Yishu Journal: ON | OFF – China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice

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Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, 798 Art District, Beijing

January 13–April 14, 2013

With ON I OFF, an extensive group show that occupied all of the exhibition spaces at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing, curators Bao Dong and Sun Dongdong attempted to come to grips with the ongoing issue of rationalizing the latest round of artists to have emerged on the Chinese visual arts scene over the past few years. They chose to pursue a course of highlighting what they see as the diversity of current art production in China. The curators framed this diversity as a distinctive trait of the Chinese art environment, a trait they say works against generalizing views, describing the exhibition as an expression of “polyphony” and “multiplicity.” They go so far as to characterize contemporary art in China as “a series of encounters,” each of which must be taken on its own merits, also claiming that “any artistic practice is yet another attempt at defining the scope of practice itself.” As a result, contemporary art practices can be understood neither from “a sociological perspective—seeing [them] as evidence of any number of social realities and ideologies”—nor “by way of the so-called internal logic of artistic language and method.”1

In the exhibition format of ON I OFF itself, the curators deliberately attempted to reflect this understanding of the contemporary art world in China. Its fifty participating artists (or, in three cases, a duo of artists) were presented in what might be described as a “flat” format in the sense that there was no articulation by category, theme, or highlight. That said, despite the curators’ premise of multiplicity and the consequent lack of logical organization in the gallery spaces themselves, it was possible to pick out particular connections among the artworks.

Several artists’ work displayed an interest in investigating form or material, a a manifestation of a kind of “internal logic” that the curators apparently dismissed. The painterly abstractions of both Xie Molin and Wang Guangle, which, while using diametrically opposed techniques—Xie Molin has developed a machine to create the evenly-spaced furrows in the thick, multi-hued painted surfaces of Ji No. 4 (2012) and Inconsistent Output No. 6 (2012); while Wang Guangle labouriously hand-paints subtle progressions of coloured pigments, layer after layer, to create physical stacks of paint on the canvases121101 (2012) and 121102 (2012)—share a concern with the physicality of paint. In Heiqiao Tower of Babel (2012) and The Unknown Shimmering at the Edge of the World (2012) by Li Shurui, multiple canvases depicting shimmering interference patterns were connected to create structures that invaded the spaces in which they were installed. Liang Yuanwei’s paintings of repeating floral motifs, Pisces (left) (2011), and Pisces (right) (2012), retain an element of process-based activity in their creation, as these motifs were meticulously picked out from a gradation of colour travelling from the top to the bottom of the canvas. At first glance these repetitions appear cool and unemotional, yet the patterns apparently relate to clothes worn at significant events in the artist’s life.

[To read the full article, please pick up a copy of the Journal or visit the Yishu website]

ArtSlant: Branding a New Generation of International Artists

Hugo Boss Asia Art – Award for Emerging Artists exhibition

Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai, China

13 September – 8 December, 2013

Art’s relationship with branding sees a new incarnation with the Hugo Boss Asia Art Award, produced in collaboration with the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai and in this first instance addressing itself to artists from what is termed the “Greater China” region.

The Hugo Boss Asia Art Award creates a new geographical focus for the fashion brand, running in parallel with the original “Hugo Boss Prize” which began in 1996. The seven short-listed artists for this award have already developed strong bodies of work, and one of the strengths of this show is that many of the artists’ presentations are retrospective in nature. Hsu Chia Wei from Taipei, Kwan Sheung Chi from Hong Kong, Li Liao from Shenzhen, and Hu Xiangqian and Li Wei from Beijing all present a selection of work from across their careers. On the other hand, rather than presenting older extant examples of their work in this context, Lee Kit from Hong Kong and BIRDHEAD from Shanghai, have created large-scale installations that build on previous works.

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ArtSlant: Whose Autonomy?

ZiZhiQu (Autonomous Regions) (curated by Hou Hanru)

Guangdong Times Museum, Guangzhou

19 January – 17 March, 2013

As one of the more visible providers of a critique of the centre/periphery model of cultural development in the early 2000’s, a new exhibition by curator Hou Hanru is highly anticipated. ZiZhiQu: Autonomous Regions at the Times Museum in Guangzhou can perhaps be seen to develop this model as it applies to the cultural self-formation of individuals and groups, placing that development in contrast to a globalised institutionalisation of culture. Autonomy, then, moves across all scales in its realisation. ZiZhiQu presents expressions of autonomy at the level of the personal via the body, as well as the extension of personal autonomy into ideology and geography. In the process this show covers imaginary and real sites of the development and expression of this individual and communal state of being. This show’s tread is necessarily light, as the subject of autonomy quickly enters fraught territory in relation to specific realisations of the autonomous body in society, or its geographical presence.

