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Wunderblock: Paul DeMarinis & Stella Zhang

Feb 15 — Mar 31, 2023

Qualia Contemporary Art is pleased to announce Wunderblock, a two-person exhibition featuring the work of Bay Area artists, Paul DeMarinis and Stella Zhang. The exhibition focuses on memory, with each artist’s interpretations and reflections upon the concept exemplified in the curated selection of works, encompassing 16 new and recent works by Zhang, and three works by DeMarinis. Multiple dimensions of memory are explored in the artists’ distinctive practices – personal and familial, public and historical, spiritual and subconscious. Throughout, the fragility and mystery of memories and their making serve as creative fodder for Zhang and DeMarinis, while the process of art-making itself becomes an exercise in remembering. Wunderblock will be open from February 15 – March 31, 2023, with an opening celebration hosted on February 25th from 4:30–6:30 PM PDT. 

The exhibition’s title refers to the classic “Wunderblock” toy used by Sigmund Freud to demonstrate the psychoanalytic theory of latent memory (“Notiz Über den ‘Wunderblock’ (‘A Note Upon the Mystic Writing Pad’)”), in which traces of unconscious memories reemerge in consciousness. Both Zhang and DeMarinis grapple with elusive memories held just beneath the surface, evading one’s ability to access them. The artists revisit and engage with the past from the perspectives of others, and from their own long-forgotten experiences. For Zhang, her mother’s stories, shared over cups of tea, stir up memories – shared, recounted, and imagined; Zhang’s mother now lives with the artist in California after about 30 years of living apart from each other. Reconnecting after this long period of time has become an integral part of Zhang’s daily life at home and in the studio. For DeMarinis, the unexpected discovery of a 50-year-old 16mm film reel, shot by the artist while visiting his father in Japan, prompted him to descend into the murky and emotionally-charged depths of distant memory. The artist’s anachronistic journey coalesced into a film collage work entitled Memories for Japan (2023), on view in the exhibition alongside another video piece by DeMarinis, Tunnel of Love (2013). 

Zhang’s mixed media works are created using earthen materials, natural pigments, fabric, and rice paper, along with a combination of found, collected, and treasured items from the artist’s life. Warm-toned, loose pigments are adhered to each assemblage, resembling dust – an aesthetic and conceptual rock of Zhang’s practice that signifies the organic cycles of life. Informed by the concept of “wabi-sabi” and her experience living in Japan for 13 years, Zhang relishes the imperfections in both the natural world and her work, always leaving evidence of her hand to connect with viewers. Layers upon layers of fabric and rice paper, at times totaling between 20 and 30 strata, resemble the chaos and complexity of memory and its manipulation over time. Myriad objects, from seashells to used tea bags, anchor Zhang’s abstract depictions of the psyche in the concrete ephemera that scaffold her recollections. 

In DeMarinis’ practice, the artist’s own memories dovetail with the evolving media of 19th and 20th-century recording technologies. As new mechanisms for capturing and replaying audiovisual material have become embedded in our collective cultural unconscious, the relationships between memory, its anticipation, and performance, have grown increasingly intertwined. Groovular Synthesis (2019) exemplifies this ambiguity, in which “grooves” are the foundational structure for recording and storing information, whether in the grooves and folds of the human brain (gyri and sulci), or the grooves of a vinyl record. Edison’s first grooved invention, the wax cylinder, inspired DeMarinis to explore the effects of mechanical constraint – both physically-imposed and artistically-applied – on the translation from one medium to another, and in conjunction, between different forms of sensory information and experience. DeMarinis wrote an OuLiPo-style poem restricted to the letters “T-A-E-D-I-S-O-N”, and engraved it upon the surfaces of seven brown wax cylinders in Morse-code, and one black wax cylinder in English letters. The installation of the cylinders, with a synchronized video scanning of the central, letter-inscribed cylinder flanked by two laser scanners with Morse-code cylinders, presents what DeMarinis describes as an “overall sound…of focused recitation within a crisis of machine-mediated noises.” The work is a literal and metaphorical synthesis of signifier and signified, complicating the notion of memory in the age of mechanical reproduction. 

Wunderblock brings together two artists’ experimental approaches to memory in equally experimental media. From Zhang’s beguiling two-dimensional and sculptural works, to DeMarinis’s audio-visual collages and machinations, the exhibition encourages viewers to consider their own perceptions of the past in new and unexpected ways. 


Check gallery website for hours and additional info