Hung Tzu Ni explores sound, temporality at ‘Homing’ exhibit

Chinese Cultural Center of San Francisco/Courtesy

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Drones of white noise hum within the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, echoing distantly from the “Homing” exhibit by Taiwanese installation artist Hung Tzu Ni. The exhibit, which is being held from Feb. 7 to May 7, started as a month-long research project in which Hung explored San Francisco’s Chinatown to better understand the community’s way of life. Hung designed “Homing” specifically for the Chinese Culture Center and Chinatown’s surrounding inhabitants. 

The use of “Homing” as the exhibit’s title evokes imagery of both a bird finding its way back home and of a missile tracking its target by following a signal. These connotations call into question how people guide themselves home, in addition to questioning the inherent instinct that propels them back, despite long distances. Each division of the exhibition is set up to be a point of return, departure or temporary respite.

In “Acoustic Measurement,” a long, silver instrument rotates through a repeating cycle, traveling in a clockwise direction from the ceiling to the floor. The piece was made to the exact measurements of the room, the tip barely grazing the ceiling panels as it completes its upward arc. Background noises simulate the movement of the pendulum. The piece is mesmerizing and only takes about a minute to complete its course. The simplicity of “Acoustic Measurement” draws viewers in, urging them to pause and watch the apparatus’s pendulum-like movement. Its repetitive nature highlights the flow of time and the patterns found in daily life. 

Meanwhile, “The Order” presents a sequence of projected images paired with light fragments. Video clips cycle between images of a tall building, a beetle moving frantically and a cloud-ridden blue sky, with shards of light mimicking the effect of walking through sunlight on a bright day. There is no background audio, allowing the viewer to focus completely on what they see. The piece brings attention to the variety of visual and sensory stimuli that people experience on a daily basis. 

Hung plays with light once again in “Reversal Inhibition.” The setup is relatively minimalistic: A few reflective prisms hang from the ceiling and a projector beams out a ray of light. The display wall is shadowed and dark — with the light beam’s overlay, the image appears like the horizon in some moments and like a celestial scene in others. The image of the horizon suggests the prospect of home in the distance; once again, the room is left silent to accentuate the visual stimuli present. The light lingers as it surveys the wall, stretching out time and testing the limits of temporality. 

The last bay is the most sonically striking of the four, housing “SpaceSoundtrack: DaylightFlame.” A large white machine shaped like a box maintains a consistent drone, and sonographic charts emerge from the machine’s front side, indicating the output of sound produced. The machine faces a large paneled window, and above the apparatus is a tool for light refraction. The piece converts rays of sunlight into sound waves and runs on a 24-hour cycle, creating striking shadow formations on the wall. The relationship between community and the sun was an object of great inspiration to Hung when she designed this exhibit, noticing locals camping out by San Francisco’s Portsmouth Square to get the warmest spots. This piece interacts and overlaps with the others, unifying the exhibit visually and sonically.

Hung’s “Homing” is a truly fascinating exploration of sound, temporality and light that is receptive to the surrounding environment. She manages to create a space that is both suspended in time and sensitive to the flow of minutes, seconds and hours. Simultaneously, she draws on the elements of Chinatown to communicate a shared experience, conveying snippets of daily life through sensory detail.

Luna Khalil covers culture and diversity. Contact her at [email protected].