Some scientific studies suggest the existence of an invisible energy that an observer unconsciously emanates through the act of staring. This energy, “the ghostly feeling of being looked at”—as Dominique Fung describes it—reinforces the idea that looking at someone or something is not a passive exercise. It can physically and emotionally alter the subject being observed.
In Dominique Fung’s exhibition at Jeffrey Deitch, a series of sumptuous birdcages hang from the gallery’s ceiling, inviting viewers to peer through and observe their ceramic inhabitants. Inspired by the tradition of taking songbirds for “walks” in parks in Hong Kong, these works stem from the artist’s interest in the act of staring and our shifting perception of subjects and objects.
Fung’s work is fueled by Asian American critical feminism. She is interested in theorist Anne Anlin Cheng’s analysis of the figuration of the Yellow woman, regularly sexualized, spectacularized, rendered synthetic and ornamental. Like Cheng’s research, Fung’s paintings and sculptures address the crisis of persons taken for things, while things have acquired aliveness and agency from the bodies they evoke.
Engaging with this history of fetishism for bodies and objects saturated with colonial and imperial history, Fung acquired these antique-looking birdcages from estate sales and online auctions in the US and modeled anthropomorphized objects to populate them. The artist sees her works as a collaboration with the anonymous artisans who crafted the birdcages. These objects’ unknown provenances echo the lack of specific information that often accompanies Asian artifacts displayed in international museums.
An archaeologist of images, Fung excavates objects from auction catalogs, museum collections, and personal and ancestral memories, bringing a new, contemporary light to their material and aesthetic meaning. “My painting practice is a bricolage of ancestral memory, history, artifacts, stories, painting history, fragmenting, assembling, disassembling, and the repurposing of ideas,” the artist remarks. In Fung’s new paintings and sculptures on view at Jeffrey Deitch, references to the Dunhuang frescoes and displaced objects from The Metropolitan Museum’s collection coalesce in eerie scenes with allegorical depth.
Playing with gravity, perspective, and distortions, Fung’s paintings and sculptures engage with Surrealism—a historical movement that emerged during times of oppression and fascism echoed in today’s polarized political landscape. She appreciates both the liberation of imagination of the male artists of the movement and the grounded existential emotional intelligence of female artists such as Frida Kahlo and Dorothea Tanning. Her paintings seek to reconcile these two approaches.