Following the series of interviews I made with sound workers in China back in April, and since I’ve now (temporarily!) moved back to the UK, I’ve taken the opportunity to record a further set of chats with people and groups in this country. Generally speaking these people interested me because of their approach to the way a practice negotiates the social fabric. The relationship between these speakers activities and what one might call a cultural practice is perhaps quite an ambivalent one, in some cases even an irrelevant consideration for them. I point that out because such activities have in some cases been subsumed within an art practice—specifically the “dialogic” approach—but such practices may at times be seen to “work” better when kept at a distance from such a context, a choice of position which in the process calls into question the efficacy of an art-based practice in attempting to come to grips with the world.
“We at Camden Arts Centre are Exceedingly Proud to Present an Exhibition of Capable Artworks by the Notable Hand of the Celebrated American, Kara Elizabeth Walker, Negress.” at Camden Arts Centre, London.
NOIT Journal Launch, at Flat-Time House, London.
From Kara Walker at the Camden Arts Centre, to John Latham at the Flat-Time House; from the visceral, to the cerebral (but that’s more about playing with words than a fair assessment of the two shows – although it does tell you something fairly basic about certain features of each show; I’m pretty sure there were never so many representations of penises in Latham’s work, as there are no scientific formulae in Walker’s, to my knowledge).
The events that Walker represents in her silhouettes seem stuck in their time, by their development and exploitation of an extreme imaginary of the history of slavery as it took place in the American South; whereas Latham’s works (at least in their meaning) have no such specificity of time and event, but are all about time and event as qualities in a very scientific sense, and as these pertain to the creative act.
Although Latham’s work might be said to have a certain style of the period when they were made, a style of the British-flavours of conceptual art (Art & Language, Liliane Lijn, to name two). But this recognition of a style might be said to incorporate as much of an imaginary as the recognition of the imagery that Walker exploits.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine two more different artists.
To focus primarily on Walker’s work, the way I have characterised it as being stuck in a time, I am suggesting is problematic. They have an interesting relationship to the development of Walker’s artworks. At this point it seems as if her format and imagery has been mined to exhaustion, and now to be actually self-creating its subject matter (although perhaps they always were). From work that draws attention to existing tropes and stereotypes, we seem to have reached a stage where these silhouettes are pushed to become a completely new set of stereotypes – Walker’s own creations rather than a reflection of a historical situation. Is this not problematic? Is the work not now creating that world which it originally accused history and society of brushing under the carpet?
[English text below]
机器与人之间 —— aaajiao个展《屏幕一代：前传》
2013.11.02 – 12.01
Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, 798 Art District, Beijing
January 13–April 14, 2013
With ON I OFF, an extensive group show that occupied all of the exhibition spaces at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing, curators Bao Dong and Sun Dongdong attempted to come to grips with the ongoing issue of rationalizing the latest round of artists to have emerged on the Chinese visual arts scene over the past few years. They chose to pursue a course of highlighting what they see as the diversity of current art production in China. The curators framed this diversity as a distinctive trait of the Chinese art environment, a trait they say works against generalizing views, describing the exhibition as an expression of “polyphony” and “multiplicity.” They go so far as to characterize contemporary art in China as “a series of encounters,” each of which must be taken on its own merits, also claiming that “any artistic practice is yet another attempt at defining the scope of practice itself.” As a result, contemporary art practices can be understood neither from “a sociological perspective—seeing [them] as evidence of any number of social realities and ideologies”—nor “by way of the so-called internal logic of artistic language and method.”1
In the exhibition format of ON I OFF itself, the curators deliberately attempted to reflect this understanding of the contemporary art world in China. Its fifty participating artists (or, in three cases, a duo of artists) were presented in what might be described as a “flat” format in the sense that there was no articulation by category, theme, or highlight. That said, despite the curators’ premise of multiplicity and the consequent lack of logical organization in the gallery spaces themselves, it was possible to pick out particular connections among the artworks.
Several artists’ work displayed an interest in investigating form or material, a a manifestation of a kind of “internal logic” that the curators apparently dismissed. The painterly abstractions of both Xie Molin and Wang Guangle, which, while using diametrically opposed techniques—Xie Molin has developed a machine to create the evenly-spaced furrows in the thick, multi-hued painted surfaces of Ji No. 4 (2012) and Inconsistent Output No. 6 (2012); while Wang Guangle labouriously hand-paints subtle progressions of coloured pigments, layer after layer, to create physical stacks of paint on the canvases121101 (2012) and 121102 (2012)—share a concern with the physicality of paint. In Heiqiao Tower of Babel (2012) and The Unknown Shimmering at the Edge of the World (2012) by Li Shurui, multiple canvases depicting shimmering interference patterns were connected to create structures that invaded the spaces in which they were installed. Liang Yuanwei’s paintings of repeating floral motifs, Pisces (left) (2011), and Pisces (right) (2012), retain an element of process-based activity in their creation, as these motifs were meticulously picked out from a gradation of colour travelling from the top to the bottom of the canvas. At first glance these repetitions appear cool and unemotional, yet the patterns apparently relate to clothes worn at significant events in the artist’s life.
[To read the full article, please pick up a copy of the Journal or visit the Yishu website]