ASPECT Magazine: Ma Yongfeng’s The Swirl 2002

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Ma Yongfeng, The Swirl 2002

What we are watching here is a video work from 2002 entitled The Swirl by Chinese artist Ma Yongfeng. This 15 minute video is one of Ma’s very first works at a point where he was displaying an interest in using what might be seen as futile behaviours, as a means of pricking the fabric of reality, and questioning it’s assumptions. Ma has more recently become known for his minimal interventions in daily life and socially aware services, but at the point at which this video was produced, these interests were still nascent.

Well, I can’t ignore the video anymore, and that of course is its problematic – this traumatic activity which is presented to us – these fish which are due for quite a ride, as we will see.

As the commentator for this work, and ostensibly representative of it and of the artist, the unfolding of the piece makes it tempting to expound my own strong opinions about the treatment of animals, which could come into conflict with my respect for the artist. But neither Ma, nor—I guess—you, as the audience, will thank me for making such apologies. What’s done is done, and we (the audience as well as the artist) must deal with the consequences.

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GeoSlant: Shan Studio and Gigonline: Don’t wake the neighbours

Sheng Jie (aka gogoj) and Shan Studio

Shan Studio, 3-2-302# Sweetness Home, No.29 Huayuan Hutong Dongxiang, Andingmennei, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China

It’s midnight, Beijing-time, and in the darkened living room of a small apartment near the city’s second ring road, two figures quietly attend to their bank of equipment. The performers, Taurin Barrera and gogoj, appear not entirely there, in a world of their own, working away in an environment with few sounds filling the room aside from the rustles of their movements. Projected on the wall beside them are gogoj’s wave form lightening strikes, reacting to some unheard input, building from simple shaped waves through to complex smears and many-dimensional structures as the feeds become ever more complex. The silence in the room contrasts starkly with the sounds and visuals each performer is producing within the walls of the equipment and immediately dispersed away online to a small audience which has gathered from around the world to experience False SIP, Shan Studio’s first Gigonline.

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ArtSlant: Narrative Naysaying

Overstep: Shen Yi Elsie & Lei Benben Works Exhibition

Siemens Home Appliance Art Space, Taoci 2nd Street, 798 Art District, 100015 Beijing, China

23 July – 7 August, 2011

In 2010, on a side street behind the main drag of 798, the German appliance company Siemens opened a small art space as part of their mission to “finance young artists’ projects and provide community service around China.” As part of this worthy cause, this month the gallery is hosting Overstep, a show of two young Chinese artists Shen Yi Elsie and Lei Benben, curated by Pi Li (Director of Boers-Li Gallery).

Over the past few years both Shen Yi Elsie and Lei Benben have moved from photographic works to a more expansive approach to media – in Lei’s case into video and for Shen a practice that has developed through video into public interventions. For Pi Li, their work “oversteps” discredited boundaries of objectivity, fragmenting narrative into disjointed personal histories, creating a situation he characterises as “the inversion of time and space, [where] reality starts to drift into illusion and no longer firmly detains us.”

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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.

djs and vjs: so what (are you doing)?

The previous post about the relationship between the fashion house Dior and the artists in its exhibition at Ullens Centre here in Beijing reminded me about a certain uneasiness I had about how much enjoyment I was having at the Laoban Mixing Event which took place at the CPU:798 in December and which we hope to continue in 2009.

[ASIDE: I don’t want to always seem like I’m complaining about things and especially not about Laoban, I had a great time and Jon did a great job and I fully support what he’s doing. I think in every positive I see the potential for improvement, and I also want to understand what it is that I am finding so good, I guess so I can find more of the same. So, I can be quite critical of things, as I have high expectations.]

There were some very talented performers and artists working at the event, producing stunning visuals and sounds, and I can happily admit that I loved it – I was thoroughly engaged in it.

But at times my self-awareness came back and I was left wondering: what is the point of all this, what possible purpose does it serve apart from instant gratification? There was a hermeticism about it all, cut off inside that room from reality, and that began to worry me.

Looking back, the only artist who directly addressed some audience or source outside of the small group, some kind of larger society, with a hope perhaps of making some kind of comment, was Du Qin (a.k.a. D4Q1N), specifically generating a flying array of what I think was the current RMB to USD exchange rate as part of his projection – at any point in time a quite meaningful piece of information for society.

