Friday Dispatch 25 March 2022
Steph Huang: Everything and Nothing
The question of what is home, rather than where, is one that Steph Huang probes in her first solo exhibition. Home, belonging and identity, are concepts balanced with irony across the objects and the materials. A baguette on a plinth is the first object I look at. Almost anthropomorphous, its title, Enjoy your Meal, 2022, is an invitation to consume this work metaphorically and physically.
Out of Tune, 2022, is a small decorated wooden structure, a shrine or a house. The metronome, used to practice piano, stands as a reminder of the rigid education Huang received in Taiwan, where she was born and raised. In the East there are many sayings like a “harmonious family cultivates prosperity,” Huang tells me, but being trapped at home for an endless quarantine during the pandemic felt far from harmony or prosperity.
The repetitiveness, the slow yet loud tock of the metronome is here muted and trapped in the pastel-coloured decorations, which recall Taiwanese architecture from the 1950s and 1960s. Taiwan was colonised by the Dutch and Spanish, then by the Chinese Qing dynasty in the 17th century, the Japanese, and the US and the UK after the Second World War. These colonial relations gave way to the 1980s mandate “one country, two systems” under which Taiwan would be given significant autonomy, provided it accepted Chinese dominance.
The complex history of Taiwan touches the materials chosen for this exhibition in subtle ways. Subdued Sea, 2022, is a perspex sculpture hung at knee level, recalling the feeling of our footsteps when entering the sea. Huang has stood on the shores of Taiwan and the coasts of the UK. Shores, horizons, possibilities and changes are amongst the thresholds suggested in Subdued Sea. Natural materials are part of other sculptures: the pampas and the bamboo leaves connecting the two countries again. Pampas is made of two large leaves that hang from the column directly onto the floor, almost sweeping it, losing their usual verticality to gravity. These are very common plants found along the British seaside. They are brilliantly situated in visual dialogue with another work at the back of the gallery, Forest, 2022, where bamboo leaves come out of a cage, rhythmically and orderly, contrary to the usual chaos of nature. The bamboo comes directly from Taiwan, as it is one of the most familiar plants there. It grows very quickly and anywhere. Its ability to adapt seems to contrast with the time that it takes for someone to feel at home in a foreign land.
Huang recently graduated from the RCA and has lived in the UK for the past ten years. For Huang, “being a Taiwanese does inform everything I make, everything I am.” One of the first times we met they were cooking a complex Taiwanese dish and explaining how the different flavours connected to identity. Home seems to be a lingering and changeable connection, something we may lose as we acquire a new place to be. The ability that Huang shows here is to balance these things carefully, responding to the idea that who you are can be pieced together not just by where you are but how you got there.
Ilaria Puri Purini
mother’s tankstation, 58 – 64 Three Colts Lane, Bethnal Green, London E2 6GP.
Open Thursday – Saturday, 12 noon – 6pm.
Exhibition open until 9 April.