February 15 – March 31, 2023
Opening ceremony on February 25, 2023 from 4:30 – 6:30 PM PST
January 26, 2023 (Palo Alto, CA) - Qualia Contemporary Art is pleased to announce Wunderblock, a two-person exhibition featuring the work of Bay Area artists, Stella Zhang and Paul DeMarinis. The exhibition focuses on memory, with each artist’s interpretations and reflections upon the concept exemplified in the curated selection of works, encompassing 16 new and recent works by Zhang, and three works by DeMarinis. Multiple dimensions of memory are explored in the artists’ distinctive practices – personal and familial, public and historical, spiritual and subconscious. Throughout, the fragility and mystery of memories and their making serve as creative fodder for Zhang and DeMarinis, while the process of art-making itself becomes an exercise in remembering. Wunderblock will be open from February 15 – March 31, 2023, with an opening celebration hosted on February 25th from 4:30–6:30 PM PDT.
The exhibition’s title refers to the classic “Wunderblock” toy used by Sigmund Freud to demonstrate the psychoanalytic theory of latent memory (“Notiz Über den ‘Wunderblock’ (‘A Note Upon the Mystic Writing Pad’)”), in which traces of unconscious memories reemerge in consciousness. Both Zhang and DeMarinis grapple with elusive memories held just beneath the surface, evading one’s ability to access them. The artists revisit and engage with the past from the perspectives of others, and from their own long-forgotten experiences. For Zhang, her mother’s stories, shared over cups of tea, stir up memories – shared, recounted, and imagined; Zhang’s mother now lives with the artist in California after about 30 years of living apart from each other. Reconnecting after this long period of time has become an integral part of Zhang’s daily life at home and in the studio. For DeMarinis, the unexpected discovery of a 50-year-old 16mm film reel, shot by the artist while visiting his father in Japan, prompted him to descend into the murky and emotionally-charged depths of distant memory. The artist’s anachronistic journey coalesced into a film collage work entitled Memories for Japan (2023), on view in the exhibition alongside another video piece by DeMarinis, Tunnel of Love (2013).
Zhang’s mixed media works are created using earthen materials, natural pigments, fabric, and rice paper, along with a combination of found, collected, and treasured items from the artist’s life. Warm-toned, loose pigments are adhered to each assemblage, resembling dust – an aesthetic and conceptual rock of Zhang’s practice that signifies the organic cycles of life. Informed by the concept of “wabi-sabi” and her experience living in Japan for 13 years, Zhang relishes the imperfections in both the natural world and her work, always leaving evidence of her hand to connect with viewers. Layers upon layers of fabric and rice paper, at times totaling between 20 and 30 strata, resemble the chaos and complexity of memory and its manipulation over time. Myriad objects, from seashells to used tea bags, anchor Zhang’s abstract depictions of the psyche in the concrete ephemera that scaffold her recollections.
In DeMarinis’ practice, the artist’s own memories dovetail with the evolving media of 19th and 20th-century recording technologies. As new mechanisms for capturing and replaying audiovisual material have become embedded in our collective cultural unconscious, the relationships between memory, its anticipation, and performance, have grown increasingly intertwined. Groovular Synthesis (2019) exemplifies this ambiguity, in which “grooves” are the foundational structure for recording and storing information, whether in the grooves and folds of the human brain (gyri and sulci), or the grooves of a vinyl record. Edison’s first grooved invention, the wax cylinder, inspired DeMarinis to explore the effects of mechanical constraint – both physically-imposed and artistically-applied – on the translation from one medium to another, and in conjunction, between different forms of sensory information and experience. DeMarinis wrote an OuLiPo-style poem restricted to the letters “T-A-E-D-I-S-O-N”, and engraved it upon the surfaces of seven brown wax cylinders in Morse-code, and one black wax cylinder in English letters. The installation of the cylinders, with a synchronized video scanning of the central, letter-inscribed cylinder flanked by two laser scanners with Morse-code cylinders, presents what DeMarinis describes as an “overall sound...of focused recitation within a crisis of machine-mediated noises.” The work is a literal and metaphorical synthesis of signifier and signified, complicating the notion of memory in the age of mechanical reproduction.