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ArtSlant: Moving and Still

Quote out of Context: Solo Exhibition of Yang Fudong (curated by Gu Zheng)

OCT Suhe Creek Shanghai, 1016 Bei Suzhou Lu, near Wen’an Lu, Zhabei District, Shanghai

30 September, 2012 – 3 January, 2013

Yang Fudong’s solo show in Shanghai shifts the balance of his work away from the video installations onto his photographs, in the process proving the intimate connections but also the disparities between his moving and still images.

The collection of prints that form the bulk of this exhibition include still shots from Yang Fudong’s films as well as his stand-alone photographs from across his whole career. Yang’s photographic work has always been a counterpart to his films, in that it also concentrates on the cinematic image, presenting scenes with a certain level of stylisation removing the subjects from “nature” and into the staged shot.

Yang’s work has also often played with the boundaries between the still image and the moving scene, setting up juxtapositions between a film which looks like a set-piece—maintaining a stillness within the frame that the subjects sustain even in their movement (the Seven Intellectuals series of films being archetypal of this)—and the still image which appears to be drawn from a larger narrative, held in suspension but always appearing to refer to the event within a larger narrative. The meaningful arrangements and glances of the protagonists in the photographic works Don’t worry, it will be better… (2000) and Ms. Huang at M last night (2006) record the events in their lives without really settling on any particular meaning or interpretation, leaving the audience in a state of uncertainty regarding the actual events being presented and the storyline that the individual photographs in the series depict.

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ArtSlant: What, Then, Can Art Be?

The 7th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale: “Accidental Message: Art is Not a System, Not a World” (curated by Liu Ding, Carol Yinghua Lu, Su Wei)

OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, Enping Road, Overseas Chinese Town, Nanshan District, Shenzhen, China

12 May – 31 August, 2012

Following their Little Movements exhibition in the same venue last year (which I reviewed on ArtSlant.com at the time), the curatorial group of Liu Ding, Carol Yinghua Lu and Su Wei return to Shenzhen’s OCT Contemporary Art Terminal to undertake the broader task of a biennale. Despite retaining the moniker of “Sculpture,” this seventh iteration of the Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale has less to do with sculpture as a distinct discipline, than with what amounts to a renewed opportunity for the curators to expand on the theories and practices they had expounded in Little Movements.

The choice of the rather contrary title Accidental Message: Art is Not a System, Not a World positions this Biennale as a clear statement against large-scale trends or movements. The idea that art imparts, or is itself, an “accidental message” is a troubling but simultaneously interesting proposition given the current state of art. It is troubling in that (aside from the obvious questioning of historical impetus), having thus placed art-making as an “accidental” communication, the curatorial process itself seems to made problematic. This position appears antagonistic to the assumption that a show is curatorially held together with a clear theme or relation.

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ArtSlant: Photography’s Phantom

La Chambre Claire: Liu Chuang, Liu Wei, Wang Yuyang, Zhang Liaoyuan, Zheng Guogu, curated by Tang Xin, Su Wenxiang, Xu Chongbao

Taikang Space, Red No.1-B2, Caochangdi, Cuigezhuang, Chaoyang District, 100015 Beijing, China

7 April – 2 June, 2012

Zhang Liaoyuan, A4 and A4 and A4 2012

With an abrupt reference in its title to a book by Roland Barthes (which appeared in English as Camera Lucida), this show gets underway, presenting works by five Chinese artists with a relation to the “phantom” of photography.

The artists’ particular approaches to the medium of photography are varied. In this show Liu Wei is the only artist to include actual photographs, with several examples from his series As Long As I See It, from 2006 on display. These works demonstrate a certain instrumentality by the artist, as he takes a Polaroid of an object and then proceeds to cut away parts of the original object to match the view presented in the photograph, presenting them both together in some kind of cause and effect relationship.

Liu Wei’s view of photography as a process forming the world in its image is the most straightforward use of the photographic medium in this show. The other works in the show proceed from the fact of photography to step away from the object of the photograph into terrain that addresses the meaning of this thing that is called photography.

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ArtSlant: Pleasure in Losing One’s Way

Mi Lou: Recent Works by Hong Lei

Chambers Fine Art, Red No.1-D, Caochangdi, Chaoyang District, Beijing, 100015, China

18 February – 25 March, 2012

Hong Lei’s particular form of mythicized, fetishized work would usually not attract me. In other artists I have found the saturated content and symbolism seen in Hong Lei’s myriad works too heavy-handed and oppressive, leading me to feel the work held itself—and the audience—too far apart from a reality.

This is something that I’ve recently experienced in the work of Cai Guo-Qiang, for instance – an urge to create a critical mass of meaning at the expense of a connection with the audience. In the process I experienced alienation through the latter artist’s works, by what I found to be its highly considered and artificial approach to the subject matter.

While this is certainly a risk with Hong Lei’s works on display at Chambers Fine Art, in this case I’ve found that the artists lightness of touch and subtlety of its approach to the viewer—while not resolving all of my issues with its tendency to objectify aspects of its subjects—entices the viewer in and adds a sense of wonder to the overall installation, à la the fantasist Borges.

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