ — it’s an artwork and a project in which I start to explore ‘unknown’ artists in the art world, and an effort to introduce these artists to the world.

Towards the end of your show, a sound recording explains how you have linked the institution, the artist and the viewer into a machine-like mechanism in your installation. Can you explain why you think this way?

I am pointing out that the art world — like all other systems — is like a machine. They are each dynamic ‘mechanical’ parts driven by a certain force and energy. Every part in a machine will follow certain rules, or a blueprint, to run. They carry out certain orders. The engineer will look at the design blueprint to see how the machine functions. For a social system like the art world to sense its invisible ‘blueprint,’ you need to observe the patterns that exist and run logical thinking like a programmer. My previous experience in programming and making mechanical artworks — such as the VR world itself — help me to think from an “engineer” or “programmer” perspective about art as a whole.

In the middle of the ball pit, at the centre of the installation, you showcase a virtual reality experience. Within, the viewer gets to explore a ‘desert wasteland’ filled with your pieces. What was the premise behind creating this in virtual reality? Why a ‘wasteland’?

For me, this VR world took me several months to make. I created this virtual land to store my works. This is because most of my installation work is in this situation when they are not exhibited: after they have been ‘consumed’ in different exhibitions and art events, I have to dump most of my physical work. The materials and structure of my physical installation work will be dilapidated gradually through time. When they become too broken to show I have to dump them. New ones will be reproduced in the future when the work is required to be shown again. And finally at the end of time when we do not inhabit planet Earth, that is when all the artwork will end up piling up in a wasteland.

So my imagination about the future makes me cherish the moment, the present when they are still being shown and giving people unique experiences. Creating this virtual land for my artwork is like dragging my imaginations into reality and sharing with other people to experience and feel it together.

How does someone qualify to be an ‘unknown artist’ on your database?

The database of 10,000 unknown artists in this exhibition is quite raw, they haven’t been filtered enough. I don’t know almost all of the artists. They are not famous artists that you can find on popular art magazines, newspaper, art books or that you may have heard about in art news or art reviews. Well-known artists will not be qualified in my ‘Unknown Artists Agency’. If one artist becomes well known, I will take them off the database for sure.

I hear you are a certified hypnotist, how and why did you study hypnosis, and do you intentionally use such techniques in your work?

I decided to learn hypnosis at first because I have been very interested in lucid dreaming since I was a teenager. I used to attempt self-hypnosis so I could enter my lucid dreams. I have an art project called 8HZ Hypnosis Lab which is where I explore art, hypnosis and the alternative state of mind. I’ve used hypnosis techniques in some of my previous installations, but not particularly in this current show — except that the virtual reality world in the middle of ball pool is like teleporting visitors into a lucid dream of mine.

Pink seems to be your signature colour, why is that? What’s the meaning behind it?

Pink, or what I like to call rose colour or rose pink, is a mark I put only on my artwork and projects which are related to the art world and its system. For me I think this is the most suitable colour I feel for the art world. For me, the colour is quite charming, ambiguous, sexy and attractive at the same time, which matches the feeling of the art world. It also adds to the hypnotising effect, giving a sense of fervency within my works.

Evelyn Lok
Managing Editor
When not trying out the latest beauty and wellness trends, Evelyn is likely enjoying a perfectly balanced negroni or exploring some of Hong Kong's best new places to eat and drink. At Lifestyle Asia she covers everything from the biggest events in town to interviews with Hong Kong specialists, with topics spanning art, food and drink, health, tech, and travel.