Over the past few weeks I’ve begun a series of interviews for the “Uncut Talks” sound magazine, a project initiated by the artist Ma Yongfeng of forget art. At this point I thought I would pull together the first three interviews which (coincidentally) have all been with Chinese sound artists and musicians. Future interviews will venture into other creative fields. Ma Yongfeng and the Italian curator and artist Alessandro Rolandi have also added their own interviews to the Uncut Talks site, so please take a moment and check them out, I think there is something for everyone there!
Zajia Lab are starting a series of midnight events to get us all out of the normal patterns of experiencing these things (as I understand it). The first was last Saturday night/Sunday morning with an album launch for 冯昊 Feng Hao and 李增辉 Li Zenghui’s project, 核桃室 The Walnut Room.
Recently I was asked by the Chinese publication, BazaarArt, for my choice of favourite artwork of the last year. It was obviously a very difficult choice, but the artist Ma Yongfeng’s work stood out for me. Here are the original responses I gave to BazaarArt:
The name of your favorite art work of 2012:
“Invest in Contradiction” by Ma Yongfeng
When and where did you find this art work?
At the Bernard Controls factory, on the outskirts of Beijing.
Why does this particular item become your “love of the year”?
In amongst the complacency indicative of a broad swathe of art production in China and its lack of meaning outside its own closed community, Ma Yongfeng’s work stands out for its willingness to take some intelligent and provocative risks with form and context. “Invest in Contradiction” came about as a result of his being invited to take part in the unique and far-sighted “Social Sensibility R&D Program.” This program has been developed by the Italian artist and curator Alessandro Rolandi as a series of artist placements at Bernard Controls, a small engineering factory on the outskirts of Beijing. Having spent time with the workers to understand the situation his work would have to exist within, Ma’s contribution became a series of stenciled or graffiti’ed statements dispersed throughout the building. The messages were culled from the artist’s own observations of the reality of the workplace, as well as from conversations with the workers. “Invest in Contradiction,” which Ma prominently stenciled on the workshop wall, is an adaptation of the company’s official slogan: “Invest in Confidence.” Of course, it’s a very real risk that where an artist is asked to produce work as a direct reaction to spending a short period of time amongst their audience, the resulting work simply patronizes them without really creating any mutual communication. In this case though, Ma’s slight adjustment to the official statement adds a touch of humor and a little bit of a utopian vision to this prosaic workplace.
The following is a catalogue text I wrote for artist Ren Bo’s solo exhibition, currently on show at Jiali Gallery in Beijing. More information about the show can be found on the gallery’s website.
An interpretation of the practice of Ren Bo
Ren Bo’s work originally attracted my attention because of its quiet humour and playfulness with and within the institutional setting of the gallery. The first piece of her work I discovered was USA USB (2008) in the group show Memory Identity,1 and presented in the current show [subsequently removed]. This small work was placed on the floor of a large darkened room. The piece itself displayed a certain relaxed attitude to its presentation, trailing its various component parts across the floor in an abstract formation that defied easy analysis – beyond the pun of the title formed in neon tubing. For me this quiet joke was enough to catch my eye, humour acting generally as a subversion of the world around us, and this simple and seemingly pointless play on words pleased me without forcing or expecting an interpretation. The piece left things open to interpretation, without pushing the viewer over that particular threshold.
I now realise this humour and playfulness works alongside a serious intent, with a touch of pathos in the hopelessness expressed in some of Ren Bo’s works. This combination works in a quiet way, to put the viewer in a strange position in relation to the objects and the subtle meanings of them. In the way that the pieces do not settle in their meanings or our experiences of them, this unease represents a small element of doubt in the world. This subtlety is an important part of the work’s life in the world. They are not didactic or histrionic in their presentations. The “calmness” of the works brings us up short. It does not express in itself nor does it demand physical or intellectual interaction. If it is an object it stands before us; if it is an image, it is presented to us, for consideration.