thinking about photography and “truth”

Nothing earth-shattering, just some notes that won’t make it into a review.

For me, the classic, single-viewpoint photograph is a seduction. It threatens to convince us that it is imparting a “truth” about the world by its seemingly straightforward presentation of a view. Art’s use (and more importantly, abuse) of the medium and its formats has been instrumental in disabusing us of the static image’s privileged status as a purveyor of truth. So these days no one should be under any illusion about these fixed perspective, mono-directional images—neither for their depiction of reality nor for the value of their meanings.

new book on alternative practices from apexart

new book on alternative stuff

just arrived from NY, includes a text by Biljana Ciric on “Searching for Tomorrow’s Alternative China, Vietnam and Cambodia”.

Photos from Ma Yongfeng’s “forget art” show

As Ma mentioned in my interview with him, the group show “forget art” which he has curated took place this afternoon in the Dragon Fountain Bathhouse in Caochangdi. Following his reasoning for the show, the works more or less blended into reality, so for a while the whole bathhouse was an object of artistic possibility.

Alternatives: HomeShop interview

An interview with Elaine W. Ho and Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga at HomeShop.

HomeShop, Beijing

Edward Sanderson: Elaine, you’ve been here three years, how did HomeShop start? Have you and Fotini been working together the whole time?

Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga: I’ve been to China a few times now, and we have collaborated on several projects, but it’s only at this moment that I’m joining in, as we are trying to think about HomeShop’s future. Elaine will be able to tell you more about what she’s been doing so far.

Elaine W. Ho: I think HomeShop really came out of my experience of living in China and my fascination with the juxtapositions between public space and private space here, which I think a lot of people notice or are intrigued by when they come here. A lot of the work that I do involves the public space and looking at alternative settings with which one is interfaced with an idea or a “work”, and because of that particular interest in negotiating a public space and a private space—not only on a spatial level but also on a social, economic level—this idea came to me: let’s play with the commercial space and see what we can do with that. So this was how it originally came about, and all the projects we’ve done here are based around this environment and the people here and are determined to a great extent by the architecture and the way that this space in particular relates to the community.

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the “auto-” in creativity

Following on from the last post, I wanted to try and clarify my use of the prefix “auto-” to describe the types of sound that came up in the Subjam concert at UCCA. At the same time this will help put some meat on the bones of a project that I’m working on right now, a project whose subjects, and the arguments that I’m touching on in this post, cross over from the sonic arts to the visual.

By using “auto-” I was trying to suggest that the sounds had some kind of automatic, or non-human activity in its formation (although it would be a mistake to think that’s all I was interested in, but I’ll get to that later). In this case I mentioned “Auto-Generative” and “Auto-Destructive” sound, and although I used these terms in the title, I didn’t make it explicit in the text what they were referring to other than a vague idea of additive versus subtractive compositions (where I was tentatively linking the former to Zhang Jian and Wu Na, and the latter to William Basinski).

My use of the term Auto-Destructive is inspired by the work of Gustav Metzger (born US, but now stateless) and the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely. Metzger popularised the term in 1959 with his First manifesto of auto-destructive art,1 as a general principle and a way to describe his performance works using nylon and acid, a lethal combination which resulted in the destruction and disappearance of the material of the works. In a similar vein, Jean Tinguely is well known for his elaborate machines which progressively destroy and undo themselves. Both artists were working towards a dematerialisation of the artwork, a throwing into question of assumptions of the object-status of the artwork at that time. This (non- or negative-)thing that results was also one of the focii of Conceptual art, Metzger and TInguely in this case having quite an influence on their thinking. In their work Metzger and Tinguely presented the process of dematerialisation as being an end in itself, literally performing the critique of the object in front of the audience.

From “Auto-Destructive” the antithesis I set up was “Auto-Generative.” In this case the word “generative” comes from its use as a form of musical composition, usually associated with computer music. I have been thinking recently in this regard specifically of the composers Conlan Nancarrow (US) and Edgard Varèse (France, US), whose work involved investigation of systems which, although of course “man-made” in their inspiration or initiation, in execution relied on the working through of a set of rules by mechanical means.

For generative work human intervention can simply be a starting point, from which systems can work themselves out, the “human touch” can be removed entirely from the actual act of music/noise making. The extent to which the human needs to be involved in the act of music/noise making is a very divisive issue. For some the human touch is pre-eminent, for others a hands-off approach is the interesting means and I think it is this subject that can be usefully pursued, an which my project is working from.

It’s an important part of the project, too, that there should be no restriction for this to sonic investigations, it can equally be applied to visual and other forms. Metzger’s words, for example, apply across the board:

Auto-destructive art is art which contains within itself an agent which automatically leads to its destruction… Other forms of auto-destructive art involve manual manipulation. There are forms of auto-destructive art where the artist has a tight control over the nature and timing of the disintegrative process, and there are other forms where the artist’s control is slight.2

I have to admit, setting up these polarities of “auto-generative” and “auto-destructive” is a deliberate straw-man tactic, to create a discursive environment for the project. They serve as ideals around which to drawing out the arguments involved in various artists’ methods. As such, I doubt any artist would commit themselves to one or the other exclusively, certainly not over their whole oeuvre (or even within a single piece of work). However what the use of these terms does do is to set up a field of argument, around which the various participants can set up their camps, like a set of Venn diagrams of creativity, covering more or less of each of the meanings in their practice and theory.

It’s early days yet, but as the project progresses, more information will get posted here.

