Polit-Sheer-Form Office’s (PSFO) first exhibition in Canada at the Vancouver Art Gallery Offsite situates their work in relation to the city. The collective consists of Chinese artists Hong Hao, Xiao Yu, Song Dong, Liu Jianhua and curator Leng Lin. Since its founding in 2005 they have developed a body of work about being together, and turning ordinary activities—such as playing, eating, talking or travelling—into something meaningful. Their Offsite installation, titled Fitness for All (Vancouver), appropriates five low-tech fitness machines that resemble playground games that the Chinese government had placed in public parks in a national fitness-promotion campaign. A huge digital portrait of a Chinese face—a composite made up of the artists’ features—is on one of the walls, and the phrase “WE is the distinction of I” is on the other wall, with the Chinese translation written below the English.
The project was previously exhibited at the Armory Show in 2014 and at the Queens Museum in 2015. Activating the gesture in a different context—this time in Vancouver—could be read as part of their broader practice of exploring social structures. The fitness machines invite viewers to participate in a communal activity, which reflects PSFO’s interest in setting up art contexts as spaces for audience interaction. The work’s placement in the Offsite space—only a few meters away from the Trump Tower, and in a city with a long history of discrimination against Chinese immigrants—is more than an incidental backdrop for the work. It also points to a broader cultural and political environment that endorses anti-immigrant as well as anti-Indigenous discrimination. The huge composite portrait of PSFO’s faces points to the problem of being fitted into a certain “type.” As the VAG’s press release for the show suggests, one of PSFO’s main objectives is to problematize the idea of “‘we’ in a ‘me’ world.”
The collective’s signature colour, “Polit-Sheer-Blue,” the main one used for this work, references Yves Klein’s “International Klein Blue.” For Klein, establishing a signature colour in the 1960s played with the idea of the singular author, but for PSFO, it’s the opposite: it points to homogeneity and sameness. This idea recurs in the composite portrait, in which all the artists’ different traits are condensed into one single face, creating an image that is simultaneously ubiquitous yet singular. With this, the work invokes both the individual and the community.