Part of Grey Projects’ Young Curator’s Programme, Mechanical Arm is an exhibition by Yang Jie, curated by Justin Loke.
Mechanical Arm is a large-scale installation of hybrid instruments and objects. Through this exhibition, Yang Jie investigates the mechanization of human gesture and mannerism in society, extending his research to certain aspects of writing, discipline and torture.
Mechanical Arm is the first exhibition of our Young Curators Programme series.
On how a sentence is written, or the Mechanical Arm of Yang Jie
This work started off as an investigation on the mechanization of human gestures. Yang researches on machines which imprint and govern the mannerisms and habits of our civilized society.
Often, the instruments of torture are also spectacular apparatus used to correct individuals, to discipline and punish. The similar effect between branding of criminals and caning of a child is not coincidental. By leaving the marks on the skin, the punishment as a spectacle for others is also a mutilative reminder for the condemned. Other mechanisms of control are less visible but more subliminal. A writing chair with hard, straight back for students learning to write corrects the bad posture before the illegible writing, or scribble, is refined or corrected.
In ancient China, before the use of paper, knife is used to scrape away and amend mistakes written on the bamboo slips by those who were authorised to. The development of writing instruments, from knife to pen to keyboard, the shift of writing materials from skin to bamboo, and papyrus to paper and electronic tablets, would indicate how individual handwriting is diminished and displaced. One no longer has to endure the tedium of learning to write properly, a neat and tidy text could be produced by other means.
For Yang, it is less about homogeneity and the eclipse of subjectivity, but more on subjection and subjugation. The writing, or marking, tools as an extension of our body, and ideas, promise to enable one to understand and manipulate the world. But yet, most of us are being manipulated by the world with the help of these tools. Some people learnt to rule, but most of us learnt to be ruled.
Carving, writing, typing seems to be confused with staining, scarring, branding. But he is clear that the markings left on skin or paper are often considered an aesthetic practice – nonetheless an act of violation, if not violence, that at certain point produces pleasure.
The work is not about the result or effect of the gesture, as in the case of Cy Twombly’s images. It is not even about the penetrative process. It is about the apparatus which could be as heavy as an industrial machine or as fine as an invisible needle that produces, or aids with the production of the these gestures.
The relationship between the typewriter and the branding iron is the relation between aesthetic and judiciary practices, of writing and production of both Art and Law. The converging point could be found, for instance, in the machine of Franz Kafka’s ‘In the Penal Colony’. In this short story, the instrument of castigation is also the writing instrument. The condemned is executed by sentences carved on the skin – once again, the blood return as ink. Justin Loke September 2013
Yang Jie is interested in the way things are put together: furniture, objects, stories and ideas. Drawing on his engineering background, his work consists mainly of objects of monumental size, if not ambition. His projects include, the large scale installation ‘Can I lend you my Umbrella?’ (2011) a collaboration with video and performance artist, Ezzam Rahman; Postcards from Earth (2011), with the Black Baroque Committee at The Objectifs, Singapore. Working in a collective format, he produced the installation Reading Room, at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Gallery 1 & 2. This collective also undertook the conceptualization and creation of the Excellence Sculptural Installation at the Youth Olympics Village for the Singapore Youth Olympic Games 2010.
Justin Loke is a member of the art collective vertical submarine. In 2007, he was selected, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, as the Singaporean representative to the Global Youth Exchange: Youth Visual Culturein Tokyo and Kyoto. Together with the art collective, he received the Credit Suisse Art Residency Award, the grand prize of President’s Young Talents 2009 organised by the Istana and Singapore Art Museum, and Celeste Prize 2011 (New York).Justin Loke is also the recipient of Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) Singapore Foundation Arts Award 2009. Currently, he is one of the Associate Directors of TheatreWorks (Singapore), part of the Associate Artist Research Programme at The Substation.