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.
What we are watching here is a video work from 2002 entitled The Swirl by Chinese artist Ma Yongfeng. This 15 minute video is one of Ma’s very first works at a point where he was displaying an interest in using what might be seen as futile behaviours, as a means of pricking the fabric of reality, and questioning it’s assumptions. Ma has more recently become known for his minimal interventions in daily life and socially aware services, but at the point at which this video was produced, these interests were still nascent.
Well, I can’t ignore the video anymore, and that of course is its problematic – this traumatic activity which is presented to us – these fish which are due for quite a ride, as we will see.
As the commentator for this work, and ostensibly representative of it and of the artist, the unfolding of the piece makes it tempting to expound my own strong opinions about the treatment of animals, which could come into conflict with my respect for the artist. But neither Ma, nor—I guess—you, as the audience, will thank me for making such apologies. What’s done is done, and we (the audience as well as the artist) must deal with the consequences.
Linda Gallery, 797 Street B Zone, 798 Art District, 2 Jiuxianqiao Lu, 100015 Beijing
4 June – 3 July, 2011
“Alibi,” the title in English of this group show at Linda Gallery in Beijing’s 798 Art District, seems so much more evocative than the Chinese title《不在场》which the essay by curator Wang Yifei translates as “Being Absent.” Although the adherence to the title seems a little weak at times, this show presents artists working with an absence of some sort. That being a very broad subject, the results take many forms and directions, and overall the show brings together an interesting selection of works, with some standout pieces.
Staying initially with the curator’s text, there are some points there that I think bear notice. Unsurprisingly, given where we are, the text does not delve too far into any of the contemporary social realities of “being absent.” Describing it in general terms as “like a conspiracy, an escape or a way of self-liberation.” To me this places the focus more on an individual’s agency in the matter and less on absence as a result of outside circumstances.
Guerrilla Living Syndrome: A Social Micro-Practice of Alternative Living
forget art, Beijing, China
16 May, 2011 – 16 May, 2012
forget art is a loose artist collective, based in Beijing, and initiated in 2009 by Chinese artist Ma Yongfeng. They focus on intervention-based work, often with a touch of the absurd, promoting small-scale, subtle disturbances in the fabric of society, which they describe as their “social micro-practice.”
As they work by and large outside of recognised gallery spaces, the creation and value of social space has become an important material for forget art. This keys into the long history of nomadism, with particular attention to the local experience in China and its mass population of migrant workers, as well as the international development of the itinerant white-collar worker. So in forget art’s “situations” ambivalence towards the fixed location comes through, feeding into their approach to production and presentation, and their feeling that sometimes it is necessary to “forget” in order to proceed. As Ma quips “That’s also why we don’t need any space – because we “forget art,” why do we need any space to do this?!”