David Zink Yi contemplates darkness and life

A giant squid has taken over the center of the floor at Midway Contemporary Art. Modeled after the Architeuthis, a deep-sea-dwelling squid that up until a few years ago had never been encountered alive, it lies in a pool of ink and corn syrup. The sculpture is ceramic, coated with copper and lead. It is a gruesome image, particularly in contrast to the hipsters who casually sipped on wine and made conversation around the sculpture at Saturday's opening of David Zink Yi's "Horror Vacui" exhibition in the gallery.  

The Berlin-based artist has been working for the past few years in ceramics to create sculptures inspired by the Architeuthis. His program notes state that we only understand the creature "through knowledge of its surface, a body without depth or animus." The sculpture is certainly awe-inspiring, and seems out of place within the context of a gallery setting. It is the elephant in the room, so to speak; the massive darkness and despair that exists in each of us, in the world as a whole, that we do not speak about.  

Located on the walls surrounding the Architeuthis are three large photographs of a cedar tree at night. The color images are mostly black--they look abstract because you almost can't tell what the subject is--and are more about a texture or a feeling. The three photographs act as a kind of frame to the central sculpture, and also as a thematic counterpart. Yi's use of darkness, in combination with living subject matter, unearths a feeling of gnawing anxiety and brooding, yet, at the same time, vitality grown from nature.  

Finally, in the back room of Midway is Horror Vacui, a two-channel video installation which juxtaposes footage of De Adentro y Afuera (the artist's Cuban band) rehearsing to the sounds and images of groups performing the Cajon, Tambor Batá, and Wiro Afro-Cuban rituals that originated from the Palo Monte and Yoruba religions. The documentary was filmed in Havana in 2006, the culmination of a five-year collaborative relationship between the artist and the band, which he co-founded.  

Yi's documentary doesn't have a narrative structure, but is rather a collection of excerpts from the different performers rehearsing, playing, and using their whole bodies to create the music. Unlike the sculpture of the squid in the other room, the documentary embraces life and depicts a feeling of happiness. Still, there are similarities. The pieces in main gallery and Horror Vacui draw from the most organic elements of life. The rhythm, music, and breath depicted in the video installation draws from a very deep, grounded sense of spirit, much as the photographs and sculpture evoke carnal dimensions. As a whole, the exhibition can be seen as a celebration, an embrace of what is most human about us.

"Horror Vacui" is on display through March 19.

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