Inner Mongolia, China, 1984
What we perceive as real, the psychological nature of how we engage with objects and material, are running threads throughout the works of Nabuqi (b. 1984 Inner Mongolia, lives Beijing). Ranging from handmade sculptures to installations made from assembling readymades, there is a pull for the viewer to engage with detail and context, to be attuned to and reflect upon the spectrum between artificial and actual. As such, Nabuqi creates realms that prompt our understanding of the world around us and engage us in a play of spatial politics.
A core notion permeating Nabuqi’s work is that of ‘presence’ as developed by Martin Heidegger in his writings about phenomenology, understood as the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. In Being and Time (1927; transl. 1962), Heidegger argues that the concept of time prevalent in all Western thought has largely remained unchanged since the definition offered by Aristotle in the Physics. Central to Heidegger’s own philosophical project is the attempt to gain a more authentic understanding of time, considering time to be the unity of three ecstases: the past, the present, and the future. The ‘presence’ to which Heidegger refers is thus both a presence as in a “now” and also a presence as in an eternal present, as one might associate with God or the “eternal” laws of science.
‘Do real things happen in moments of rationality?’ (2018) points most directly to this key tenet and consideration. First exhibited in Shanghai and then at the Venice Biennale 2019, the installation is composed of a green tarp and idyllic black-patches-on-white cow sculpture on rails, rotating amid a fictitious landscape of pastures and blue skies printed on cloth. There is, on the one hand, a sense of acknowledgement for what the objects and assemblage are, but there is equally a trigger about what they’ve been and will be. This form of sliding visual interference raises a sense of deja-vu. While we nod and recognise the scene we’re also baffled upon closer inspection by its incredulity.
A similar dichotomy of experience is elicited by the work ‘Destination’ (2018), also presented at the Venice Biennale 2019. A white beach billboard is perched at an angle, reminiscent of those luring images selling an idyllic beach holiday. Jutting through the scene, however, is a palm, integrating itself within the landscape by association but breaking it by disturbing the fields of sight. Upon closer inspection, the palm is part of a cluster of further plants, hidden beneath the billboard and behind it, as if backstage members of a visual theatre, one of whom has broken through the public facade. There is a sense of association but also farce, a feel of being in competition with reality. It also points more strikingly to Nabuqi’s play with nature, actual or man-made, it’s incorporation into her installations and dialogue.
In addition to a running interest in flora, Nabuqi addresses our notions of habitat. ‘At dusk after the rain… setting sunlight… where light spots in all sizes…… fade,……washing out… and winding towards…… the end, as a sharphonking is heard… disappear’ (2017) is the constructed interior of a home, arranging various layers of space on an abstract level. In a corner, a cube of plants is encircled by a curtain with a white light shining from within. Suddenly turning off and on, the white light draws focus to the space within a space and adds an element of theatricality, one that is heightened by the original lyricism of the work’s title. Emphasising the interest habitat is ‘How to Be “Good Life”’ (2019), an assemblage of household objects from lamps to a chair, carpets and bowls. As if popped out of a catalogue, each object is nothing more than itself, but composed as a whole, points to an alter mode of potential living.
Ultimately, Nabuqi plays with the optics and spectrum of observation, the programming that we accept and also question. Through addressing the familiar – nature, domesticity – the viewer is more deeply engaged in considering ‘presence’, how one perceives what is in front of them at present, what it was before and will be in the future. Nabuqi’s elaborate installations thus point to our epistemological idiosyncrasies and prompt, with wit and theatricality, a reflection on our constructed norms.
Nabuqi graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2013, and currently lives and works in Beijing. Her recent exhibitions include the 58th Venice Biennale (Venice, 2019); Cold Nights (UCCA Art Centre, 2017); Absent Paragraph (Museum Beelden aan Zee, 2017); Any Ball (Central Academy of Fine Arts, 2017), The 11th Shanghai Biennale (2016) and The 10th Gwangju Biennale (2016). She was nominated for the 2016 Art Sanya Huayu Youth Award.