Shuyi Cao: Egg-Born, Moisture-Born, With Scales, Without Scale

January 12th, 12:00 am – 12:00 am

Opening reception January 12th, 2022 from 6-8 PM.

* Please note that proof of vaccination will be checked for all visitors and masks are required regardless of vaccination status.


This exhibition features a series of stoneware, glass and resin sculptures that speculate the geological and archaeological history alternative to the history of humans. The exhibition title references the category system in the Bencao Gangmu (Compendium of Materia Medica). Originally published in 1598, this ancient Chinese compendium presents the first taxonomy of vegetal, human, animal, mineral, and man-made matter, including some hybrid species that seem to come straight out of Borges’ fictional Chinese encyclopedia. “Egg-Born” and “Moisture-Born” are among the categories of insects that indicate the criteria of genesis. “Scaly”, as one of the chapter titles, refers to biological anatomy that distinguishes organisms, while in English, the term “scale” also means an ordered reference standard. The exhibition marks the discontinuity of spatial and temporal scales in a more-than-human world and invites us to rethink networks of affinity between us and the ecological others we are enmeshed with.

The glazed stoneware sculptures represent recording devices of the Earth. As repositories for nonlinguistic inscription, our ancient ally of knowledge-making - rocks, sand, and fossils - embody deep time and inhuman forces, such as grinding tectonic shifts and relentless erosion, slow sedimentation, as well as the rising and disappearing sea. Embedded within these specimens are fragments of temporal fauna, flora, human and meteorological activity collected by the artist during a summer road trip across the American West. The two aqua resin sculptures imagine remnants of a cataclysmic moment on Earth in an ambiguous time, with synthetic terrestrial forms alluding to a peculiar nature with mutating landscapes. These surface topographies are generated by deep learning software trained on photographs taken from the remote wilderness, as well as generative algorithms that simulate biological structures; then materialized through a combination of digital fabrication and hand-modeling, mold-making, casting, and sanding. 

From the clear or colored borosilicate glass pieces, one might recognize burls, roots, lumps, knots, tentacles, slime mold, embryos, umbilical cords, or exoskeletons. With forms that evoke preconscious memories of primordial microscopic organisms, the intermediate materiality of glass alludes to the transitional state across the threshold between the world of organic and inorganic. Such limit-breaching intimacy unfolded about 500 million years ago when bone emerged from mineralization of fleshy, soft tissue, which later gave rise to the vertebrate phylum to which we belong. The living material that builds us also most easily petrifies our ever existence. Through a combination of natural and synthetic materials and idiosyncratic forms, these sculptures exude a mixed sense of familiarity and estrangement, perhaps recognized from past incarnations of our very biological and mineral origin; while simultaneously encoding the clues of future evolution.

Artist bio-
Shuyi Cao’s practice explores alchemical approaches to object making and knowledge production. Her latest works seek models of reorienting a more-than-human world with intertwined social and ecological uncertainties. Interested in the complex relationship between geological, biological, and technological matters, she creates objects as physical manifestations of this dynamic material reality. They are speculative specimens and archeological fictions with reconfigured natural objects and hand-made artifacts, incorporating chemical and organic processes, moving images, and sound. Her sculptures synthesize multiple mediums including glass, ceramic, metal, silicone, and resin, and evoke transition and metamorphosis through both material and form.
Shuyi Cao (b.1990, China) is a New York-based artist. She has shown works at Ming Contemporary Art Museum (CN), Power Station of Arts (CN), Gallery Weekend Beijing (CN), Chengdu Times Art Museum (CN), Shin Gallery (NY), 490 Atlantic Gallery (NY), A.I.R. Gallery (NY), GRIDSPACE (NY), SLEEPCENTER (NY), Westbeth Gallery (NY), among others. She is the recipient of 2021 Beijing Today Art Museum WANG SHIKUO Nomination Award, and has held positions as Artist-in-Residence at NARS Foundation in New York, Power Station of Art in Shanghai, MASS MoCA in North Adams, and Bioart lab at School of Visual Arts in New York. She holds an MFA in Fine Arts from Parsons School of Design.

Event Images
Class Schedule
  • January 12th – February 25th, 2022
Agnes Varis Art Center
647 Fulton St
Brooklyn, NY 11217