Grass Drama. Julian Yi-Zhong Hou
The Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver
July 24, 2020 – January 03, 2021
The Contemporary Art Gallery presents Grass Drama, the first solo exhibition in a major public gallery by Vancouver-based artist Julian Yi-Jong Hou. Incorporating textiles, sound, performance, spoken word, drawing and sculpture, Hou’s practice is expansive and roving. He draws from a rich field of influences, including contemporary psychedelia, diverse spiritual traditions, magic and sacred geometry, various musical and architectural vernaculars, smartphone ergonomics, Orientalist motifs, as well as deep memories (and misrememberings) from his own diasporic childhood. These seemingly disparate points of reference are wound together to create visual, sonic and spatial environments and experiences.
Grass Drama manifests as a vinyl record, a one-night performance and an accompanying suite of printed patterns hung in the street-level windows that wrap the Contemporary Art Gallery’s façade. Hou developed this project over a two-year period, guided by a process of sensitivity training involving divination, hypnagogic practices and expanded states of consciousness, which took place alongside (and within) the slow construction of the artist’s backyard studio-shed and garden. The length of time is significant, Hou suggests, because it echoes the time required for many rhizomatic plants, such as hops or ginger, to mature and bear fruit. The project’s narrative structure – and the accompanying suite of digitally rendered patterns in CAG’s windows – was informed by a seven-day Thoth Tarot card reading that prophesied for Hou the experience of the artwork’s own making. The origin of Tarot cards and their link to Chinese playing cards is a compelling point for Hou, whose own family history has roots in Zen Buddhism. With Grass Drama, he sought to draw a connection between the different spiritual histories and trajectories of Buddhism and Hermetic Thelemism.
Grass Drama also experiments with the recorded album as an art form, with the possibility of pattern as metaphor for narrative mode, and with the evocation of affective states through the experience of performance. The album – to be launched come September – is ambient, floating and hypnotic, evoking west coast rain showers, lapping waves and wind rustling through bamboo groves. The printed patterns hanging in CAG’s window act as metaphors for patterns of thinking, internal structures that diagram distorted forms of continuity and repetition. The externalization of these forms into paper scrolls suggests the projection of interior states into decorative exteriors. At once speculative and cyclical, evocative of something known but forgotten long ago, Hou’s thought-forms and sounds ask those who experience them to discard conventional, waking logic and to allow affinities between unlikely things to find one another.
Julian Yi-Jong Hou was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Treaty 6 territory, and currently lives in Vancouver, on the land of the Coast Salish peoples-Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwəta?/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations. His work has been the focus of solo and group exhibitions at Soon.tw, Toronto; 8-eleven, Toronto; Artspeak, Vancouver; and the Vancouver Art Gallery. His most recent work, Grass Drama, has been shown in parts at Cassandra Cassandra, Toronto (2019); Unit 17, Vancouver (2018); and in Charcuterie 4 (2018), and is a spin-off of an ongoing collaborative work with Tiziana La Melia titled Cloudcuckooville. Further parts will be exhibited this year at Malaspina Printmakers, Vancouver. Hou holds a Bachelor of Arts in Arts and Cultural Studies from Simon Fraser University and a Masters in Architecture from the University of British Columbia. He has held residencies at Triangle, Marseilles; Western Front and 221AVancouver, and in 2017 won the City of Vancouver’s Mayor’s Award for Emerging Visual Artist. He is one of the founding members of Second Spring, a co-operative record label.