Andy Hsu was born in Taiwan and grew up in the USA where he studied at San Francisco Art Institute. He completed his postgraduate studies at Goldsmiths College in London, the city in which he has resided and worked ever since.
It would be easy to describe his work as eclectic—because it has been somewhat media-agnostic and sometimes is rather opaque and defiant of obvious reading. But, there is another level on which its core preoccupations are fairly focussed, whether channelling traditional popular performance forms, digital culture or contemplating the visual culture of the London streets he inhabits daily, and these are often the apparent “subject” of his works.
Values—their relativity and intrinsic political positions—are at the heart of Andy Hsu’s work. Some will rightly see the potentially geeky technician at first glance; the guy who deploys good old-fashioned DIY one minute but might equally employ the nous of a professional industrial designer in achieving the working fabrication of an industrialised product the next.
Whether stated or not, there is much within Andy Hsu’s work that brings to mind the lessons of Arte Povera—and, indeed, some of the dialectical and political discussions bound up within it.
This is perhaps most immediately visible for a work he made in London in which he channelled the tradition of the “pound store”, a kind of low-rent retail phenomenon observable in many UK low-income neighbourhoods usually selling a vast range of goods from the pragmatic to downright pointless. His installation, a kind of lo-tech, DIY, reworked rendition of a “pound store”, offered goods, displayed in the apparently higgledy piggledy style of the real thing. Yet, on closer inspection, nothing was exactly as it seemed.
Here, as in various other works, the social, cultural and economic values accorded goods through their modes of display or how their desirable values are articulated, is at the heart of his work. Yet, he might just as easily turn this gaze on the notion of museal display as on how we accord values to objects connected with artists or those sold in retail contexts, particularly those commonly deemed to have low social desirability or status.
Conversely, in his collaborations with Sarah Baker, things become even harder to pin down. It would be far too easy to say “in his irregular collaborations with artist Sarah Baker”. In reality they aren’t irregular or occasional. The de facto luxury perfume house that grew out of one of Sarah Baker’s art projects is something on which the duo collaborate daily. Even if the organic trajectory into artist-run commercial brands has a high cultural status that many luxury brands try to incorporated into their own claims signalling cultural value, the reality is that very few artists actually run a commercially available brand in the way that Andy and Sarah do.
So, we need to be more specific if we talk of “irregular collaborations”—such as ‘Ominous Ox’ (2009), a performance work at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, curated by Jen Wu. Drawing on traditional Chinese New Year celebrations, this performance combined a four-legged “ox” with actor actress Anna Bondareva, resplendent in Alexander McQueen, “playing” Sarah Baker as a character in a performance that unfolded through the august halls of the museum.
In True North, the work by Sarah Baker & Andy Hsu is even more complex because it channels their history of irregular collaborations as well as the question that haunts their daily reality: “What happens when artists accidentally create a luxury fragrance brand?”