Ming Fay: Jungle Tango

Jan Adlmann
09/01/2008

Oscar Wilde notoriously maintained that “the first duty in life is to be as artificial as possible,” and Chinese artist Ming Fay unquestionably pursues Wilde’s directive, fabricating entangling, teeming, madly exotic jungle environments out of the most mundane, flimsy materials like papier-mâché and wire, urethane foam, lurid, glistening paint.  Enveloping viewers in his looping lianas, bobbling strange fruits, and succulent seedpods, peeing incubi and succubi, and other unsettling fleurs du mal the artist has created various mock-organic ecosystems, expressionistic environments that emanate a feverish kind of coiled energy, “an edgy, Darwinian tension,” in the words of one critic, Jungle Tango embodies the “unchecked nature of the jungle [and] unrestrained places that can be beyond human control.”

 “My sculpture comments on the botanical world and its relationship to humans,” New York-based, Shanghai-born Fay says, “ranging from oversized plant forms to complex, overgrown environments reminiscent of science fiction films.”  “The garden that I have created is a mindset where I cultivate an imagined place for mystical forms to exist.”  This viewer felt, somewhat queasily, that Fay’s “imagined place” might be seen as an ever-so-slightly unhinged world of slithering life-forms run rampant, like extraterrestrial kudzu.  (The one element lacking was a soundtrack of uncanny birdcalls and ominous jungle rustlings. 

Given that we seem immersed, today, in a sea of things MADE IN CHINA, it is important to clarify that this calligraphic, floating forest of reeds, branches, and surreal species was MADE IN QUEENS, a commission for a vast, glassed-in atrium space in an office complex.  Jungle Tango, like earlier, similar works by this artist, is based on a conscious mingling of Asian and Western botanical, horticultural, anthropomorphic, and zoological phenomena that, for Fay, become metaphors for man, nature and nature in our hyper-cultivated, overheated—we’re speaking globally, here—interbred world of the twenty-first century.

Fay compares his work to that of botanists and scientists ransacking land and sea for specimens with which to conduct experiments in grafting, transplating, and crossbreeding—and more infernal practices.  For some, the ecosystems of Fay may prompt recollections of the similarly biomorphic, large-scaled, and enveloping sculptures of the prematurely deceased American artist, Nancy Graves.  She, too, enjoyed the study of nature and the multiplicity of its vegetation, and those elements, hybridized with other natural, or manmade found objects were the armatures for her complex bronze castings.  Fay elects to fabricate in more ephemeral media, but the two artists’ works—East meets West—have a common impulse: to generate novel, seductive forms.

It is quite possible that future, festive trips to the Farmers Market may never feel quite the same once you’ve had Ming Fay demonstrate for you the secret of life- now sprightly, now creepy-crawly—of fruits and veggies.