Explore the imaginative world of an enigmatic figure named Lauren O, who possessed the power of levitation and played a crucial role in the 1960s anti-war movement, in Angela Su’s exhibition at M+.
Hong Kong artist Angela Su’s exhibition representing Hong Kong at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is showcased at M+ with an adapted and site-responsive presentation. The exhibition stages Su’s speculative research about Lauren O, an enigmatic figure who possesses the power of levitation and played an instrumental role in the 1960s anti-war movement in the United States. Featuring a collection of her notes and study models, the exhibition illustrates Lauren O’s obsession with transformation and levitation.
Situated in the centre of the exhibition space is a series of geometric models handcrafted by Lauren O and displayed on a cross-shaped plinth. Ranging from solid forms to open frames, the irregular polygons that Lauren O constructed advance a theory of levitation that challenges classical ideas about geometry and the universe. Plato associated different polyhedra with the five elements of the universe: fire, earth, air, water, and ether. Lauren O’s models reflect a process of reconstructing irregular polygons to establish nature and the shape of the cosmos. The speculative objects she crafted embody an understanding of the universe as dynamic and fluid rather than rigid and static, and the solid models she constructed eventually gave way to open forms, suggesting that this view of the cosmos held the key to shedding physical limits and rising weightlessly into the air.
For Lauren O, the study of levitation could never remain in the realm of pure theory. Her dream of levitating emerged from and alongside cultural and political movements that sought to break open social forms as closed and static as the classical polyhedra. In 1967, more than fifty thousand activists representing a broad spectrum of the counterculture movement gathered in Washington, D.C. for the March on the Pentagon. Fuelled by a sense of hope, these young people were united in their opposition to the war in Vietnam. The demonstration targeted the Pentagon, home of the United States Department of Defense and a symbol of war. As they reached the imposing building, members of the March began an ‘exorcism’ of the Pentagon that included an attempt to lift the five-sided behemoth into the air. The act of ‘levitating the Pentagon’ created a perception among those who witnessed the protest that the authority of military power had been psychologically dissolved. Lauren O recorded her research of the event in a journal, and its pages are exhibited in a large panel featuring over two hundred notes and illustrations.
Lauren O’s beliefs about levitation and transformation inform Su’s own artistic interpretation. Projected on a tilted pentagonal structure suspended in the next gallery is the film The Magnificent Levitation Act of Lauren O (2022), which tells the story of Lauren O and her involvement with Laden Raven, an activist group catalysed by the US anti-war movement of the 1960s. In the film, Lauren O’s journey brings her to political struggles across time. The work comprises found footage and clips from a performance by Su. Weaving together fact and fiction, it suggests an alternative space for action and disruption.
The raven symbol representing Laden Raven can be found throughout the exhibition. Hanging in the corner of the room opposite the projection is a large hair embroidery depicting a raven spreading its wings. Adjacent to this piece is a series of five smaller hair embroidery works of birds, titled Museum of the Trembling Conspiracy of the Murder of Ravens (2023). Each embroidery is embedded in a plinth, the side of which is engraved with a list of collective nouns for birds. The history of collective nouns for birds can be traced back to the fifteenth century, when groups of birds received names that suggested their peculiar habits or reflected popular perception of the flocks. The collective nouns chosen by Su here highlight the uneasiness that one feels towards the idea of group gatherings.
This exhibition is an invitation to the speculative world of Laruen O that Su has built over the course of her career. It showcases the artist’s idiosyncratic practice that combines her interests in the history of science and medicine with her wild imagination.
Image at top: Photo of Lauren O in her studio from Angela Su proudly presents: Lauren O—The Greatest Levitator in the Polyhedric Cosmos of Time, 2023. Courtesy of Angela Su and the archives of Lauren O