DauLang is delighted to present NH: Beneath the Commune, the first exhibition by Tai Shani in South Korea, and the inaugural show at DauLang’s Yongsan space. Tai Shani (born 1976 in London) is a Turner Prize-winning, London-based artist who works across a variety of media, bringing together writing, sculpture, installation, performance, photography, painting, and film. Highly literary, Shani’s practice draws from classical mythology, esotericism, and the feminist science fiction of authors such as Octavia E. Butler and Marge Piercy to create intricate narrative worlds that seek, in the words of the writer Bridget Crone, ‘to expand the bounds of the feminine’. In her texts, and in the visual and performance work that derives from them, Shani draws the reader/viewer into imaginative worlds of eroticism and violence that deterritorialize bodies and destabilise genders to imagine pre-patriarchal pasts and post-patriarchal futures.
NH: Beneath the Commune is centred upon new and recent works from Shani’s ongoing project The Neon Hieroglyph, begun in 2019. The project draws from aspects of the artist’s own early experience in communes in Goa, where hallucinogens – LSD, mushrooms, and mescaline – were a regular feature of life. Departing from but also extending the feminist and communist concerns of her earlier series, DC: Productions (2014–19), the poetic and other-worldly text that orients The Neon Hieroglyph (forthcoming in August 2022 with Strange Attractor/MIT Press) constructs what the artist describes as a ‘feminized history of the rye fungus Ergot’, the chemical basis of LSD. In turn, the painterly, sculptural, filmic and performance manifestations of the project together conjure a psychedelic and surreal world of gothic apparitions and hallucinatory phantasms, a fantastical space bridging and transfiguring the primeval and the futural.
At the heart of The Neon Hieroglyph is a complex meditation on the possibilities of communality and collectivity that might be enabled through psychedelic experience. As Shani has recently observed:
‘… there are incredibly powerful experiences of connectivity that take place after consuming psychedelics, that also happen in less intense ways during everyday life – moments of intensity whereby subjectivity is suspended […] There’s an idea of solidarity that can extend from this, not just within our time, but also into the past and in the future’.
These notions are principally explored in NH: Beneath the Commune in a series of watercolours and prints, as well as in Shani’s 2021 digital film, The Neon Hieroglyph. Shown alongside these latest works are sculptures from Shani’s virtual reality play and installation, Tragodía, staged at Dublin’s Temple Bar Gallery + Studios in 2019–20. Situating the new works in relation to objects drawn from these adjacent projects provides an opportunity to map correspondences and enduring motifs across Shani’s practice of the past several years, from the persistence of candy-coloured hues – pinks, blues, greens and oranges – to the recurrent, startling confrontation between sharp geometrical structures redolent of pre-modern ritualistic architectures and a more corporal and carnal repertoire of visceral, fleshly forms: hands, fingers, faces and snakes as well as an array of ambiguous organic entities.
The Neon Hieroglyph extends across multiple exhibitions and performances, and is Tai Shani’s second long-term project. It follows her earlier series, DC: Productions, which oriented her practice for a five-year period between 2014 and 2019. Based around an imagined ‘post-patriarchal city’, this extensive textual, visual and performance project was a loose, expanded reimagining of the Venetian-born author Christine De Pizan’s 1405 text The Book of the City of Ladies, a classic of medieval European literature whose defiant defence of women’s achievements through time anticipated modern feminism. Pizan’s text elaborates an allegorical city populated by women drawn liberally from history and mythology. Shani’s city, in turn, exists through time yet is spatially ambiguous, unfolding as a series of linked performances, videos and gallery installations at venues over a period of five years, culminating in DC: Semiramis, a multipart performance and installation work staged at The Tetley, Leeds and Tramway, Glasgow (as part of the Glasgow International festival) in 2018, and at her Turner Prize presentation at Turner Contemporary, Margate, in 2019. DC: Semiramis is the composite fiction of twelve characters drawn from numerous sources who are themselves ‘conflations of myth and history’, whose monologues have been performed by actors in successive iterations of the project, before being gathered as the twelve chapters of the 2019 book Our Fatal Magic.
Accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring essays by writers Emily LaBarge and Maxi Wallenhorst, NH: Beneath the Commune by Tai Shani is the first exhibition at DauLang, a gallery committed to presenting to a South Korean audience the work of rising and mid-career artists based in Europe and North America, whose practices are critically rigorous and timely. DauLang publishes artist books and catalogues and forges new networks between institutions in Seoul and international artists, audiences and collectors.