Cover image of the review
Ruth Ju-Shih Li, Still Life from a Distant Memory (2020-ongoing). Photo: Jessica Maurer

Still Life of a Distant Memory & Fearless Simpleton

23 Jun 2023
Nicholas Aloisio-Shearer, Fearless Simpleton, Verge Gallery 24 May - 23 Jun 2023 Ruth Ju-Shih Li, Still Life of a Distant Memory, Verge Gallery 24 May - 23 Jun 2023

Ruth Ju-Shih Li’s spectral Florigelium (2023) is the haunting centrepiece of her solo show Still Life of a Distant Memory, currently on view at Verge Gallery. Described by curator Con Gerakaris as an “otherworldly bloom,” the work fuses together an assortment of native and non-native flora into a wax sculpture, creating an entirely new lifeform that is then perched on an ornate Chinese rosewood stand. It’s the intricacy of Florigelium that beckons me closer, and it’s this need to observe Li’s careful indentations into wax that reveals a significant detail: a network of wicks, almost invisible, scattered throughout the obelisk.

In an instant, Li issues her viewer with a simple warning: there is no permanence here. For all its intricacy and beauty, Florigelium was formed with a singular conclusion in mind—its destruction. The realisation hits me like a sudden loss. The sensation is amplified by the reverberating piano tones that fill the gallery space, a haunting addition from Megan Alice Clune, titled Piano for ruth (2023). Clune’s wistful composition gives gravity to the imminent decay of the sculpture (a process which began on 1 June, with the lighting of the wicks, and one that continues throughout the exhibition). Li allows the flames to feed upon the unimaginable hours of labour that the construction of the work involved. That is, she invites decay into her process. It is not a consequence that must be avoided, but rather it is a valuable contributor to the final work. Yet despite this emphasis on decay, the space doesn’t feel overly morbid. The process of viewing the exhibition instead feels precious, as though we are being granted a privileged glimpse at the works before their disintegration.

To read for free enter your email address.

Log in with your registered email address.

Memo can continue to publish free, quality, and independent weekly art criticism with the support of our readers. Consider becoming a Patreon supporter or making a donation.