Strange Tales of Liaozhai

This new work by artist Hanne Tierney is visually intriguing but ultimately doesn’t hold our interest.

A scene from <i>Strange Tales of Liaozhai</i>
A scene from Strange Tales of Liaozhai
(© Richard Termine)

Hanne Tierney is undoubtedly a talented artist. In a career spanning over half a century, she’s exhibited at the some of the top museums (including the Whitney and the Guggenheim) and it’s easy to see why. She creates striking images and puppetry from unlikely sources and has the courage to conjure grand visions. Her latest work, Strange Tales of Liaozhai at HERE, channels these ambitions into a full-on theatrical work with mixed results.

As an art installation, her interpretation of classic Chinese tales would be striking for a few minutes as one passes through a gallery, but her work cannot sustain our interest for the 60-minute running time of the show. There are no actors, and the puppets have no faces – and this immediately puts us at a distance from the work.

The show opens with images projected on scrims and Richard Chang providing voiceover narration. The first story involves magical pigeons and is amusing, but we keep wanting it to build to a place it never does.

Instead, the action shifts midway to animated fabrics. Tierney, who voices the characters in this piece, uses an assortment of silks that she rigs to wires to represent characters in the second (love-oriented) story. It’s a thrill at first, but in the end it proves hard to care about fabrics. They have a very limited range of expression, and are locked into the same movements, which gives the show a monotonous tone that sets in halfway.

The most frustrating element of the enterprise is that you feel Tierney’s talent struggling to break free from this unremarkable show at every turn. It seems a shame that her singular energy cannot be harnessed to create a more engaging show.

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Strange Tales of Liaozhai

Closed: September 22, 2012