What Happened Here?

Appetite is proud to presentWhat Happened Here?, a meditation on memory and land. The show brings together five artists—Ricardo Mazal, Lindy Lee, James Jack, Sim Chi Yin, and Yang Yongliangwho strive to uncover layers of memory, truth and loss from the fabric of the earth. 


Materially and conceptually, these artists reveal how our memories are structured by and within the landscapes we inhabit. What impurities, truths, and omens are imbedded in the land we see before us? How has it shaped the way we have remembered and will remember going forward? This show is open to the public from May 4, 2021 — July 26, 2021.


Ricardo Mazal

Mexican contemporary artist Ricardo Mazal (b. 1950, Mexico City) investigates the ephemera of spirituality by grounding it in the real.  Through his particular process of abstraction, Mazal fluently renders his own experiences of sacred sites in vivid color and geometry. His work resides in the private collections of institutions such as the Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City; the Americas Society, NYC, the Maeght Foundation, Saint-Paul-de- Vence, France, and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Arizona. Mazal has also been the subject of solo exhibitions across Latin America, Europe, Asia, and North America, including Full Circle, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, NYC (2020), Violeta, Museo Estación Indianilla, Mexico City (2017), and Kailash Black Mountain, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Hong Kong, China (2014). He currently lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico and New York City.



Ricardo Mazal
Praga 13
Oil on linen
91.4 x 96.5 cm

Ricardo Mazal
SP Black 3
Oil on linen
139.7 x 152.4 cm

Mazal’s body of work attests to a deep interest in the physical sites and cultural situatedness of burial rituals around the world. Most notable is his “Trilogy of Burials” project, which spans a decade and three continents. In seeking to experience and document the different ways we lay our dead to rest, he has traveled to ancient tombs inside pre-Hispanic ruins in Chiapas, Mexico; to Germany’s Odenwald mountain range where new, alternative methods of burial in the forest are growing; and to Mount Kailash, Tibetan Buddhism’s most holy mountain— the center of the universe and the axis upon which the world turns. Here he has witnessed the traditional practice of sky burials, wherein the deceased’s body is laid out on the mountainside to be consumed by scavenger birds. For Mazal, the act of pilgrimage is a personally constructive one— and an endeavor that catalyzes his particular process of abstraction.

Mazal’s rigorous process solidified during the Tomb of the Red Queen project, when he noticed a similarity between his site photographs and his previous work. Inspired by these intersections, he developed a distinct artistic routine that involves digitally manipulating and collaging his site photographs for months before creating a painting. The resultant transmuted images serve as the visual basis for his energetically rendered oil paintings, where striated swathes of color can convey the movement and energy of prayer flags just as powerfully as they do the sober timelessness of a graveyard. Mazal’s highly involved procedure is a transmedial one which seeks to merge a landscape’s reality and abstract spirituality into a greater whole. The result is a body of work where each piece is charged with distilled, concentrated experience— an image of a memory still imbued with the trappings of feeling.

Violet Red 2 and Green and Payne’s Grey 2 are from Mazal’s “Violeta + Bhutan” works, in which the artist unites two of his most prominent series to conduct an expansive study on colour. Distinct from most of his practice, “Violeta” grounds itself solely in the intangible; its conceptual basis lies with music, emotion, and the contemplative state that can be generated by pure color. Meanwhile, “Bhutan” is borne out of Mazal’s journey to the country’s mountainous landscape, and his fascination with the vitality of the region’s distinctive prayer flags. Colour is paramount to the intent of each flag; each one has its place in a canon of symbolism meant to aid in spiritual thought and action. With Violet Red 2, Mazal fluently brings together two modes of color study into a single canvas, resulting in a warm expanse of pigment, both hazy and sharply defined. Green and Payne’s Grey 2 evokes the organic shades of the natural world, with subtle striations and differing degrees of saturation materialized into an image that resembles tree rings or rock strata just as easily as it does the textures of woven fabric. Mazal’s abstract method serves to clarify seemingly diametric aspects of experience—introspective exploration and embodied encounter—and show they are not so dissimilar after all.

