Curated by Su Wei. Participating artists: Chen Shaoxiong, Chen Zhou, Li Qi, Li Ran, Liu Ding, Ma Liuming, Xing Danwen, Zhu Ming. At Star Gallery, Beijing
April 13 – May 16, 2013
In this inaugural exhibition for Star Gallery’s new Beijing space, curator Su Wei addresses certain perceived limitations in the discourse surrounding Chinese performance art. Drawing on the work of eight artists, the presentation avoids “formulated mechanisms,” Su writes, to specifically address works “irreducible to any classification within the historical process of aesthetics.” Su proposes that this can partly be accomplished by more fully addressing the original contexts of the performances: “It is impossible to [remove] the work of the artist from its site.”
Curating needs a bit of a shake down in China. The term has become a cliché to describe pretty much any situation in which one can point to a modicum of organisation, and is often characterised as a perfunctory look at the issues raised. Seminars that take a long hard look at the subject, and successfully integrate local and international resources and audiences, are also pretty rare in this context. So, despite the Summer heat in Guangzhou, we couldn’t refuse the invitation of the Guangdong Times Museum to attend their “No Ground Underneath: Curating on the Nexus of Changes” which brought together practitioners from near and far in an extended forum over three days of intensive presentations and discussions.
Nikita Yingqian Cai, curator of the Times Museum, in collaboration with the seemingly ubiquitous independent curator and critic Carol Yinghua Lu, co-curated this event as a prelude to a new series of books on the general subject of curation, to be published by the Museum beginning later this year.
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.
To celebrate the opening of the 2012 Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, which opened last Saturday, all this week I’ll be posting texts that I wrote for the catalogue of said exhibition. Next up in this fifth of six pieces, the subject is the wound length of rubber seen recently at Pace Beijing’s solo show of the work of Sui Jianguo (note this text refers to an alternative, wall-mounted version, than that finally displayed in the Shenzhen show).
Rubber and nails, 1996–1997
Kill represents a point in Sui Jianguo’s work where his work past from an early “expressionistic” stage through to more conceptual representations, reflecting a more ironic use of symbolic imagery that could be seen as developing in parallel to the emergence of cynical realism in China at the time.
The two, long rubber sheets of Kill hang off lengths of old wood, the whole structure propped up against the wall. The sheets are studded with thousands of small nails forming an intricate, abstract pattern over the rubber surface (these patterns are perhaps more obvious when viewed from the side where the flat heads lie). Overall the strips look somewhat like flayed animal skins, hanging up to dry. Their bristly surface also has a thick, carpet-like appearance, belying the sharpness of the nail’s tips.
To celebrate the opening of the 2012 Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, which opened last Saturday, all this week I’ll be posting texts that I wrote for the catalogue of said exhibition. In this fourth piece, of the six in total, I talk about the fact that many of Song Dong’s works deal with the traces we leave and the access that gives us to the perpetrators.
Colour photography, 1996
These twinned photographs record two actions performed by Song Dong in Beijing during the winter of 1996. Alternately laying face down in Beijing’s Tian’anmen Square (the de facto locus of recent political history in China) and then on the frozen surface of Houhai Lake (one of the man-made lakes fringing the Western edge of the Forbidden City, to the North-West of Tian’anmen Square), in each case Song simply breathed for 40 minutes onto the surface in front of his face. In the sub-zero temperatures of those winter nights his warm, moist breath formed a crust of ice on the flagstones in the former location, but reportedly had little effect on the lake’s thick ice. By the morning all trace of these activities had disappeared leaving these photographs behind as their record.
To celebrate the opening of the 2012 Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, which opened last Saturday, all this week I’ll be posting texts that I wrote for the catalogue of said exhibition. This is the third of the six pieces I wrote, this time about Simon Fujiwara’s religious experience in front of a work of art and the work’s life within the world.
“The Mirror Stage”
What does our experience of art tell us about ourselves? We might experience the meaning and value of art through our understanding of the work of the ‘genius artist,’ or in a superlative experience that overwhelms us, an ecstatic appreciation, a moment of bliss. These understandings are essentially subjective but have become part of the mythology of Art’s work in the world, to make up in some way for its lack of practical use perhaps. As such the validity and value of these understandings cannot be taken at face value.
“Epiphany” is the word used to describe artist Simon Fujiwara’s experience in the mid-‘90s, standing in front of a large colour-field painting by artist Patrick Heron, then on display at the Tate St Ives (an outpost of the Tate Gallery in Britain). Although this event is apparently what set Fujiwara on the road to becoming an artist, we are also led to believe that, rather than a particularly spiritual epiphany, this case of revelation was a sexual one – Fujiwara’s realisation of his own homosexuality.
To celebrate the opening of the 2012 Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, which opened last Saturday, all this week I’ll be posting texts that I wrote for the catalogue of said exhibition. First up: Haroon Mirza’s piece that is represented with a video in Shenzhen, but in reality is a rather complex installation, as I’ve tried to describe.
The elaborate installations of artist Haroon Mirza analyze the formation of sound and noise as a cultural and social mechanism as much as a mechanical one. The various parts of the piece Adhãn build into a work that touches on the way music and noise produce and communicate meaning in context with other objects. The cultural results of these productions of meaning hold particular significance for the artist, especially (as in this case) the role they play in religious and secular society.
Created following a visit to Pakistan in 2007–8, Adhãn reflects the artist’s research into the “uneasy role music plays in the Islamic faith”,1 the title referring to the call to prayer performed by the Muezzin, an official in a mosque. The installation is made up of seemingly disparate objects with their workings and formative elements insistently exposed, as is common in Mirza’s work. Various old items of furniture support or become part of the process of the piece, including a long, low cupboard with integral lamp at one end. Next to the cupboard sits a radio tuned to static, whose aerial pokes up into the canopy of the lamp. The lamp flickers in tandem with music coming from a small TV set at the other end of the cupboard, causing the radio’s interference to modulate in sync with these pulses. The TV is broadcasting an acoustic session by musician Cat Stevens from 1971, who famously converted to Islam some years after the recording, changing his name to Yusuf Islam in the process, so creating a direct link to the recent history of the Islamic faith within the piece.