Postcards...from the Museum of Gas
May 8 – June 7, 2015
“According to a nineteenth century gazette the Chinese doctor Lin Hauilan successfully treated a Vietnamese prince in 1581. At a banquet in his honor he was served sweet potatoes. Vietnam had banned exporting the tuber to China “on penalty of death,” the gazetteer recounted, but Lin decided to take some anyway. While crossing the border, he was questioned by a [Vietnamese] border official. Lin answered truthfully, and requested that the officer let him through. The officer said: "As for what happens today, being a servant of the country, it would be disloyal of me to let you pass; however, being grateful for your virtues, to deny you would be unrighteous." Then he drowned himself. Lin returned, and the tuber spread across Guangdong.” – Charles Mann, 1493
This suspension of the rule of law and the smuggling of the sweet potato is said to have marked a key shift in the development of a globalized world. The sweet potato adjusted China’s farming infrastructure and developed new ways to cultivate land for more diverse crops thus expanding the annual yield. This industrialization directly combated famine, a particularly dire concern with the rapid increase of population.
Mann uses this seemingly outlandish story to describe how China was able to break out of the Malthusian Trap; a political theory developed by Thomas Malthus that says technological advances mainly resulted in more people and not in the adaptation of infrastructure to improve living standards.
Postcards...from the Museum of Gas uses this story and the structural framework set up by Mann as its starting point. In the upper gallery Lux is creating an immersive setting that tells this story in a linear narrative through a series of paintings. In the lower gallery Lux will contrast this by creating more abstract and deconstructed representations. It is a bizzaro rendition of the potential Chinese fields, somehow growing disfigured glowing sculptures that are represented in situ with accompanying digital prints.
Our reality is grounded more in representations, by way of rhetoric of progress and technological advancement than in the more pressing and inherently ugly material traces pointing to the possibility of environmental exhaustion. Are we falling into the trap China seemed to escape? While it seems impossible to fathom death as an appropriate response to the transference of potatoes, it may also seem impossible to imagine the brutality of our own time and potential future.
Chris Lux (b. 1980, San Francisco) lives and works in San Francisco, and studied at the Art Institute of San Francisco. Recent Exhibitions include Jupiter Woods (London), Stussy (Tokyo), Oakland Museum (Oakland), Muddguts (New York), Popular Workshop (San Francisco) and Jancar Jones (Los Angeles). This will be his second solo show in New York.