Wunderblock brings together two artists’ experimental approaches to memory in equally experimental media. From Zhang’s beguiling two-dimensional and sculptural works, to DeMarinis’s audio-visual collages and machinations, the exhibition encourages viewers to consider their own perceptions of the past in new and unexpected ways.
About Stella Zhang
Stella Zhang was born in Beijing, China. She received her BFA at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing in 1989. She continued her studies in Japan at Tama Art University, and then at Tokyo Art University, earning her MFA in 1996. She has been living in the United States since 2003.
Zhang’s art expresses hidden conflicts that challenge our ability to connect to our shared struggles with power, inequality, and identity. Her starting point is the human body and all aspects of human nature — the most basic truths. She chooses familiar and ordinary materials that activate our memories and connect us with universal fears and desires. Zhang’s work subtly engages viewers, stimulates conversation, and challenges us to question the boundaries and rules we accept.
The artist’s work has been exhibited in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and the United States; and is in the collections of the National Art Museum of China, in Beijing; The Xinxiang Museum, Henan, China; Tan Shin Fine Arts Museum, Tokyo, Japan; and numerous public and private collections. Seven monographs have been published about her works, and she has received many awards. Zhang has been an Artist-in Residence at Stanford University and is a guest lecturer at Stanford and UC Berkeley. She continues to teach at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.
About Paul DeMarinis
Paul DeMarinis has been working as an electronic media artist since 1971 and has created numerous performance works, sound and computer installations, and interactive electronic inventions. One of the first artists to use computers in performance, he has performed internationally, at The Kitchen, Festival d'Automne à Paris, Het Apollohuis in Holland, and at Ars Electronica in Linz, and created music for Merce Cunningham Dance Co. His interactive audio artworks have been exhibited at the I.C.C. in Tokyo, Bravin Post Lee Gallery in New York, The Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, and the 2006 Shanghai Biennale. He has received major awards and fellowships in both Visual Arts and Music from The National Endowment for the Arts, N.Y.F.A., N.Y.S.C.A., the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and was awarded the Golden Nica for Interactive Art at Ars Electronica in 2006.
Much of his recent work deals with the areas of overlap between human communication and technology. Major installations include "The Edison Effect" which uses optics and computers to make new sounds by scanning ancient phonograph records with lasers, "Gray Matter" which uses the interaction of flesh and electricity to make music, "The Messenger" which examines the myths of electricity in communication, and recent works such as "RainDance" and "Firebirds" which use fire and water to create the sounds of music and language. Public artworks include large-scale interactive installations at Park Tower Hall in Tokyo, at the Olympics in Atlanta and at Expo in Lisbon, and an interactive audio environment at the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport. He has been an Artist-in-Residence at The Exploratorium and at Xerox PARC, and is currently a Professor of Art at Stanford University in California.
Wax Cylinders, Motors, Electronics, Sound, Video
4 x 6 in
Tunnel of Love
Video, Sound, Cathode Ray Display
Memories for Japan
Archival Footage, Video, Sound
3 x 2 x 5 in
Ditties and Odes on T.A. EDISON
Box set: Wax Cylinders, Booklet, Edition of 7
8 x 4 x 7 in
73 x 61 x 3 in
48 x 90 in
Above the dust
48 x 60 x 4 in
30 x 98 in
48 x 82 x 8 in
Doors to the Past
76 x 35 x 6 in
25 x 30 x 4 in
27 x 16 x 2 in
18 x 15 x 4 in
18 x 24 in
8 x 8 x 5 in
25 x 71 x 5 in
Sunflower Above the Dust
12 x 22 in
12 x 11 x 3 in
29 x 10 x 12 in