Du Qin at the Laoban Mixing Event, CPU:798
Du Qin at the Laoban Mixing Event, CPU:798. 12/2008.

Many of the other visuals that I saw were semi- or fully-abstract patterns, which—while distracting and by and large visually appealing—seemed to serve only to distract, not to engage. In most cases the visuals were feeding off the music and vice versa, producing what amounted to a closed loop, again not entering into an engagement with an audience either within the room or beyond.

[ASIDE: Of course, there may have been meanings which were lost on me. I may have missed them, but also the nature of symbolism is much more deeply ingrained in China than in Britain (from where I got most of my visual knowledge), so the significance of some imagery may have been meaningless to me.]

Nevertheless, the disjunction between my enjoyment of the sounds and visions, and my disquiet over the lack of engagement, can be rationalised by understanding the evening itself as the engagement. The possibility of the evening happening and what it represents is the socially important thing, both looking inward to the participants and outward to the rest of the world.

I should probably learn from the Adorno quotation which I posted a while ago, about ‘commitment’ in art. He says: “It is not the office of art to spotlight alternatives, but to resist by its form alone the course of the world, which permanently puts a pistol to men’s heads.” Looking further back in my posted quotes there is the Marxist Art Historian Meyer Shapiro presenting abstraction in art, for all it’s seeming lack of subject, and hence effectiveness, nevertheless is the “domain of culture in which contradiction between the professed ideals and the actuality [of our culture] is most obvious and often becomes tragic.” In a similar way, I think, the abstraction of Laoban’s participants, itself against the norms, presents an alternative which energises society purely by its presence in the system.

I would go further, though, and give more credit to the event itself as a process which creates some change, some difference. At the end of the day the event can only (re)present what the individuals are doing at any given moment. If no one is engaging through their work, then engagement will not appear. But the evening itself can serve as an engagement. By moving the means of engagement onto the level of the container, this perhaps avoids a situation where participants feel pressured to conform to a particular mode of display, one which has a rather bad reputation for histrionics.

It’s true that there are many ways to make a statement, and being part of something which makes a statement—even if you yourself don’t make one—is perhaps enough, and important. You are guilty by association, as it were.

Laoban Soundsystem: Xmas Mixing Event at CPU:798

My friends at the Laoban Soundsystem will be installed in the Gallery tonight presenting their new venture, the Laoban Soundsystem. This is an open invite to all artists, musicians etc. to come along and show off what they are working on. Should be an exciting, energetic evening! Come along and see works in progress.

Laoban Soundsystem 1.0 Holiday Mixing Event at CPU:798

Friday, December 12, 8 PM – 12 Midnight, Free and Open to the Public

We invite all to come out to the launch of version 1.0 of the Laoban Soundsystem for a special Holiday Mixing Event at CPU:798. This is a new type of media event where all are welcome to join, bring media, laptops, video players, cameras, and other recording devices. The goal is to mix media, explore what artists, DJs, musicians, designers, and architects are working on RIGHT NOW — successes, failures, and rough edges are welcome at Laoban events! The ultimate plan is for consumers to be producers by both mixing media, and by tagging any recordings they have with “laoban” when posting onto twitter.com, flickr.com, or other places.

Notes on the artist Zheng Yunhan

Zheng’s work deals with the relationship between the Chinese people and their landscapes, it’s idealised nature as a site for forming, as man-perfected/adjusted material, a symbolic residue or site of potential for human activity.

His works stem from an investigation of his home town of Jixi, a mining town in NE China. Jixi Research Project, ongoing since 2004, is a documentary-like archive of visual and spoken records of the lives of the people living in this town dominated by mining and the consequences of this industry on their lives and landscape. This piece is presented as a 4-channel projection with interactivity, emphasising the audiences participation in the story telling process.

For Sunflower Project, Zheng commissioned his family and friends to plant a large field of sunflowers in the hills surrounding the town of Jixi. The resulting artwork is an ultra-high resolution composite photograph of this field. On the one side in the distance is Jixi and on the other a memorial marking a mass grave of locals killed by the Japanese Army during the occupation of China during the Second World War. The sunflowers act as physical link between the living and the dead, a route of remembrance, reflecting during their short lives the remains of life and death all around them.