Ricardo Mazal
Oil on paper
83.8 x 72.4 cm

Ricardo Mazal
Black Mountain MK 10
Oil on linen
102 x 107 cm

Mazal’s devotional study of funerary sites across the globe presents space for meditation on the intersections between land, mortality, and remembrance. His abstracted landscapes draw our attention to the ways in which the earth can serve as a medium of collective memory. While practices of final disposition may vary widely across time, place, and circumstance, all serve to commemorate lives lived and anchor them in the memories of those left behind. By offering us scenes of the different ways we live alongside our dead, Mazal asks us to look for ways that the earthbound condition of these places may actually beckon us closer to the cosmic.

Lindy Lee

Chinese-Australian artist Lindy Lee (b. 1954, Australia) draws from her lifelong journey in search of belonging and her interest in the spirituality of land. Lee was born in Brisbane, Australia, to parents who had immigrated from China, and much of her work reflects the difficulties of growing up in a country where whiteness was the expectation. Her other works address more universal questions around spirituality and humanity’s connection with the natural world, drawing from Buddhist principles such as meditation and the ephemerality of nature. Lee’s explorations of heritage, diaspora, and faith have situated her among Australia’s most acclaimed contemporary artists. Her work has been exhibited in Canada, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand. and Singapore. The artist recently showcased a major survey of her work, titled Moon in a Dew Drop, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. Other solo exhibitions include Lindy Lee: The Dark of Absolute Freedom (2014) at the University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane, and The Seamless Tomb (2017) at Sullivan+Strumpf.

Lindy Lee
Reaching for the Moon in Water
Chinese ink, fire, giclee print on cold pressed paper
154.5 x 102 cm

Faced with the rise of Communism, Lindy Lee’s parents fled China during the mid-20th century. Consequently, Lee was raised during the tail end of the White Australia Policy— a set of racial laws aimed to bar people of non-white-European descent from entering the country. The policy especially targeted Asians and Pacific Islanders, and as such, Lee was taught from a young age to “act as white as possible” upon leaving the house. Pervasive racism meant that the artist never felt quite at home being Chinese in Australia. Moreover, as she was unable to speak Mandarin, Lee felt equally alienated upon visiting China. “It was actually pretty painful,” she explains. “You always want to belong, you just do.”

As a result, in Lee’s early artistic career, she sought to situate herself among the Western canons of art. She sourced well-known images from art history textbooks, photocopying portraits by Rembrandt and van Eyck. These earlier, portraiture-based works were revealing to Lee— the act of photocopying, in particular, highlighted the artist’s cultural distance from the West. “The copy is the story of me and so many others,” she explains; copying European traditions and artworks was a surface-level claim of belonging. After thorough exploration, though, Lee came to the conclusion that “if you have to declare that you belong, then you don’t belong.”

It comes as no surprise that Lee is deeply influenced by Zen Buddhist practice. One of her initial encounters with Zen was on a trip to China to learn calligraphy. Instead, she became infatuated with the practice of “flung ink,” a catharsis of sorts in which Ch’an monks throw ink onto paper after a long meditation. This directly inspired No Up, No Down, I Am the Ten Thousand Things (1995/2000), an installation for which she plastered the walls of a white room with more than a thousand of her own “flung ink” paintings. These images, according to Lee, are “the exact embodiment of that moment in time, caused by the connection of everything that subtends the universe in that moment.”

In her more recent, primarily abstract artworks, Lee has taken great inspiration from this interconnectedness of the universe. Works like Secret World of a Starlight Ember (2020), an ellipsis of polished steel that has been pierced with thousands of tiny holes, encapsulates the absolutely expansive notion of the cosmic landscape. It illustrates the “net of Indra,” a Buddhist metaphor that conceptualizes the universe as a vast net of jewels, each one an individual yet simultaneously reflecting and containing every other. In Lee’s words, the cosmos is “the length, the depth, the breadth of everything has occurred, is occurring now, and will ever occur in the future, and we can’t extricate ourselves from [its] matrix … every individual life is the sum of everything that’s ever occurred to this moment, and stars somehow come into that.”