Conversations on Performance Event: Andrea Fraser & Simon Leung, Tuesday, May 28

Spirit Healing

HOSSEI at Verge Gallery
May 6, 2024
By June Miskell


Located in the plaza outside of Verge Gallery, a steel truss archway adorned with starfish, spirals, and the letters ESSSENSSSE illuminated in electric neon lights served as the portal through which artist HOSSEI’s aquatic speculative ecosystem came to life. The atmosphere was sensuous: plumes of vapor and streams of bubbles were emitted from machines that flanked the plaza as an ambient soundscape filled the air.

HOSSEI, ESSSENSSSE, 2023. Photography by Michael Cole, University of Sydney Union. Courtesy of Verge Gallery. 

A cast of otherworldly characters resembling diatoms or aquatic algae – HOSSEI’s fabulated aquatic ecosystem – slowly and sequentially emerged from the gallery. Amorphous and kaleidoscopic, the brightly colored creatures wobbled, stretched, and gallivanted in the public square, curiously exploring their new environment.

Entering in succession were characters who I came to know later as: OCTO MUM, WORMHOLE, PROUD TIN, BREATH SHINE, BALLROOM BOOB STOMP TWINS, STAR POWER, MY NIGHT, and HEAT WAVE. Playful and inquisitive, each character had their turn in the spotlight as they paraded into the plaza.

HOSSEI, ESSSENSSSE, 2023. Photography by Michael Cole, University of Sydney Union. Courtesy of Verge Gallery. 

PROUD TIN wore an iridescent silver costume whose frame was constructed with three large hoops. Atop the costume was a flat, circular disc that mimicked the shape of a sand dollar. Like a spinning top, they whirled through the plaza. STAR POWER (the cutest of the bunch) was draped in a baggy fluorescent orange onesie. They wore goggles and had two long antennae that dangled down to their feet. With their hands hiding their face, they shyly toddled around the plaza to the sound of windchimes that hung from their antennae, every so often jumping into a starfish shape in a burst of confidence—ta-da! HEAT WAVE sported an infrared tie-dye bodysuit and also wore goggles and antennae. Commanding the space with a cheeky smile, they waved a long tentacle-like arm towards the audience. Each character’s journey into the public space culminated beneath the archway, before they retreated back inside the gallery. The archway was like a border between their ecosystem and ours. HOSSEI’s ensemble only peered through this boundary, inviting the audience into their world, but never crossing the threshold. After all the characters returned to the gallery, HOSSEI emerged to a joyful standing ovation. Some moments after, the performers, now out of costume/character, joined him beneath the archway before taking one final bow.

HOSSEI, ESSSENSSSE, 2023. Photography by Michael Cole, University of Sydney Union. Courtesy of Verge Gallery. 

HOSSEI, ESSSENSSSE, 2023. Photography by Jacquie Manning, courtesy of Verge Gallery.

HOSSEI orchestrated this ensemble performance to accompany his exhibition at the gallery, which was titled ESSSENSSSE. The genesis for the exhibition and the performances was HOSSEI’s fascination with the sand dollar—a sea creature comprised of only a mouth and an anus, an entry point and an exit. For HOSSEI, the sand dollar is emblematic of the “essence” that remains when all corporeal qualities are stripped away. The exhibition was the third and final installment to what HOSSEI describes as his “sister shows”: O, at UTS Gallery & Art Collection in Sydney and THUNDERBLOOM at West Space in Melbourne, both presented in 2023. Guided by a framework of healing, collaborative world-building, and radical play, the three shows together provided a reparative investigation of the mind-body-spirit connection. Where O focused on the physical body and THUNDERBLOOM explored the emotional psyche, ESSSENSSSE took cues from the sand dollar to “explore the tenacity of the human spirit, stripping away human qualities and revealing what’s underneath.”1Artist statement by HOSSEI, ESSSENSSSE, 2024. Verge Gallery at The University of Sydney. Ironically, the gallery’s exterior surface and the plaza floor was encrusted with vinyl decal motifs of the sand dollar and starfish in vivid color gradients and exaggerated sizes.

HOSSEI, ESSSENSSSE, 2023. Installation view. Photography by Jacquie Manning, courtesy of Verge Gallery.


Following the performance, the audience ventured past this threshold and into the exhibition space where the sea creature costumes were now suspended from ropes. Previously animated by the performers’ bodies and actions, the costumes were now static, at rest, like exuberant and prismatic relics. They were material traces that indexed the euphoric live performance we had just witnessed. As vessels for joy and healing, the costumes affirmed the spirits of their performers, transporting them into ESSSENSSSE’s speculative underwater realm. HOSSEI beckoned us to dive in.