Imperturbable from afar, a swarm of soft black markings nesting at the base of wide spaces above, the canvasses of Chinese artist Lu Chao reveal, upon closer inspection, troubled narratives of struggle and torment. Tiny figures, in a multitude of gesture and motion, teem, teeter and crowd along the edge of gaping holes in inexorable thrall to magnetic pockets of apocalyptic oblivion, awaiting some transformative occasion, or gather in ritualistic fervour at sites of momentously descending cosmological events; others get swept up in calamity, become components and playthings in brutal consumerist systems (in one macabre instance, crowds are displayed as tiers of densely packed cupcakes ready for consumption), are subject matter of social and scientific experiments, tread precariously along thin ropes controlled by unseen authority, or stand in stupefied, incomprehensible, enshrined contemplation and awe of themselves. Columns representative of any number of eras of architectural history are adorned in a swirl of physiognomies. Pastoral landscapes, the interior of a cathedral (wrought with dizzying dimension) subsume the human element, the scale and power (both natural and religious) casting the human into a stunned, pained insignificance. Gently fraught issues of social engineering, identity politics, the fight against the collective, float with a disarming buoyant unease throughout the imagery. Lu Chao’s monochromatic frames are magnificently detailed, crafted scenarios of disruption and anxiety, of an existence lived at the precipice, one step away from the abyss. As sober and severe of investigations as they are, Lu Chao folds in a liberatingly bizarre existential humour that prevents the pieces from collapsing into turgid, laborious oppression (this is not the heavy squall of a Goya). The few instances of colour elicit an almost slickly lascivious pop amidst the otherwise muted frames. Lu Chao manages to leap out of specific cultural references to embrace an universal psychological malaise, a sense of being eternally lost in the vastness of the cosmos, a satisfying answer to essential questions of existence perpetually, achingly just out of reach, a human population eternally bewildered and  perplexed by enduring mysteries, aimless despite achievements-mere motes. Black Dots closed on 11 May