56 HENRY is pleased to present Marvin ♥️ Henry, an exhibition by Christopher K. Ho, on view May 15 through June 27, 2021. Marvin ♥️ Henry marks Christopher K. Ho’s first solo exhibition with the gallery.
In Douglas Adams’s iconic book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979), the inhabitants of the planet Magrathea specialize in building bespoke planets for other life-forms. One of their projects is to create a second version of planet Earth commissioned by mice.
Christopher K. Ho’s new exhibition at 56 Henry could be seen as such a custom-made habitat. Ho, who describes himself as a speculative artist, considers how an environment, a world, even a new galaxy can take shape either by design, by random evolution, or by a canny combination of the two. The artist refers to Adams’s book in the show’s title, Marvin ♥️ Henry; Marvin, a somewhat depressed robot who dislikes humans, is one of the story’s protagonists. Marvin is also a reference to the company Alvin, famous for their drafting equipment, and in particular their gridded cutting mats—a basic tool for architects and designers the world over. The company went out of business in 2020 as a result of the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an economic recession likewise pitched the universe into disarray.
As we emerge from an unprecedented time of economic difficulty, social unrest, and widespread illness and death, Ho, who trained as both an architect and an art historian, takes as his point of departure the proverbial “square one”—like those squares on the Alvin boards. The gallery floor is covered in a huge Alvin board replica, now bearing a Marvin logo, out of which 306 pieces of mirrored laminate jut up like a cityscape—one visually not unlike Ho’s home city of Hong Kong, and reminiscent of large architecture models. The smallest piece is a quarter of an inch tall; the largest is eight feet.
The 306 pieces are the result of an elaborate design process. The array started with a simple rectangle drawn on gridded paper. From there, Ho produced slight variations by adding either squares, circles, or triangles in various configurations. The resulting forms are more or less abstract, but, installed on the grid, it is not at all difficult to imagine them as planes, alligators, flowers, bridges, buoys, windmills, and so on. Using an algorithm, the scale of the mirrored object was determined, although Ho admits that he compromised his own highly systematized approach when the results felt too rigid, and further played with certain forms for the sake of the overall composition.
Numbers, algorithms, coordinates, and calculation in general played an essential role in the creation of the installation. But two numbers—42 and 56—are of particular importance and might mark specific locations in this new world created by Ho. The latter refers to the gallery’s address, and the former is of course another reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where it is the answer to “life, the universe, and everything.” Many have speculated on why Adams chose this number as the answer to existence, but he never clarified during his lifetime; it has become a fixture of geek culture, with hundreds upon hundreds of theories about this now-mystical number.
Christopher K. Ho (b. 1974, Hong Kong) lives and works in New York and Hong Kong. He graduated from Cornell University with a BFA and a BS in 1997, and from Columbia University with an MPhil in 2003. Ho’s work has been presented in numerous exhibitions. Solo shows have included Dear John, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York (2019); Aloha to the World at the Don Ho Terrace, Bronx Museum, New York (2018); CX 888, de Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong (2018); and Privileged White People, Forever & Today, New York (2013). Group exhibitions have included Any distance between us, RISD Museum, Providence, Rhode Island (2021); Meditations in an Emergency, UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2020); and In Search of Miss Ruthless, Para Site, Hong Kong (2017), among many others.