The Little Death
November 12, 2023 - February 18, 2024
THE LITTLE DEATH
Rexy Tseng employs a combination of painting and installation to confront us with the failed state of technology – a world steeped in black humor, sexual tension, and the absurdity of contemporary existence. His practice addresses the inherent flaws of technology and the misguided notion of constant progress: our dependency on machinery has become a norm, the failure of which reveals the lurking danger that we are not untouchable. It shatters the assumption of a secure world, reminding us of our human weaknesses. The artist spoke of the COVID-19 pandemic as a poignant example, illustrating how we struggled to manage the outbreak even with advanced technology. In Tseng’s perspective, the crisis laid bare the stark inequalities in healthcare and labor distribution; technology has given rise to a technocratic state where a select few with wealth and access to advanced tools become new aristocrats, wielding disproportional power and control. For this exhibition, Tseng zooms in on the idea of la petite mort, or ‘the little death,’ a concept with multiple meanings ranging from the temporary loss of consciousness post-orgasm to the prefiguration of an unwanted future. The expression has also been diversely interpreted as a spiritual release, a moment of transcendence, and even the ultimate bliss of reading great literature. For his exhibition’s title, Tseng purposely uses the English translation in order to explore the interplay between academic connotations, contemporary usages, and his artistic reinterpretation. One of the paintings, based on a real photograph, depicts a pile of rotten fruits, leftovers from the supermarket. Drawing a connection to the memento mori (literally: “remember that you must die”) and the motif of the Seventeenth-Century Dutch still life, the artist presents the inevitability of mortality. As a capitalist society, we generate a significant amount of waste and contribute to considerable destruction. The rotten fruits serve as a reminder of our propensity to engage in controversial acts. Interestingly, the debris that remains as a testament to the dichotomy between our sanitized public persona and our complex private self can be utilized for introspection. Among Tseng’s paintings are also images of human forms that explore the intimate relations between sexuality and decay. Influenced by Francis Bacon’s portrayal of death and desire, the figures embody human yearning. Tseng discussed that the pursuit of excess desire invariably leads to degeneration: “You can’t have excess without desire overflowing. When you have more than you need, when you want more than you can have, decay is inevitable.” These paintings furthermore introduce a distortion. By intentionally muddying the surface, the artist blends representation and abstraction. Tseng sees our world as materialistic. Man is drawn to its shiny allure, so defacing this facade reveals both the ugliness and the truth of his existence. Tseng's work exudes a sense of disarray, hinting at a potential future – a post-apocalyptic state detached from past burdens and requiring re-examination. His art reflects the excess of modernity, the consequences of unchecked desires, and the relentless passage of time. Through still-life imagery and distorted representation, Tseng challenges us to confront quintessential imperfections of the human condition. Amidst the ruin and decay, a glimmer of optimism shines through, echoing our eternal yearning for a new beginning.
Rexy Tseng, born in 1986, is a significant contemporary artist, known for his paintings and installations. His works, marked by dark humor and poignant reflections on modern life, blend human figures with objects, highlighting tensions between sensation and reason. Tseng's art explores personal politics, technology's flaws, trauma, and emotional residues.
Tseng grew up in Taipei, moving to New York for higher education. He earned a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University in 2009 and pursued MFA courses at UCLA and Oxford, leaving both to forge his own path. Also a software engineer, Tseng worked in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.
His art, exhibited worldwide, has earned him accolades like the Allegro Prize and recognition from the Charlottenborg Foundation and Li Chun-Shan Foundation. Tseng has also participated in residencies at institutions like the Anderson Ranch Arts Center and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea.