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.
Alessandro Rolandi’s Social Sensibility R&D Program at BERNARD CONTROLS S.A. in Beijing
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.”
Not Only A Taoist Troublemaker! group show
za jia lab, Hong’En Daoist Temple, Doufuchi Hutong, Dongcheng District, Beijing
20 – 23 November, 2011
Not Only A Taoist Troublemaker! was a short-lived exhibition occupying a leaf-strewn room in a small arts space attached to a bar. A bar with a vegetable market behind; sharing a building that housed a screw factory during the Cultural Revolution. A screw factory built inside a Taoist temple, replacing the site’s original Buddhist temple. This overlapping of every kind of ideology provided an ideal backdrop for the six artists’ work in this show curated by forget art.
forget art is an organisation created by artist Ma Yongfeng, about whose “guerrilla” tactics I have written once before on ArtSlant. It has become well-known for the ironic nature of its exhibitions, interventions, and projects. These activities are knowingly aware of themselves and their contexts, and never take these or themselves too seriously.
Stephanie Rothenberg & Dan S. Wang: The Journey West Travel Office
The Journey West Travel Office, 43 Zhonglouwan Hutong, Dongcheng District, Beijing, 100007 China
21 May – 10 July, 2011
As an agent of Spectacle, tourism fulfils manufactured desires, and you can’t get more manufactured—or at least programmed—than guided tours. Tailor-made to your requirements? Maybe so, but within your tightly regimented schedule (value-for-money!) you’ll see only what you want to see, and the tendency to cede control and the experience to the tour company itself becomes part of a demonstration of social and economic affluence. But maybe those restrictions can be put to use to provide a frame within which to re-view our understanding of the sites that we visit, through a critical engagement with the process and assumptions of tourism.
Setting up shop for the last two months in a tiny street front space in the historic Drum and Bell Tower area (once home to Beijing’s time-keeping apparatus), American artists Stephanie Rothenberg and Dan S. Wang have been running their Journey West Travel Office. The Office has been developed as a serious business, from their initial location scouting in this strategic area which sees plenty of foot traffic from potential clients, to the process of interviewing and engaging salespeople, whose subsequent travails as arbiters of the various package tours to passers-by become documentary material adding to the content of the piece as a performative intervention in the area.