Passing the qi under a green painted ceiling

Updated: 2013-11-28 11:02

By Kelly Chung Dawson in New York (China Daily USA)

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Passing the <EM>qi</EM> under a green painted ceiling

When curators Kit Yi Wong and Prem Krishnamurthy were preparing to set up their new show at P! art gallery on New York's Lower East Side, the feng shui master they hired to supervise the installation looked around the small space and said, "The ceiling should be green."

In keeping with the spirit of the project, they had no choice: They painted the ceiling green and used the phrase as the title of the show, currently on display through Dec 22.

Featuring sculptures and photographs by nine artists including Rico Gatson, Tony Lobat, Ohad Meromi, Wen Yau and Shana Moulton, the exhibition was curated under the direction of Ye Lei Ming, a feng shuiexpert Wong had used in previous art projects. Ye, who has provided consultation services on Mott Street in Manhattan's Chinatown for 16 years, chose the artists based on their birth dates, and dictated the placement of their work in the art space. The result is a unique layout that follows a set of rules pre-ordained by a philosophical system thousands of years old.

"This is not the way one usually curates a show and we had no idea what might happen," Krishnamurthy said. "We had very little control, and there was something liberating about the idea that these rules already existed. Curators, architects and interior designers are often viewed as authorities, but those systems are culturally coded. Certain ways of curating are considered legitimate and others suspect; this was a chance to try something truly different."

Wong, who originated the idea for the show, has long relied on feng shui in her own life, she said. Her family relies on the tradition in their business of developing small-scale real estate in Hong Kong, in hopes of bringing good luck to both themselves and their tenants. In graduate school Ye advised Wong that red was a lucky color for her; she later commissioned a red neon sign for the window her studio advertising a non-existent restaurant, "Kit Yi's Authentic Chinese Food."

"I have always found the mysterious power of belief to be alluring and comforting," Wong said. "I am conditioned to accept fate calculations that have no testable explanations.

Although the individual works do not all revolve around feng shui or spirituality, the intention of the exhibition was to present the works in a way that might maximize feng shui, she said.

Also on display in the gallery is Wong's short film documenting various interactions between herself, Krishnamurthy and Ye. The working dynamic was challenging but fun, Krishnamurthy said. As curators, they were forced to consider solutions they might not have in a different context, he said.

Ye had warned the curators that one artist,Ohad Meromi, might be "difficult" as a result of calculations done by birth date, Krishnamurthy recounted. When Meromi asked to include a large-scale installation that was truthfully too large for the small space, they initially asked him to scale down his work. But in discussions about the exhibition, Wong and Krishnamurthy recalled Ye's prediction and made the decision to tackle the more difficult challenge of fitting Meromi's work in the space. As a result, the space flows differently, Krishnamurthy said.

The rules forced the curators to think more creatively, Wong said. The objective in feng shui is to circulate "qi," to prevent stagnancy.


(China Daily USA 11/28/2013 page2)