To create her exhibit, Greyson Hong recorded rather than produced.
“Your Only Limit is You” features a collection of snapshots into the life of Hong. She produced it in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, and the theme of measurement and examination binds the diverse and at times seemingly obscure objects together.
Miscellaneous images line the walls of the exhibit at Artspace, a New Haven nonprofit. A large wooden crate with one open side occupies the center of the room. In front of the crate, an ambiguous plaster cast sits on a pedestal. The slightly confined space and even line of frames compel you to make several loops around the exhibit.
During these laps the breadth of pictures bombards you with information. Your eyes travel from video of Mariah Carey singing in New York on New Year’s Eve directly to a sentence-long email from the artist’s friend and then on to a simple graph in the Cartesian plane. I quickly grew familiar with a certain bareness to her images as I took in a framed list of over a hundred handwritten names, a picture of Hong’s wingspan and pictures of a few poetic lines.
But during these laps you also notice patterns.
For the most part the collection lacks images of people. Only a few of the several frames involve Hong. Her presence is conveyed more by the lack thereof. The crate in the center of the room is built to encompass exactly her wingspan, and the plaster cast in front of it communicates her embrace — you can see the path her arms make around its edges and the indent of her cheek. Another frame holds 40 images of Hong embracing everyday objects such as a vase or a tree.
Hong seeks to quantify herself through these features. I could imagine her filling up the space in the box or fitting into the plaster cast perfectly. It presents a contradictory idea: building a person’s image by filling in the space within their physical limits. Hong seems to ask how we can exist any other way than by our limits. She gives voice to the outer bounds of her image by removing what they contain.
Several works or snapshots of her friends surround this central structure, giving greater life to the exhibit as you imagine her surrounding herself with the people for whom she cares. She shares poems and music written by friends and, on another screen, plays a clip from a TED talk speaking about the theory of Dunbar’s number. This idea argues that the human capacity for individual friendships is approximately 150. Beside this, a large white sheet shows almost 150 handwritten names.
These references convey an attempt to measure who Hong’s friends are. She does so on a basic level, inspired by Dunbar’s number, but also on a more personal level, offering glimpses into their creative lives. By allowing readers to think about the poetry or music of her friends, I felt as though Hong wanted to place me in her shoes. Diverse voices surround her life, and for a brief moment they surround yours, too, as you walk around the exhibit. Sensing these connections meet at the center of the room with the crate, you begin to sense Hong’s world taking shape. These relationships reach much farther than the boundaries of her physical reach.
The last section I saw moved me the most. This shelf contained two graphs: One depicts the change in Hong’s masculinity and the other her fluctuation between pronouns, both as a function of her age. This section also contains some of the most complete physical images of her. A sequence of three childhood photos depict her departure from a traditionally feminine image, and another shows a picture of her with her mother and sister at home. Hong’s explanation provides even greater depth for the last one: It’s the only picture in her mom’s house where Hong presents as male.
The subtlety of these images magnifies their voice. You can’t help but wonder how something as personal as a gender struggle could be confined to an undulating line. Colored by her explanation, the family photo also feels much more valuable, just as Hong clearly holds onto this rare show of acceptance.
An attempt to measure something essentially means to determine the limits. Hong emphasizes this fact with the graph of a limit of a function as it approaches infinity. Yet each limit Hong reaches breaks down for another limit to pass through it.
Her connections to others transcend her 5-foot-6-inch wingspan. The creativity of her relationships transcends the quantifiable nature of counting friends. The personal meaning transforms an ostensibly simple family photo into an intimate treasure.
In her self-examination, Hong also examines the processes of analysis that we use. Her measurements interact at times, shed light on other pieces and always lead us to ask not only what is in our life, but how and why. These attempts to quantify and qualify her life burst with a life of their own.
“Your Only Limit is You” will be on display at Artspace through Nov. 9.
Tommy Martin | email@example.com