Various visions (wall text for Facing East group show)

A wall text for a group show of Chinese artists which opened last Tuesday at Ausin Tung Gallery in Melbourne, Australia. Just brief introductions to the various artists involved.

Facing East: Chen Hangfeng, Gao Weigang, Ji Wenyu & Zhu Weibing, Pu Jie, Ren Bo, Wu Daxin, Wu Junyong, You Si, Zhang Bojun.

Ausin Tung Gallery, Melbourne, Australia

24 April – 2 June, 2012

screenshot from Untitled by Ren Bo

Facing East presents the broad range of contemporary art from Chinese artists, covering the continuing presence of China’s deep traditions, the ambiguity of the connections between recent history and daily life, and the place of Chinese society on a precarious balancing point between the influx and outflow of social and culture tides.

To “face East” is essentially an act of looking from “here” to an “other” culture, with both sides often conveniently proscribed as monolithic. The assumptions based on this starting point are such common occurrences that we perhaps don’t give them a second thought. Over the years the theories of Post colonialism have developed the idea of the periphery, away from the hegemonic “West,” but equally away from an assumption of a coherent “East.”

China is but one part of this “East” and within China there are many developments, fast and slow, which afford a myriad of images and perspectives. Like any society, China is in continual development, and—if we are paying attention—continually subverts our assumptions about it.

In Facing East we see works by recent generations of artists, living out their own internalised and internationalised histories and cultures in vivid and vibrant ways, taking on or discarding influences as openly as they reflect or reject their own.

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ArtSlant: All in the Family

Why do we do useless things? Irrelevant Commission curated by Qiu Xunlin

Tang Contemporary Art, 798 Art District, No.2 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China

24 March – 29 April, 2012

a work by Ye Nan

Two week ago I reviewed Wang Du’s aircraft carrier, sitting in Tang Contemporary’s main spaces, and this week I am returning the same gallery but moving my attention to the group show running alongside, this being the second appearance of the Irrelevant Commission in Beijing.

I was lucky to catch the first appearance of Irrelevant Commission, in their self-organised show ‘We Are Irrelevant Commission’ (curated by Gu Jing) at the Miao Pu Art District, but I remember at the time being troubled by the meaning of this group. Although they are forthright in their self-presentation as a group, I wondered if their chosen name was perhaps an indication of the value (or lack of value) they place on the idea of a group. Their major claim to collectivity was that they all graduated from the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou within a year or two of each other (from 2006–2008). In terms of their work, there was apparently little to connect them, neither in terms of style, content, or theory. So this could perhaps be classed as a institutional grouping, but beyond that this first group show held no particular stylistic cohesion, no clearly expressed curatorial framework, and—although individually there were some nice pieces—there was not enough to really get to grips with or to pull together for a review (speaking for myself).

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GeoSlant: Alessandro Rolandi

Alessandro Rolandi’s Social Sensibility R&D Program at BERNARD CONTROLS S.A. in Beijing

Guillaume Bernard and Alessandro Rolandi at Bernard Controls

When asked about her working environment, one worker said she would like to feel the sun on her skin for a while – a simple but poetic request, fulfilled by moving her workstation outside the factory for a short period. Another worker took the opportunity to make a fluid sculpture out of the big barrel of grease he was using, giving it the title: “A piece of shit.” These little gestures came about as part of Italian artist Alessandro Rolandi’s Social Sensibility R&D Program, instituted in the factory of Bernard Controls S.A. on the outskirts of Beijing.

Bernard Controls is a French family-owned company producing specialist servo engines for operating valves in water pipes found in nuclear power stations, but also used in places like the Beijing Opera House and the Olympic Swimming Pool (AKA the “Water Cube”) in Beijing.

For a factory to embrace such a distraction from the serious business of production is down to the initiative of the boss, Guillaume Bernard, an engineer with a particular interest in corporate social responsibility. But while Bernard Controls already had a steering committee working to improve management personnel relationships using activities such as exhibition visits and music concerts, M. Bernard was looking beyond this. “He’s one step ahead,” Rolandi says. “He’s an engineer, not a psychologist, sociologist, or a philosopher. We talked a lot about this, and he seems genuinely open to more socially aware activities, which I related to relational practice within the art world.”

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ArtSlant: Battleship Museum

Wang Du: Musée d’Art Contemporain de la Chine

Tang Contemporary Art, 798 Art District, No.2 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China

24 March – 30 April, 2012

Wang Du thinks big, and his new piece, a model of a split and rusting aircraft carrier hulk, purportedly presents his proposal for a suitably grandiose Chinese Museum of Contemporary Art. Wang’s installation could be taken for a monument to a megalomaniac architect’s visionary plans, or—as he suggests—a country’s obsessive statecraft through the building of overpowering structures.

But I see this installation not as a model that looks beyond itself to a completed form. For me the stress remains on this mass of iron as a sculpture in its own right. It does not represent a proposed thing anymore, this is not about projections into the future, but about the nature of the desire’s represented through the object as it stands. The artist makes this clear by referencing the use of museums as powerful tools of diplomacy, physical embodiments of ideology, and manifestations of propaganda. The model is as much representative of this as any completed structure.

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