In-between Artwork

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

USA USB (2008) by 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.

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Various visions (wall text for Facing East group show)

A wall text for a group show of Chinese artists which opened last Tuesday at Ausin Tung Gallery in Melbourne, Australia. Just brief introductions to the various artists involved.

Facing East: Chen Hangfeng, Gao Weigang, Ji Wenyu & Zhu Weibing, Pu Jie, Ren Bo, Wu Daxin, Wu Junyong, You Si, Zhang Bojun.

Ausin Tung Gallery, Melbourne, Australia

24 April – 2 June, 2012

screenshot from Untitled by Ren Bo

Facing East presents the broad range of contemporary art from Chinese artists, covering the continuing presence of China’s deep traditions, the ambiguity of the connections between recent history and daily life, and the place of Chinese society on a precarious balancing point between the influx and outflow of social and culture tides.

To “face East” is essentially an act of looking from “here” to an “other” culture, with both sides often conveniently proscribed as monolithic. The assumptions based on this starting point are such common occurrences that we perhaps don’t give them a second thought. Over the years the theories of Post colonialism have developed the idea of the periphery, away from the hegemonic “West,” but equally away from an assumption of a coherent “East.”

China is but one part of this “East” and within China there are many developments, fast and slow, which afford a myriad of images and perspectives. Like any society, China is in continual development, and—if we are paying attention—continually subverts our assumptions about it.

In Facing East we see works by recent generations of artists, living out their own internalised and internationalised histories and cultures in vivid and vibrant ways, taking on or discarding influences as openly as they reflect or reject their own.

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Photos from Ma Yongfeng’s “forget art” show

As Ma mentioned in my interview with him, the group show “forget art” which he has curated took place this afternoon in the Dragon Fountain Bathhouse in Caochangdi. Following his reasoning for the show, the works more or less blended into reality, so for a while the whole bathhouse was an object of artistic possibility.