ArtSlant: Busy Beehive

Review of The Third Party Part 1: How to Be Alone (or nowhere else am I safe from the question: why here?)

Platform China, 319-1 East End Art Zone A, Caochangdi Village, 100015 Beijing, China

November 11, 2010 – November 30, 2010

Developing quite a reputation as a space which encourages experimentation in their shows, Platform China currently have two shows which in their own ways leave some breathing space in the works and the formats of presentation – a rare and noteworthy situation within the oftentimes banal Beijing gallery environment.

In Platform’s Caochangdi space right now their upstairs gallery is devoted to a solo show by Chinese artist Jin Shan, presenting his mercurial series of mini-videos “One Man’s Island” as a scattered installation of monitors and projections, marking out a complex space with these recordings of the artists minor activities. But the focus of this review is actually downstairs, in a smaller room to one side of the entrance, where a rather heartening group show has been installed, which literally and theoretically opens up a space for a physical negotiation with the works on display and for discussion around them.

Curated by Beatrice Leanza, who jointly runs the Beijing-based cultural consultancy BAO Atelier, “The Third Party” is a series of shows, taking principles of exhibition and curatorial practice as their basis. They attempt to promote a certain kind of critical activity which Leanza feels is lacking in the presentation of contemporary art in China. On this basis are constructed three shows, beginning with “How to Be Alone (or where else am I safe from the question: why here?)”. The second part will open on December 9, 2010, titled “The Stranger,” and the third part: “The Third Party” in January 2011.

Part 1, which ended this week, presented works which were chosen to serve as an investigation of the artists’ self-actualization and self-historicization. Part 2 will look at artists working amongst themselves in small groups, and Part 3 will present work which includes the audience as a collaborative part of its work. Leanza explains that “the first show features a very solipsistic, individual type of artistic practice. The second instead opens up spaces for people to participate… and the third will be more obviously related to practices of collaboration, so literally: what is it about art making when simply more people contribute to the piece.” Figuratively she represents this as a movement from “a centripetal to a centrifugal force.”

With 20 artists in the first part, and works covering many styles and forms, the show is packed with material. A number of new installations have been produced for the show, including a new series of Wang Wei’s signature tile pieces; a subtle trompe l’œil wall painting by Zhang Enli; and a sound installation by Elaine W. Ho. These nestle amongst the other artists’ paintings, videos, sound works, and constructions all of which articulate the space with their materials – in one case forcing you to ascend a ladder to catch a glimpse of Liang Shuo’s installation on top of a room inserted into the gallery housing Yan Jun’s sound and site-specific installations.

The forms of presentation are, of course, an integral part of the show, and a prominent feature of the installation are the many brown, hexagonal boxes scattered throughout the space. Collectively these are known as “The Beehive,” and are a storage/display system designed by Li Naihan, Leanza’s collaborator in BAO Atelier. This modular form serves many purposes: in their basic form as a platform and support for the art works; when used in large architectural arrangements it helps to organize the space; and, in their projected use as part of the final show, they become a container for the artists’ works or for the instructions for the works’ creation.

These honeycomb accretions are a consistent thread passing through the whole installation, providing an important, formal reminder of the curator’s theoretical backbone pulling all the works together.

This is a show delicately and successfully balancing theory and an experimental edge, with a presentation providing a sparkling tie that binds it all together. Leanza is a thinker whose texts provide much meat for consideration, however she is sensible to create a system which allows the show to work on a more instantly appreciable level. The Beehive provide a foil to thwart any chance that the theory could over-power, and privileges the prosaic and playful aspects of the artworks themselves, while holding the connections between them unforced but always available for view.

Author: Edward Sanderson

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