In 1973, following the death of his lover, Francis Bacon produced his most famous canvases “Black Triptych” depicting haunted imageries of the erratic and distorted George Dyer.  Damien Hirst, in order to challenge conservatism, put a dead tiger shark in formaldehyde in 1991.  The result led to a Turner Price and subsequently Hirst becoming the richest artist alive.  Whether it was the bleak chronicle of the human condition or a blatant demonstration of death without God, Bacon and Hirst confirmed that contemporary art need not resolve in jovial beauty alone. Questions must be asked about how we confront the dark side of our existence.

Angela Su’s new collection of drawings challenged our visual sensory on the pleasure of pain.  Stemmed from masochist theory, the collection included drawings of torture machines, apparatus, human flesh and organs.  All works are executed in monochromatic black ink and pastel on drafting film.  Su’s background in anatomical drawing gave her work a clinical feel.  Subjects were presented in topographical perspective so to resemble pages in ancient text book.  Some even contained an underlying layer of text.  Behind the façade of academicism, Su’s works drew on the idea of beauty and freedom of the soul.  The title of the exhibition, BwO, referred to Body without Organs, an idea introduced by Gilles Deleuze to describe a virtual body without stable structures – the so-called fluid substratum. This BwO was permeated by unformed, unstable matters, by flows in all directions, by free intensities or nomadic singularities, by mad or transitory particles.  In order to achieve this state of “dis-organization”, Su used the concept of torture and pain to disrupt our organic sensory, to dismantle establishment.  Her depictions of the body were without reserves.  Images included plenty of gore and flesh and gross dissections.  Su’s notion of pleasure in pain stemmed from her stunning visual juxtaposition of torture objects and human organs.  The contrast of imageries and connotations gave the works an elevated psychological intensity that challenged the audience’s sense of beauty, aesthetic standards and hidden desire.

The complexity of Angela Su’s work was testimony to the artist’s in-depth knowledge in human anatomy.  But everything else led to an elevated conceptual level.  In sociological context, BwO referred to a society without organization, a system without system.  Su’s imaginary act of torture found echoes in Octave Mirbeau’s novel “Torture Garden” where punishment through physical suffering was examined.  But perhaps what was most relevant to Su’s newest collections came from comparison with eastern philosophy, particular in Buddhism - the idea of desire was the root of suffering.  By covering the eyes, ears and mouth, one was removed from worldly desires and argument.  Through self torturing, the Buddhist monk starved himself in order to liberate the body to achieve nirvana.  It was arguably one of the earliest concepts of masochistic revelation.  The implications here were wide.  

Angela Su’s art always possessed this raw, dark power, an intense visceral energy that was transcending and compelling.  Her images were raw and as emotionally charged as Bacon’s while embodying the subversive nature of Hirst’s.  Their masochistic beauty forced us to rethink our own definition of aesthetic.  While some might consider these images social taboos, they could not avoid the temptation to peep or scrutinize.  Pleasure in pain alongside the beauty in gore or exhilaration in the haunted: that was what was inspiring to me, alongside the sheer bravery of confronting the dark side and the full force of the human psyche.

Henry Au-yeung
March 2011