Following the series of interviews I made with sound workers in China back in April, and since I’ve now (temporarily!) moved back to the UK, I’ve taken the opportunity to record a further set of chats with people and groups in this country. Generally speaking these people interested me because of their approach to the way a practice negotiates the social fabric. The relationship between these speakers activities and what one might call a cultural practice is perhaps quite an ambivalent one, in some cases even an irrelevant consideration for them. I point that out because such activities have in some cases been subsumed within an art practice—specifically the “dialogic” approach—but such practices may at times be seen to “work” better when kept at a distance from such a context, a choice of position which in the process calls into question the efficacy of an art-based practice in attempting to come to grips with the world.
Over the past few weeks I’ve begun a series of interviews for the “Uncut Talks” sound magazine, a project initiated by the artist Ma Yongfeng of forget art. At this point I thought I would pull together the first three interviews which (coincidentally) have all been with Chinese sound artists and musicians. Future interviews will venture into other creative fields. Ma Yongfeng and the Italian curator and artist Alessandro Rolandi have also added their own interviews to the Uncut Talks site, so please take a moment and check them out, I think there is something for everyone there!
Yan Jun talks about his “Living Room Tour”:
Sheng Jie (gogo) talks about her audio-visual practice:
VAVABOND (Wei Wei) and Li Jianhong talk about improvisation:
GROW Food Justice Global Campaign China Launch Ceremony: Food Art Exhibition, curated by Xia Yanguo
PIFO New Art Gallery, B-11, 798 Art Area, No.2 Jiuxianqiao Rd, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
11 – 20 August, 2012
[Author’s note: I acted as an unpaid consultant for the GROW Campaign at an early stage, however I have had no involvement with this show at PIFO Gallery]
Food Art Exhibition at PIFO New Art Gallery, organised by the international charity Oxfam as part of their global “GROW” campaign, aims to raise awareness of poverty in relation to production and access to food, but the art exhibition on show raises issues with the effectiveness of this form of presentation.
Although art shows to promote charitable issues have worthy intentions that should in most cases be supported, there is a troublesome tendency for the art to be the least considered part of the affair. In the face of the important or urgent issues to be supported, the artworks often appear irrelevant or ineffectual, and there is a tendency to favour unproblematic or vague artistic responses to avoid distracting from the issue. Given art’s potential as a creative medium one would hope that it could play an important part in productively contributing to the issues, rather than simply acting as a background or window-dressing.
Alessandro Rolandi’s Social Sensibility R&D Program at BERNARD CONTROLS S.A. in Beijing
When asked about her working environment, one worker said she would like to feel the sun on her skin for a while – a simple but poetic request, fulfilled by moving her workstation outside the factory for a short period. Another worker took the opportunity to make a fluid sculpture out of the big barrel of grease he was using, giving it the title: “A piece of shit.” These little gestures came about as part of Italian artist Alessandro Rolandi’s Social Sensibility R&D Program, instituted in the factory of Bernard Controls S.A. on the outskirts of Beijing.
Bernard Controls is a French family-owned company producing specialist servo engines for operating valves in water pipes found in nuclear power stations, but also used in places like the Beijing Opera House and the Olympic Swimming Pool (AKA the “Water Cube”) in Beijing.
For a factory to embrace such a distraction from the serious business of production is down to the initiative of the boss, Guillaume Bernard, an engineer with a particular interest in corporate social responsibility. But while Bernard Controls already had a steering committee working to improve management personnel relationships using activities such as exhibition visits and music concerts, M. Bernard was looking beyond this. “He’s one step ahead,” Rolandi says. “He’s an engineer, not a psychologist, sociologist, or a philosopher. We talked a lot about this, and he seems genuinely open to more socially aware activities, which I related to relational practice within the art world.”
Not Only A Taoist Troublemaker! group show
za jia lab, Hong’En Daoist Temple, Doufuchi Hutong, Dongcheng District, Beijing
20 – 23 November, 2011
Not Only A Taoist Troublemaker! was a short-lived exhibition occupying a leaf-strewn room in a small arts space attached to a bar. A bar with a vegetable market behind; sharing a building that housed a screw factory during the Cultural Revolution. A screw factory built inside a Taoist temple, replacing the site’s original Buddhist temple. This overlapping of every kind of ideology provided an ideal backdrop for the six artists’ work in this show curated by forget art.
forget art is an organisation created by artist Ma Yongfeng, about whose “guerrilla” tactics I have written once before on ArtSlant. It has become well-known for the ironic nature of its exhibitions, interventions, and projects. These activities are knowingly aware of themselves and their contexts, and never take these or themselves too seriously.
Realism by Yan Xing (part of 5 Solo Shows: Yan Xing, Christian Schoeler, Li Gang, Hu Qingyan and Cheng Ran)
Galerie Urs Meile, Caochangdi, Beijing, China
3 September – 23 October, 2011
Presenting five solo shows at once in their Beijing spaces seems an odd approach by Galerie Urs Meile. They state that it provides a way to present a selection of new works by some of their less established artists, and I expect it avoids the difficulty of finding an overarching theme for a group show. But in this case it seems each artist gets short shrift, without the opportunity to present a sufficient body of work to allow for more than a very basic understanding of their practice. Christian Schoeler perhaps gets the best out of this arrangement, with a large room for his technically competent paintings. On the other hand, Cheng Ran is insufficiently represented with only a single video work. I understand this fascinating artist will be having a major solo show at this same gallery later in the year, which begs the question: why include him now in a way that does this him little justice?
Putting these questions aside, it’s fortunate that 5 Solo Shows gives the opportunity to see the work of another very strong artist, Yan Xing. Yan Xing is an interesting character. As an openly gay man he lives in a country (if not a world) that tends to frown upon (if not actively suppress) displays of sexuality that are deemed outside of the norm. He maintains a personal blog of articulate and up-front missives about his life and thoughts and has become something of a minor celebrity within the online universe in China. His outspoken comments have positioned him as something of an informal representative for gay life in this country.
A draft introduction for next week’s review on ArtSlant, but which I cut in the end.
The final form of an exhibition can be seen as a window into the processes at work in its creation. Some of these aspects become visible once a show is open to scrutiny, some remain obscure, but this crystallisation of processes through exhibition is instructive as a trace of the forces at play. In an institution such as the National Art Museum of China, perhaps because of its role as representative of national culture, these forces become far broader across sections of society outside of the artworld, and thus more significant.