ArtSlant: Pedestrian Potentialities?

19 Solo Shows About Painting (Bi Jianye, Huang Liang, Jia Aili, Jin Shan, Liao Guohe, Li Qing, Liu Weijian, Lin Yen Wei, Ma Ke, Qin Qi, Qi Wenzhang, Sun Xun, Sun Wen, Song Yuanyuan, Wu Guangyu, Xiao Bo, Xiao Jiang, Xu Ruotao, Zhou Yilun)

Platform China, Caochangdi, Beijing, China

12 March – 31 May, 2011

Over the last few years Platform China has established a strong programme of shows, displaying refreshing latitude with respect to exhibition formats and presentation of artworks.

A couple of highlights for me included the extravagant group show “Jungle” from early last year. This expansive show continually refreshed itself over its two-month period, inviting the artists to adapt their installations and bringing in new artists. In what seems to have been a precursor to the current trend in Beijing of withdrawing the curator from the process of the show, “Jungle” eschewed such a figure or even an strong theme leaving the results in the hands of the artists (for better or worse).

At the end of 2010 “The Third Party” (which I reviewed on this site) represented the opposite stance in relation to curation, with Beatrice Leanza taking, if not centre stage as curator, then at least a dominant role, corralling the large collection of alternative practices.

And so we reach the current offering: “19 Solo Shows About Painting” has been produced by the Platform China Contemporary Art Institute as the first of what they propose will be an annual series of shows. Stepping back into curatorially-bereft territory, “19 Solo Shows…” mirrors the format of “Jungle,” with an extended collection of artists and a sprawling layout taking up a large part of both of Platform’s buildings. But this time the focus is squarely on painting and its presentation.

Continue reading

ArtSlant: In Bed with Zhang Xiaogang

16:9 Zhang Xiaogang (Curated by Leng Lin)

Today Art Museum, Pingod Community, No.32 Baiziwan Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing

December 9 – 26, 2010

With an artist as well known as Zhang Xiaogang, it’s perhaps difficult to move audience perceptions on from the clichés of “Chinese art” which his work has, for better or worse, become an image for. This problem is equally true for the artist themselves in their quest to develop their work. Zhang’s solo show at the Today Art Museum in Beijing demonstrates a development of his signature stylistic forms into a space which may energise those forms.

Continue reading

ArtSlant: Kitchen Catastrophes

Review of Song Dong: A Blot on the Landscape at Pace Beijing

Pace Beijing, 798 Art District, No.2 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District, 100015 Beijing, China

October 30 – December 18, 2010

The new series of video works by Song Dong on show at Pace Beijing continue the artist’s playful experiments with impermanence and the illusory nature of everyday objects, but are ultimately let down by a lackluster installation.

Pace Beijing have devoted a large section of their space to showing these four new video projections. Arranged asymmetrically, one on each wall in the large darkened space, these short videos begin with artful arrangements of foodstuffs in tableau which hark back to traditional Chinese landscape paintings or shanshui penjing 山水盆景 (tray-based arrangements of materials representing idealized landscapes). In Song Dong’s case strips of smoked salmon or a butchered pig make for fleshy terrain; cut fruit, green peppers, or broccoli stand in for verdant hills and shorelines.

Over the course of the videos various tragedies take place in these worlds. Hands from above wield knives, choppers or blow-dryers, and proceed to aggravate the landscape, toppling the parsley trees, slicing the fruit and meat formations in their destructive rampage until all is laid waste and we are left with the raw materials stripped back. But in the same way that the micro is initially interpreted as macro—foodstuffs as landscapes—we still feel the urge to remap these interventions as natural phenomena, tsunami, earthquake, or war.

Song Dong’s work has consistently dealt with this urge, confronting these delusions of fixed meanings through various tactics. Works such as Breaking Mirror (1999), Crumpling Shanghai (2000) and Burning Mirror (2001), present an image of reality destroyed in the way indicated by the titles, physically exposing the image for what it is. The new works are a continuation of a series taking food as their material, either in videos such as Eating Landscape (2005), where a fish-head vista is picked apart by chopstick-wielding hands; or, large-scale installations of cityscapes formed of sweets, consumed by the audience over the course of the exhibition.

An interesting counterpoint to the works at Pace Beijing is fortuitously on display at Beijing Center for the Arts this month in the group show “H2O.” Touched 100 Years (2010) presents 100 small monitors each showing a well-known photograph from world history, one for each year from 1910 to 2010. Every so often a hand brushes across the photo, disturbing the surface and revealing it to be a layer of water between the photograph and camera. The hand disappears off-screen, the water settles, and once again the photo is clear – but the clarity of the image and the ability to gain knowledge through touch has been thrown into doubt by this simple gesture. Whereas Touched 100 Years presents the image as a point of return interrupted by the process of disruption, A Blot on the Landscape offers no such restoration of the image.

The installation of Touched 100 Years, with its floor-hugging chain of videos snaking around the walls of the gallery,feels entirely appropriate to the extent of the piece – something which unfortunately cannot be said of the installation at Pace Beijing. It’s difficult to see how the four video projections of A Blot on the Landscape successfully occupy the amount of space they are required to fill. It is as if the installation feels it must make up for a lack in the works themselves, which may indeed be the case as these are only modest developments over Song Dong’s previous works. I feel this conflict between the arrangement and the works detracts from the overall experience, diluting the works. The weakness of the installation is mirrored in the weakness of the wall text introducing the works. This “Preface”—in pride of place as the contextualization for the works within the Gallery—seems to bear little direct relation to the works on display. Ultimately textual vagueness and contradictions, coupled with a weak installation do the artist and his works little service.

Author: Edward Sanderson