ArtSlant: A Meeting of Meetings

The Meeting Room: Elaine Ho & Rania Ho

Arrow Factory, 38 Jianchang Hutong, Beijing 100007

8 November – 31 December, 2012

The Meeting Room is a project hosted within Beijing’s Arrow Factory space, and organised by artists Rania Ho, one of the founders of that space, and Elaine Ho (no relation), founder of the HomeShop, a small creative community sited a few streets away. With this new project, the concerns of the two artists previously expressed through their work on their particular institutions, have come together to form a very interesting and socially productive use of the space – converting it into bookable space for meetings, which over the last month has come to naturally reflect the major and minor concerns of the participants in the meetings.

Both the Arrow Factory and HomeShop tend to be lumped together under the rubric of “the alternative” within the Chinese art world, but have somewhat different concerns and ways of working. I have written about each institution before on ArtSlant.com, but to summarise (and drastically generalise as they are in fact quite complex entities): Arrow Factory is a response to commercial art spaces, taking aspects of the gallery format and usurping their functions, in one way by closing the space off to access; HomeShop is a host community for a number of artists and creatives. Both institutions share a methodology by geographically and conceptually distancing themselves from the art districts of Beijing, and in part confront issues with their own role in their local, non-art communities.

In a sense the Arrow Factory space is still closed off, in that The Meeting Room has converted it into a bookable space for meetings, but this aspect of open access to the use of the space means the boundaries have been made publically and socially somewhat permeable. Whereas before the installations in Arrow Factory were designed to be viewed through the glass doors but not entered, these meetings allow for a placement in the space of the members of the groups, while the meetings themselves are then objectified and made viewable to passers-by by virtue of this same glazed façade.

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ArtSlant: Mural Painting Project of the New Countryside Laboratory

Mural Painting Project of the New Countryside Laboratory

Lijiang Studio, First Commune of Hainan Jixiang Village, Lashihai, Lijiang, Yunnan 674100, China

2008–2010 (book launch 19 August, 2012)

The unannounced appearance one day of a sign painter covering a Chinese villager’s wall with an advert for the state telco, China Mobile, inspired Lijiang Studio, an arts organisation located in a small farming community in the South West of China, to think about how public space was used in the village and led to the development of their Mural Painting Project as part of their “New Countryside Laboratory.”

The presence of the sign painter was one small realisation of the Chinese central government’s plans for opening new markets in the countryside, a plan that was referred to as creating the “Socialist New Countryside.” Such well-intentioned plans for national development emanating from the corridors of power in Beijing can seem distant and disconnected from the reality on the ground, Lijiang Studio’s series of investigations, of which the Mural Painting Project is part, have been looking into the impact of these governmental proposals on its subjects.

After decades of pushing for city development and encouraging the movement of people from the countryside to urban areas, in the lead-up to the 17th Party Congress in 2008 a new emphasis was placed on the countryside, termed the Socialist New Countryside, for the 11th five-year plan. “One theme in the rhetoric of the Socialist New Countryside is increasing ‘productivity’ and opening the countryside to new markets,” says Jay Brown, founder and director of Lijiang Studio. “Being in the countryside you want to know what the government plans for you – collectivisation, reform, privatisation, etc. We figured laying the rhetoric onto the reality of our village would be a starting point for discussion and action.”

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Yishu Journal: Little Movements: Self-practice in Contemporary Art and A Museum That is Not

Little Movements: Self Practice in Contemporary Art
OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT), Shenzhen

September 10–November 10, 2011

A Museum That Is Not
Guangdong Times Museum, Guangzhou

September 11–October 30, 2011

Liu Ding and Carol Yinghua Lu on the cover of Yishu Journal No.49

“Edward Sanderson explores the increasingly blurred boundaries among curatorial practice, artistic practice, and institutions through the examples of two innovative exhibitions—Little Movements: Self-practice in Contemporary Art and A Museum That Is Not.”

Giorgio Agamben addresses the concept of movement as “that which if it is, is as if it wasn’t, it lacks itself; and if it isn’t, is as if it was, it exceeds itself.” This ambivalence between lack and plenitude marks the movement as “unfinished, unaccomplished,” suggesting that it occupies a point between the pre-political and the political, and a point without movement in an active sense, and, therefore, without a future or past of failure or resolution. This balancing point, by necessity, also makes “movement” hard to locate or define; hence its sense of being ripe for questioning when applied to the world.

Since 2010, Carol Yinghua Lu, Liu Ding and Su Wei—self-described as “a three-person curatorial team include[ing] an artist, a curator and a critic”—have been developing together what they call the Little Movements project. The recent presentation of this project at OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT) in Shenzhen, titled Little Movements: Self-practice in Contemporary Art, has provided an opportunity to see the current state of this project in the form of an exhibition.

