ArtReview Asia: Xu Tan – Questions, Soil and ‘Socio-Botanic’

Xu Tan: Questions, Soil and ‘Socio-Botanic’

Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou

19 August – 22 November

Displaying a long-term commitment to his practice, most visible for the last six years in the ongoing Keywords Project, Guangzhou-based Xu Tan chooses to address both the detail as well as the ‘bigger picture’ of cultural and social change through his works. His current solo show in Guangzhou’s Vitamin Creative Space, titled Questions, Soil and ‘Socio-Botanic,’ shifts the subject matter from language—as demonstrated by Keywords—to issues of the conceptual and legal construction of the social landscape.

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Yishu Journal: Nutrition Spaces (Vitamin, Guangzhou and Beijing)

“Edward Sanderson speaks with Zhang Wei and Hu Fang about discovering ways of working within a private gallery that fosters an experience of art that is more than mere consumerism.”

An expanded appreciation of the gallery environment and its players, with a particular emphasis on the nature and expression of the physical and perceptual spaces that make up that environment, plays a significant role in the thinking and activities of Vitamin, a Guangzhou- and Beijing-based art organization. In its activities, Vitamin recognizes and utilizes these spaces through interaction with implied psychological and spiritual attributes that create an invisible energy, and that act as productive elements in the relationships among artist, artwork, and audience.

Zhang Wei and artistic director Hu Fang established Vitamin and opened Vitamin Creative Space, in 2002, in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou. Over the ten years of its existence, Vitamin has become relatively well established in the Chinese art scene as well as internationally by its presence at art fairs and through its projects and publications carried out with practitioners from both inside and outside its home territory. Its broad range of activities, exhibitions, events, and publications, and the often idiosyncratic nature of many of them, allow Vitamin to retain a feeling of informality, experimentation, and playfulness within a formalized gallery system.

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ArtSlant: Eliasson’s Essentials

The Pavilion, Vitamin Creative Space, 2503-B-Building 2, Northern District, Pingod Community, No.32 Baiziwan Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100022, China

May, 2012 –

Reflecting Vitamin Creative Space’s approach to the artwork as a “daily activity,” the four pieces by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson currently installed in their Beijing space (The Pavilion) are not quite an exhibition – there was no formal opening and no general announcement made, and there is no official end date to the show. Such an arrangement is part of Vitamin’s way of leaving space for the public to discover the works in conditions that strengthen their place in the world rather than as idealised art objects removed from it, potentially leading to more meaningful experiences with them.

This rather quixotic mode of presentation is reflected in the location of The Pavilion itself, perched on the top, 25th floor of an “art district” on the southern periphery of Beijing’s CBD. The relative inaccessibility of The Pavilion—there are no signs indicating its presence, you need to phone up for entry to the building, and the room is un-signposted and unannounced behind a standard white door at the end of a nondescript corridor—serves to place it in strange relation to its aims at engaging with “daily life.” This daily life came up a lot in a conversation I had recently with Zhang Wei, the founder of the space and her staff. On the level of a business, Vitamin seem to place themselves in something of a mid-point between acknowledging their role as a commercial gallery and as something akin to a non-profit space which might allow them to work with the art free from market constraints – something their ethos of “daily life” seems to embody.

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ArtSlant: Vegetable Matters

Country Fair

Little Donkey Farm, West of Houshajian Village, Sujiatuo Zhen, Haidian District, Beijing

April 16, 2011

To the North-West of Beijing just beyond the sixth ring road, approaching the mountains and the Great Wall, you find the Little Donkey Farm (LDF), a farm and community organisation promoting Community Supported Agriculture within China. LDF work with sustainable farming methods to grow and distribute healthy produce within the Beijing area. Artist Emi Uemura has been working with this organisation for the past year and April saw the fifth of their Country Fairs, initiated and co-organised by Uemura, an occasion where farmers and customers get together to buy and sell produce and share information. As was always planned by Uemura, Country Fair has now grown beyond her original artistic vision to become a broader platform for the social issues around food production.

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当代艺术与投资《社会食物:植村绘美》 Contemporary Art & Investment “Social Food: Emi Uemura”

There’s an Interesting edition of Contemporary Art & Investment out this month with, amongst other things, a feature on “Plants as a Kind of Art Relationshipology” (sic) for which I was asked to write a new piece about Emi Uemura and her work. This piece sits after a rather fine piece by Michael Eddy which gives a broader view of her practice.

Social Food: Emi Uemura

Through a number of discussions with Emi Uemura, alongside the more obvious subject matter, I’ve come to understand her work as dealing with a boundary between art and life that is forever friable and purposely undefined. I see her taking this position to prevent barriers either to the works’ appreciation or to the applicability of the work. Her subject matter highlights the raw materials of life—our food—and the processes of its production and delivery, but also the significance of our every-day decisions about it. Indeed “the every-day” may be seen as a consistent theme running through her work, an awareness of the unconscious, unremarked actions influenced by our environments and which are part of the bedrock of society. Although her works deal with “big” issues, the environment, organic food, etc. they deliberately try to stay small in scale and demonstrate a lightness of touch, keeping the effects on a personal level.

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ArtSlant: Growing Pains

HomeShop, Jiaodaokoubei2tiao 8, Dongcheng District, 10007 Beijing, China

A concern with the “everyday” happens to coincide for two of Beijing’s experimental spaces: both Vitamin Creative Space (whose Pavilion I addressed previously on ArtSlant) and HomeShop see it as grist to their mills. This past December, HomeShop moved into their new premises in a former Danwei dormitory in central Beijing. This move took place amidst an ongoing self-analysis of the relationship of their activities with the everyday and the sustainability of their practice.

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ArtSlant: Nooks and Crannies

Review of The Pavilion opening

Vitamin Creative Space, 2503-B- Building 2, Northern District, Pingod Community, No.32 Baiziwan Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100022, China

November 20, 2010 — ongoing

The end of November marked the inception of Vitamin Creative Space’s “The Pavilion” – their third space in China, and second in Beijing – and allowed for a revisiting of their presentation methods in their various spaces. So, what is this “Pavilion” and what purpose does it serve? And how does it relate to their previous space, “the shop”? Coming to grips with Vitamin’s selection of spaces reveals a taste for poetic license in their consistently ambiguous commercial spaces.

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