On Thursday, May 3rd, Joy Wai Gallery held the first of its Carmina Figurata series, Vitrio by Saana Wang. The Helsinki-born photographer has traveled extensively in China since 2007, and her work reflects the sense of otherness associated with both experience abroad and self-expression altogether.

In a word, the Vitrio showcase is characterized by curiosity. The recently opened Joy Wai Gallery space on 18th street is basement-level, thus allowing a preliminary physical discovery of the space. Descending into the dark, well-heated gallery necessitates discerning the shadows and spatial quadrants, even before reflecting on the artwork. The exhibition series of Carmina Figurata qualifies this sense of physicality and questioning, seeking to convey the poetry of portraiture and conceptual art overall.

The exhibition is curated by Carmen Molina, a Colombian-born, Paris-educated fine art photographer. In her own artist’s statement online, she explains, “I am an ever changing soul, and as such, trying to represent myself can become as outdated as the news of yesterday. My quest is nothing else than a quest for truth, for truth is beauty and it keeps me in touch with all that which the present moment has to offer.”   The name Carmina Figurata stems from the Latin format of poetry in which patterns create independent phrases within the form. Both these concepts overlap in terms of constant regeneration of identity and message, just as Saana Wang seeks to accomplish in her own interpretations.

Continuing on the initial semantic course, Marketing Assistant Michoel Jones elaborated that the exhibition name Vitrio has no official meaning. Technically, the word is close to the spanish word vitrina, but was deliberately differentiated to indicate a lack of definition. Windows are reflective as much as they are transparent, suggesting the search for understanding in Wang’s exhibition, but the use of a non-existent word suggests that meaning should not be so easily decoded.

Instead, Saana Wang’s photography confirms the continued quest for identity in artistry, with phantasmagoric renderings of the figure through photography. Her work predominately features female heroines, with faces painted in the style of the traditional Peking Opera, with the pink painted faces and pronounced gestures looking at once emphatic and inscrutable. Instances of Wang’s own experience are evidenced, whether with in the literal adaptations of a blonde figure, or in the overall sense of wandering and uncertainty that reflect her own meandering and ultimately self-reflective journey. The images are intensely personal, dispelling stereotypical hype surrounding the mystique of Asia’s recent commercial boom. Instead, Wang works almost exclusively with film, choosing to rely on her own critical eye rather than digitization, which she feels can cloud observation with its possibility of constantly deleting and manipulating images onscreen. Wang experiments with both color and black and white film, slowly and carefully allowing the image to unfold.

Saana Wang is married to Steve Wang, a local Chinese man she met during one of her trips, who helped her coordinate and process some of her art abroad. She has been published in the Helsinki School Catalogues, and shown at North by New York, Scandinavia House, NYC, and the Helsinki and City Art Museum. In her current resident city of New York, Saana Wang’s work has shown at New York Public Library and the Aperture Foundation among others. Her work has been further recognized in France, Copenhagen, and Korea.

All images courtesy of Saana Wang.

Joy Wai Gallery
122 West 18th Street
May 3rd to June 4th

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  1. Tom says:

    I spent a lot of years in China during the early 90s, looking at Saana Wang’s work just brings back to China, it gives me a taste on past, present and the future.

  2. […] the theme of communicative self-expression that began in the gallery’s previous showcase of Carmina Figurata, in this instance shifting from a sense of otherness in travel to one in religion. Vives […]

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