HONG KONG — We’ve profiled the works of Hong Kong sculptor Johnson Tsang before. His sculptures, A Painful Pot and Who Did It? Again! are surreal political commentaries, often about the horrors of state-sponsored violence. I wonder whether Tsang gets any flack from the community because his works are so easily read. I hope not, because I think there’s value in stating a thing plainly. Additionally, Tsang makes his point with enough force that you can linger on it and see it fresh. War and state sponsored violence, as grotesque as they are, are always in danger of becoming abstractions as we continue with our daily lives. The people in charge certainly know this, which is why they restrict reporter access to areas of conflict and ban photographers from taking pictures of soldiers’ caskets returning to the country. If they think those are dangerous enough to keep out of public consumption, then that subject is certainly a worthy one for art.
Karma III — Battlefield wastes no time mincing words about its subject. We have an automatic rifle, some rifle rounds and grenades. They melt into chunks of flesh and viscera. Fingers protrude from the shell casings. In places (Tsang said some of these pieces took as long as 3 months to complete) we can see human faces in the gore. Tsang says the work expresses the idea that blood for blood intensifies the longer we engage in it. Who Did It? Again! can be read as an indictment against individual soldiers (a touchy argument, one that winds out into problems with compassion, class, and victims of wartime trauma), but with Karma Tsang points out there’s a victim on either side of the gun. In its simplicity Karma clears some of the fog away from our conversation about weapons: they’re not toys, they’re not fetishes, they don’t (ironically) guarantee your protection or your freedom or your rights. They are tools made for one purpose and one purpose only: death. They are inseparable from the carnage they cause, absent any spin you can put on them.
In an interview with The Creators Project, Tsang said he had the idea for the sculpture by researching the Iraq war.
“One picture spoke very loud to me; it was a father with tears in his eyes, holding a young girl (his daughter I suppose) with his both hands, but one of her legs was badly wounded—it was like the bloody flesh in Karma III—Battlefield. As a father myself, it broke my heart and I shed tears as well,” he tells The Creators Project. “The picture of the bloody scene and the weapon which caused this result kept knocking [on the door of my mind].”
Writing for Creators Project, Gabrielle Bruney points out that guns put the killer and their victims at a distance and that Tsang’s work shows that both the cause and the effect are unified. This goes back to what I was saying earlier about abstracting gun violence. The cliché tells us that an armed society is a polite society. Would we be even more polite if to kill another human being you had to get within arm’s reach of him and run him through with a sword? Do better weapons mean that we’re more cavalier about using them on people? Tsang may want to visit this idea again in the future, possibly with drone warfare as his subject.
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor at cfile.daily.
Do you love or loathe this work of contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.