Pékin Fine Arts, Beijing
The wall text characterizes Chen Shaoxiong and Liu Ding’s “Project Without Space” as an “iteration,” suggesting a serial repetition, one on top of the last, in a process of refinement. Now it has reached its sixth version with this presentation of paintings and videos, what lessons can we draw from these critical installations?
Spread over three rooms, “Project Without Space” takes a number of forms. In one room, two new walls have been constructed, providing settings for two videos and two paintings. One video records the artists in the process of installing the previous “Project Without Space #5” (earlier in 2012 at Magician Space down the road in 798). The video is accelerated and subtitles appear over the image, apparently a record of the artists’ conversations regarding their work and activities (“However you want to paint this one, just go ahead and do it.” “Our intellectual production is our work.”). The other video shows the two artists sitting in a café, evidently engaging in conversation, with a similar series of subtitles. The paintings bring together forms that suggest other painted artworks from (predominantly Western?) art history over the previous century, perhaps the most recognisable being several flat coloured shapes from “The Snail” by Henri Matisse.
The second room follows this format with different content: a video presents the artists side on, sitting either side of a plank of wood, onto which they apply paint, and again the subtitles make an appearance. It appears this plank of wood is one of the series of five works attached to the wall opposite the video, all of these painted in the distinctive patterns of Australian indigenous artworks.
In the third room, the artists have somewhat reneged on their relationship, presenting two solo works each. Chen’s are new examples from his “Collective Memory” series, and take the form of photographic images of, in the first case, the new CCTV Tower in Beijing, and in the second, of a pagoda and the Potala Palace in Tibet. These images are created from thousands of seemingly hand-applied grey dots, a hand-made representation of a printing screen, which simultaneously forms and breaks up these politically and socially loaded images. Liu presents works from a series entitled “The Remaining Landscape” from 2007. In these he applies coloured nail polish to gold-mirrored acrylic sheet, creating gloopy images combining in both cases two elements: a scholar’s rock and a car; a pagoda and missile (which simplistically could be read as representing the old and the new).
It must be said these paintings lack the force of the installations of videos and paintings. These latter are “critical” in the sense that they embody a self-questioning of what they are and what they are doing (what are these paintings doing that (mis-)quote so liberally? What is the relation between these subtitles and the image that is in itself the production of a work?) In Chen and Liu’s case this questioning is applied equally to the work’s constituent surroundings as much as to the works themselves. As part of this process the artists seem to wish to directly engage the audience in their questioning tactics. By doing so it seems that the audience may be implicated in the process, and have their consciousness of their place within the processes raised. The tone of voice in the subtitles and the wall text verge on the patronizing, but can also be read as polite and open (in the wall text the artists “invite the viewer to interpret whatever forms or whatever states they are able or unable to imagine.”).
#6 adapts elements from previous exhibitions, and introduces the artists’ new productions of their own Australian indigenous paintings. The eclecticism displayed in Chen and Liu’s adoption of these new forms might seem to lack relevance to their overall methodology, but in fact it points to the way that contemporary, modern, and (in this case) indigenous art, are all capable of absorption within a monolithic system of art. This monolithic system frames the art that is produced and within which it is seen, and it is this framing process that Chen and Liu tinker with in the activities in this exhibition.