By a happy quirk of fate, at the same time as this show, Liu Ding was fulfilling his role as an artist by presenting work in the group show A Museum That Is Not, curated by Nikita Yingqian Cai, at the Times Museum in nearby Guangzhou. A Museum That Is Not investigated the parameters of the museum as an institutional experience, with a particular focus on the host museum’s own position with the community around it, and conveniently showcased Liu Ding’s creative approaches to what can be seen as parallel concerns to the content and methods of Little Movements: Self-practice in Contemporary Art.

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

ArtSlant: A Not so Small Excercise

Little Movements – Self Practice in Contemporary Art, curated by Carol Yinghua Lu and Liu Ding, assistant curator Su Wei

OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT) of the He Xiangning Art Museum, Enping Road, Overseas Chinese Town, Nanshan District, Shenzhen, China.

10 September – 10 November, 2011

In my review last April of You Are Not a Gadget at Pékin Fine Arts, I talked about the curator Carol Yinghua Lu’s self-involvement in the curatorial process. This is a feature of her activities that keys into the ongoing question of the role of the curator in relation to the artwork, artist and institution. Her partner, artist Liu Ding, is known for his critical approach to practices of presentation and value formation through the production and exhibition of art. So it seems wholly appropriate for them to work together on the current show at Shenzhen’s OCAT, a show they have been researching over the past year with curator Su Wei, and which aims to present a broad vision of “Little Movements” that are perhaps difficult to quantify and possibly destined to marginalisation under the art system.

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ArtSlant: Museum for the Times

A Museum That is Not: ChART Contemporary, HomeShop, Hu Xiangqian, Liu Ding, Museum of American Art in Berlin, Museum of Unknown, Wilfredo Prieto, Wu Jie, Zhang Xiangxi, curated by Nikita Yingqian Cai

Guangdong Times Museum, Times Rose Garden, Huang Bian Bei Lu, Bai Yun Da Dao, 510440 Guangzhou

11 September – 30 October, 2011

The premise put forward by curator Nikita Cai for A Museum That is Not favours a broad engagement with the idea of the museum, the related social and material effects of such an institution, as well as the point at which it becomes other than a museum (or—to view it from the other direction—the point at which the other becomes a museum). What we are presented with is a show that, while somewhat disparate, includes tangential approaches that refresh the overall theme while avoiding proscription of its meanings.

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GeoSlant: The Journey West Travel Office

Stephanie Rothenberg & Dan S. Wang: The Journey West Travel Office

The Journey West Travel Office, 43 Zhonglouwan Hutong, Dongcheng District, Beijing, 100007 China

21 May – 10 July, 2011

As an agent of Spectacle, tourism fulfils manufactured desires, and you can’t get more manufactured—or at least programmed—than guided tours. Tailor-made to your requirements? Maybe so, but within your tightly regimented schedule (value-for-money!) you’ll see only what you want to see, and the tendency to cede control and the experience to the tour company itself becomes part of a demonstration of social and economic affluence. But maybe those restrictions can be put to use to provide a frame within which to re-view our understanding of the sites that we visit, through a critical engagement with the process and assumptions of tourism.

Setting up shop for the last two months in a tiny street front space in the historic Drum and Bell Tower area (once home to Beijing’s time-keeping apparatus), American artists Stephanie Rothenberg and Dan S. Wang have been running their Journey West Travel Office. The Office has been developed as a serious business, from their initial location scouting in this strategic area which sees plenty of foot traffic from potential clients, to the process of interviewing and engaging salespeople, whose subsequent travails as arbiters of the various package tours to passers-by become documentary material adding to the content of the piece as a performative intervention in the area.

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ArtSlant: Noise and Context

The Sound of Nowhere

Various sites around Dongcheng District, Beijing

5 – 12 June, 2011

Like any art form, creative activity that involves sound has a relationship with the world as a production and with an audience as reception. Both relationships have different expectations and requirements for whatever might be termed “success.”

The often ephemeral form of sound work dictates that it must assert itself in a stronger way to ensure its reception as in some way distinct from the “distractions” it works within. The concert hall, for instance, not only provides a hermetic, purpose-built environment for the perception of sound, but—as with the gallery—it creates a psychological space devoted to sound, which prepares the audience to receive the material.

As visual art has its idealised environments in the white/grey/black cubes, and must negotiate new tactics of reception upon leaving those spaces, so sound encounters a potentially hostile, but promisingly productive terrain upon entering the outside world. This boundary between the sound work and the world is a fertile creative ground for the artist, on which the work can take any position, and which creates the relationship with the audience and their understanding of how the work fits into the environment. This might be described, referring back to visual arts, as its “framing,” which include not just the physical details of the environment, but the institutional structures around the pieces.

In the case of The Sound of Nowhere, the environment is made up of the collection of this particular set of pieces in a group show with this particular name and provenance; the (rather nicely designed) handout guiding the audience to the sites; the background information about the artists and works provided.

Sound’s ephemeral nature perhaps encourages me to focus on these “extraneous” details in the appreciation of the work. The organisers themselves stress “the processes of the search, discovery, listening to and/or taking in.” The works in The Sound of Nowhere are widely dispersed around the hutongs of Beijing’s Dongcheng District and work with these constraints and conditions as part of their being in the world.

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