To enter Hao Ni’s exhibition Ghost Hit Wall, currently on view at Yellow Peril Gallery in Providence, Rhode Island, is to step into a space where the familiar becomes strange and the strange becomes eerily, disconcertingly familiar. Bracingly present yet vaguely surreal, the works—ranging from painting and sculpture to video and mixed-media installation—are installed as a cohesive whole. Yet, as this incisive exhibition makes clear, cohesion often masks a deep, disquieting sense of disjunction.
Both across and within Ni’s works, past and present, finitude and immortality collide and collude; material accretions invoke layers of time, and perceptions of physical wholeness and visual cohesion shift and splinter. In the work Cig Tower (2015), one encounters a single, sculpted form that quickly dissolves into constituent parts: cigarettes, ashtrays, acrylic paint, wood. As the viewer visually deconstructs the piece, the original function of any given element—its once-defining feature, its essential raison d’être—is displaced by connotations and associations, and material meaning yields to an ambiguous being-ness.
The title Ghost Hit Wall is derived from a Mandarin Chinese expression for getting lost, and to walk among the works on view is to feel increasingly adrift within the confines of a fragmented, digressive story. One is in the midst of—what? A scene, a site, perhaps, of some happening whose precise nature is unknowable yet vaguely otherworldly and decidedly dark. Thus, in a corner of the first room, we encounter the work Njoy the Patron Saint of E Cigarettes (2015). Faceless, shapeless, and seated on a wooden chair, this foreboding figure is essentially a cascade of black fabric, its “head” wearing a crown of faux electronic cigarettes. To its left are installed two BMW E90 headlights, whose beams illuminate wafting clouds of smoke.