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.
“Make a Great Work” [by Chinese artist Chu Yun] is an urban intervention on the level of soft monumentality. Soft monumentality is a concept developed by Wu Hung in his reading of the political and discursive uses of the architecture of Tiananmen Square. It is intended to encompass the flower displays, temporary amusement rides, ephemeral photo backgrounds, and other public sculptures that began to be placed in the square during National Day under the Jiang Zemin regime; all of this was opposed to the hard monumentality of earlier interventions in the political texture of the space, including the Monument to the People’s Heroes and, most notably, the Mao Zedong Mausoleum. Perhaps somewhat enamored with Jiang-era politics, Wu Hung claims that such techniques are akin to Michel de Certeau’s tactics of the everyday, and opposed to the strategic manipulations of architectural hegemony. Though he may have been overly optimistic, Chu Yun now brings a new version of soft monumentality for the age of soft power.
As an aside, “soft monumentality” is a term which could have been used to describe the soft works of American Pop artist, Claes Oldenburg (although I’m not sure that this exact conjunction is used with his work, but the words are separately applied to them). His pieces favoured humour over the gravity which art was expected to display at that time, and this seems to parallel, at least in its intentions if not it’s exact material or methods, the flowers amongst the monuments. The humour (in the sense of lightening the mood, perhaps) and the play with scale, if taken metaphorically, can be seen to be present over both these interventions.