Country Balance, 2021

Zalucky Contemporary, Toronto
Photo courtesy of Zalucky Contemporary, Photo credit: LFDocumentation and Toni Hafkenscheid

Country Balance pulls its viewers into the early stages of a new divinatory system. The artist, Julian Yi-Zhong Hou, draws from a matrix of references including Tarot, graphic design, symbolism, philosophy and various cultures - all of which are filtered through his positionality as a diasporic Chinese-Canadian settler. Hou is particularly concerned with the ways in which traditional Chinese aesthetics can be translated through time and space, then applied to his own lived experience here on Turtle Island (North America).

Featured in Country Balance are nine stained-glass works that mark the beginning of a larger project. Most pieces find their shape in the formal properties of Chinese coins, pentacles, medallions and other signifiers of value. The first work in the sequence, I. Coin, resembles the shape of ancient Chinese coin — a small round piece of metal with a square hold punched out of its centre. The graphic composition circling the centre refers specifically to a Chinese-styled plate found at a Value Village in Vernon, BC, where the artist resides. The trapezoidal shapes scattered about the surface also recall Chinese fans, made ever popular by tourists. I. Coin begins the series by asking the viewer to consider the ways in which symbolic and fiscal value is assigned to certain cultural objects through recapitulated and eroded orientalist iconography. 

Other works in the series borrow their shape from the spiritual and philosophical tradition of Taoism, and more specifically Feng Shui, the Taoist method for improving the flow of positive chi (energy) through the arrangement of furniture and decoration. Three works in the series (II. Lovers, VIII. Jade and IX. Angel Wings) reference the bagua mirror - an octagonal mirror often hung at the entrance of a home. In this way, these works function as spiritual totems for cleansing and healing negative energy when placed in the correct spatial alignment.

Following in the tradition of conveying religious stories and spiritual fables through stained-glass imagery, the collection of works in Country Balance spring from a similar desire to make sense of the universe. By soldering together signs and symbols captured through personal encounters and an intuitive drawing practice, Hou proposes that art can function as a means for self-divination.

- James Albers

I. Coin, 2021, tiffany style stained-glass, 16.5 inches diameter

II. Lovers, 2021, tiffany style stained-glass, 17.5 inches diameter

III. Unbroken Spiral (Butterflies), 2021, tiffany style stained-glass, serpentine, 16.5 inches diameter

IV. Tree of Life, 2021, tiffany style stained-glass, 15.5 inches diameter

V. Dead Dove, 2021, tiffany style stained-glass, 17.5 inches diameter

VI. Mantis, 2021, tiffany style stained-glass, 17.5 inches diameter

VII. Country Balance, 2021, tiffany style stained-glass, mirror glass, jade, shungite, labradorite, 17 inches diameter

VIII. Jade, 2021, tiffany style stained-glass, 16.5 inches diameter

IX. Angel Wings, 2021, tiffany style stained-glass, mirror glass, glass accidentally broken by the artist in the past year, glass unearthed in the backyard of 214 E 16th Avenue in Vancouver, glass broken at the Contemporary Art Gallery during an exhibition by the artist in 2020, glass in the backyard of Trevor Shikaze’s parent’s house in Burnaby, 16.5 inches diameter