Steph Huang: There is nothing old under the sun
Steph Huang, 'The Gone Room', 2024, MDF, wallpaper, 45 x 37 x 2.5 cm, courtesy of the artist

Steph Huang: There is nothing old under the sun

Curated by
Participating Artist
Steph Huang
On from
September 28, 2024
December 8, 2024
Opening Hours
Tuesday to Saturday: 10am–5pm Sunday: 12–5pm
Free Entry
Press Release
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In the end, in every visitation of  places, we carry with us this burden of what has already been lived, already been seen, but the effort we are prompted to make every day is that of rediscovering a gaze that erases and forgets habit; not so much to see with different eyes, as due to the necessity getting back our bearings anew in space and time.

– L. Ghirri, Paesaggio Italiano, Milano 1989

For Steph Huang, as for many creatives, the roles of cook and artist are delightfully entwined. Huang’s experience as a chef has provided her with a repertoire of foods, packaging and merchandising techniques that feed into sculptures and installations. And like any accomplished cook, Huang draws on a cornucopia of skills for her art, including printing, glassblowing, casting, welding and woodwork.

In this new exhibition, Huang continues her investigation into mass production and commerce, the transcultural and historical dimensions of the food industry, and the implications of such markets on our natural environment. Using a variety of manual techniques, Huang transforms everyday spaces and objects, resulting in minimalist sculptures and poetically charged installations of quiet resonance.

Huang is the 21st winner of the Mark Tanner Sculpture Award (MTSA), the most significant award for emerging UK artists working in the field of sculpture. It seeks to reward outstanding and innovative practice, with a particular interest in work that demonstrates a commitment to process, or sensitivity to material.

As part of the MTSA’s National Touring Programme, 'There is nothing old under the sun' was exhibited at Standpoint in London from 17th May to 29th June 2024. Following its display at esea contemporary, the exhibition will tour to Cross Lane Projects in Kendal in March 2025.

The exhibition is generously supported by MTSA and Arts Council England. Exhibition catalogue supported by the Henry Moore Foundation. Co-commission supported by the University of Salford Art Collection.

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 Steph Huang, 'The Gone Room', 2024, MDF, wallpaper, 45 x 37 x 2.5 cm, detail. Courtesy of the artist
A Regular Arrangement, 2024, plywood, emulsion, bronze. Dimension varies. Photograph by Tim Bowditch. Courtesy of Steph Huang and Standpoint
A Regular Arrangement, 2024, plywood, emulsion, bronze. Dimension varies, detail. Photograph by Tim Bowditch. Courtesy of Steph Huang and Standpoint
Wood and Stone, 2024, UV printed smoked glass, mild steel, stone, 26.5 x 23.5 x 140 cm, detail. Photograph by Tim Bowditch. Courtesy of Steph Huang and Standpoint
I Am in a Pretty Pickle, 2024, hand-dyed silk, hand-blown glass, tin, speaker, battery, sound (00:02:06). Photograph by Tim Bowditch. Courtesy of Steph Huang and Standpoint
Siasia, 2024, clay, paper, tin, 6.9 x 7.6 x 7.6 cm. Photograph by Tim Bowditch. Courtesy of Steph Huang and Standpoint
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Over the past few years, Huang has frequently drifted through the street markets of London, Paris, and her native Taiwan, absorbing elements of vernacular style and informal architecture, noting context-specific language, gestures and relationships, recording sounds and of course, sampling the foods on offer. Her wider passages through the city, on foot or by bike, have also yielded ingredients for her art, in a manner that harks back to the word’s original Latin meaning: ‘ingredient’ comes from ‘in gradi’, meaning ‘walking into.’ As she criss-crosses the city, she walks deeper into the possibility of new works that transform the ingredients she picks up along the way: abandoned fridge racks, miscellaneous food containers bearing colourful illustrations, or the eye-catching design of a piece of street furniture.

Huang’s exhibition, ‘There is nothing old under the sun’, is titled after a collection of writing by Italian photographer, Luigi Ghirri. The title of Ghirri’s book is originally a quote from Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges, while Borges’s line is itself a reversal of the oft-cited Biblical assertion on the immutability of human nature, taken from Ecclesiastes. In Huang’s work, as in culture more generally, objects, images, references and histories are continually reflected, distorted and renewed in the hall of mirrors of influence, translation and creativity. This can generate a multitude of new meanings and connections. In 'Bubbling Up' (all works 2024), for instance, Huang remade a carriage lamp she noticed hanging outside a pub on the bank of the River Thames, attracted by its dolphin motif. Huang’s abstracted version of the lamp encloses two bubbles of blown glass, which call to mind the medieval technique of blowing glass within a metal frame so that it bulges out between the bars. These transparent glass voids also evoke aspects of Zen philosophy and aesthetics, in particular the emphasis on emptiness or nothingness, which is valued as a space of potential rather than seen as an absence or lack. Gaps and openings in Zen gardens and sculptures, or unpainted areas in paintings, provide space for the wandering eye to pause, opening up the aesthetic, philosophical and existential potential of art.

Huang’s hunt for ingredients often takes her beyond London, the city where she now lives. In 2021 she spent time in Taiwan, seeking a glass-blowing master artisan from whom she could learn. During the 20th century, Taiwan was a global centre for glass production, an industry driven by the Japanese occupation, which lasted from 1895 to 1945, and fuelled by the plentiful local supplies of sand and natural gas. In 'I Am In A Pretty Pickle', two pimpled glass gherkins, hand-blown by Huang, nestle on a swathe of green gauze suspended across the opening of an empty catering-sized tin of sweet and sour gherkins, which reverberates with the recorded din of a street market. Since acquiring glassblowing skills, Huang has made a range of glass foods including pert cherries, a chubby mortadella sausage bulging out of its string casing (like those medieval lamps) and delicate, pink-tinted prawns. These brittle sculptures and the foods they mimic are intrinsically vulnerable to damage and decay; as Huang notes, ‘food is perishable but so is glass.’ Delicate and impermanent they may be, but their aphrodisiac and sexual connotations make Huang’s glass prawns, cherries, gherkins and sausages refreshingly life-affirming.

– Excerpt from essay by Ellen Mara De Wachter, commissioned by Standpoint

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Steph Huang
Curator's Note