• The World of Joyce Hsu
  • Aga and Oba with Islands (1999), Joyce Hsu photo courtesy of Bedford Gallery

  • The World of Joyce Hsu
  • Damn Bugs (DETAIL), (2002), Joyce Hsu photo courtesy of Bedford Gallery

  • The World of Joyce Hsu
  • Mobility & Mobilization (Installation view) (1999-2003), Joyce Hsu, photo courtesy of Bedford Gallery


In a world of suburban sprawl and billboard art in massive lifestyle centers, an example of an initial inclusion of Bay Area’s contemporary art was easily noted with The World of Joyce Hsu: A Site Specific Installation of Dogs, Daisies & Flying Objects on display at the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek. Called “the return of pop art” by many newspaper events writers, The World of Joyce Hsu was a seemingly broad and brave curatorial proposal for the Bedford, giving Contra Costa County an opportunity to host a well shown Bay Area artist that would not likely be found so east of the bay.

The World of Joyce Hsu: A Site Specific Installation of Dogs, Daisies & Flying Objects acted as a personal narration of a life lived amid Sanrio’s dichotomous heyday: mixing dessert style cuteness such as Hello Kitty with the reality of the cold vacancy of a popular corporate shell. Hsu worked from a purely personal scope to create a dichotomous view of the human need for closeness and relationships. However, her depicted relations are synthetic and manufactured, constructed of Insta-Cast, magic sculpt, masking tape, epoxy, steel, and foam among other materials.

Addressing issues of isolation, imperfection, mass culture, identity, and quantification, Hsu’s installations gave visual allowance to a modernized camp of culture shock. The intricacies that make humans unique are easily overlooked or noted as defects can be seen in Damn Bugs (2002).  Existing on grids, the mechanical bugs had a synthetic, make believe essence to their craft, and their movement led to the confliction of form and function. In this controlled environment natural forms lost all sense of life.
Hsu devised a world for the public more telling of her personal association with the theme of manufactured constructs of human closeness than a simple offering of something visually pleasurable for the public to take away.  The world of Joyce Hsu is one of suburban outlet and isolated intimacy that exists for many humans devoid of a real connection or community and the human intimacy craved by all. In Hsu’s world visitors are invited to view and exist within the confusion and detachment of Hsu’s complex existence. The Prototypes (1999) part of the Mobility and Mobilization installation and ToTo (2005) are sculpted miniature individuals and animals made from Insta-Cast, magic sculpt, and masking tape emphasizing the uniform in the individual per consumerist culture. The sculptures are blank and empty casts lacking in presence but maintaining companionship with the hype of the promise of fulfillment and utility. These are neutral characters with remnants of Hsu: her glasses and her needs, which suggest interchangeable idioms for any personal existence.

The focus on identity was revisited and retooled throughout the exhibition. A wall drawing reading “Soong Wei is your friend” (Hsu’s Chinese name), is overtly personal and intense for a solo show for this quickly emerging artist. With the primary assumption that Hsu’s theme is in fact of universal concern, a double line is drawn when most references in the work so intimately relate back to Hsu specifically.  What is specific to Hsu’s sculpture and installation: remnants of the plasticity of manufactured goods in lieu of relational bonds between humans, is not as universal of a reach as implied through the humanistic scope proposed via the curatorial statement at the Bedford Gallery. Though the surface implications of commercialism, disconnect, and defects are all commonly linked concepts, it’s Hsu’s personal adornment to each piece by inferring the implicit themes from her life split between Hong Kong and North America, that made the exhibition all the more perplexing.

The World of Joyce Hsu: A Site Specific Installation of Dogs, Daisies & Flying Objects was on view at the Bedford Gallery from February 13-May 15th, 2005. www.bedfordgallery.org


— Petra Bibeau is an art writer based in San Francisco. Her writing appears in NY Arts Magazine and EyeOn Emerging Arts SF.


I’ve always admired Joyce Hsu’s stuff but mostly find out about it’s exibition well after the fact. Please see if you can get me on a list for her stuff. I’ve made half-hearted attempts to link-up ever since an exibit of “Hanabee” at Southern Exposure gallery some years ago.