  1. Metzger, Gustav (1959). Auto-Destructive Art [first manifesto of auto-destructive art; 4 November 1959]. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 3 March 2010].
  2. Metzger, Gustav (1960). Manifesto Auto-Destructive Art [second manifesto of auto-destructive art; 10 March 1960]. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 3 March 2010].

The way to see linear video and new media

“Scene • Area • Emotion” New Video Media Art Exhibition, curated by Wu Qiuyan, at WenJin Art Center

Out in the University District of North-West of Beijing, near the South Gate of Tsinghua University, the WenJin Art Center has just opened inside the WenJin Hotel. Yesterday it was hosting a day of video and new media work curated by Wu Qiuyan, a teacher at the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

This was a great opportunity to have, if not the cream then at least a representative collection, of the last few years’ linear work on video presented. Splitting the works into the sections titled “scene,” “area,” and “emotion” presented the audience a broad range of artists, work and techniques, from the computer generated works of Miao Xiaochun and Feng Mengbo; through narrative (including a particularly subtle yet quietly sensationalist piece by Ma Qiusha, I still don’t now what I think about that…); semi/pseudo-documentary from Gao Yuan etc,; performance (for me the weakest set of works, but that’s my personal preferences). All of this was presented in a fairly tightly curated selection, which—although long—really felt like a comprehensive but concise account of the field in the time available.

Being able to devote this kind of time and attention to all this lovely material was a real luxury which I can’t often don’t give to linear video work (much less to interactive, non-linear work, but it’s usually not such a requirement of that). When I visit a gallery there is never enough time to view the whole video as I duck in and out of the screening rooms. So I really appreciate what the curator was doing here, enforcing some kind of participation, it was a real joy to experience.

Artists by section:

Scene: Miao Xiaochun 缪晓春, Feng Mengbo 冯梦波, Bo Hua 卜桦, Zhang Xiaotao 张小涛, Wu Junyong 吴俊勇, Bai Chongmin 白崇民, Ye Dan 叶丹, Wu Weihe 吴玮禾, Gu Zhenzhen 谷真真, Dai Hua 代化, Liu Qianyi 刘茜懿, Xu Ruotao 徐若涛, Chen Hailu 陈海璐.

Area: Liu Xuguang 刘旭光, Chen Zhuo + Huan Keyi 陈卓+黄可一, Tan Ji 谭奇, Wu Qiuyan 吴秋龑, Ding Xin 丁昕, Cheng Jie 盛洁, Wang Gefeng 王歌风, Ma Qiusha 马秋莎, Chen Wei 陈伟.

Emotion: Feng Jiangzhou 丰江舟, Zhang Haitao 张海涛, Chao Fang 沈朝方, Tan Tan 炭叹, Tian Miaozi 田苗子, Song Song 宋松, Wang Tingting 王婷婷, Chen Zhou 陈轴, Pei Li 裴丽, Gao Yuan 高媛, Shi Jingxin 史晶歆, Deng Li 邓黎, Chen Xi 陈曦, Zhang Minjie 张敏捷, Ren Lun 任伦.

In March, the curator Wu Qiuyan will be hosting another event of film and new media, this time at UCCA. More details when I have them.

Chinese art market confidence

ArtTactic, Chinese Art Market Confidence Survey, Dec 2009

If anyone has a copy of this report, I would be very interested in taking a look (I might even cook you dinner). It would be fascinating to know what their criteria are for measuring “sentiment.” The report appears to look at a good range of artists1, so each one’s comparative results would be interesting to see. I’ve been hearing (mainly from auction results, so that’s pretty selective) that established names are recovering quickly, but the market for younger, less established artists is struggling (as one would expect). Most people I’ve talked to about this subject see these periodic downturns as, by and large, a “good” thing. I’m not denying the pain involved, but it’s a time in which everyone is forced to re-focus on their core strengths and if these aren’t sustainable then, perhaps, it’s time to move on.

The confidence in the Chinese Contemporary art market has strengthened significantly since February 2009, and is now back above the 50 level. The ArtTactic Confidence Indicator has increased from 16 in February 2009, to 57 in November 2009. The current level signals that there is more positive than negative sentiment in the art market. This is the first contemporary art market that ArtTactic has surveyed since the downturn, in which the Confidence Indicator has come in above the 50 level, which implies that the Chinese art market could be one of the quickest to recover.2

  1. Ai Weiwei, Cai Guoqiang, Cao Fei, Chen Wenbo, Fang Lijun, Feng Mengbo, Feng Zhengjie, Gu Dexin, Gu Wenda, He Duoling, He Yunchang, Hong Hao, Li Shan, Li Songsong, Liang Shaoji, Lin Tianmiao, Ling Jian, Liu Wei (B. 1972), Liu Xiaodong, Liu Ye, Lv Shenzhong, Mao Yan, Nie Mu, Qiu Zhijie, Shi Jinsong, Song Dong, Sui Jianguo, Tan Ping, Wang Gongxin, Wang Guangyi, Wang Jianwei, Wang Qingsong, Wang Wei, Wang Xingwei, Wu Shanzhuan, Xu Bing, Xu Zhen, Yang Fudong, Yang Shaobin, Yin Xiuzhen, Yu Hong, Yue Minjun, Zeng Fanzhi, Zhan Wang, Zhang Dali, Zhang Huan, Zhang Peili, Zhang Xiaogang, Zhong Biao, Zhou Tiehai, Zhou Xiaohu.
  2. ArtTactic (2009), Chinese Art Market Confidence Survey, Dec 2009. Retrieved from on 12 January 2010.