A Studio visit to Gransden Avenue London Fields, 9th March 2010
I succeed in arranging my second studio visit to artist Anna Boggon, whom I met by chance last year. I felt that I had been preparing so long for this meeting, searching for a reason for the next studio visit and further research of this artist’s practices. The purpose of the visit did not come out until after five months’ trial and effort.
After sitting down in a comfortable couch, Anna opened the file of my proposal from her computer and discussed the coming Metro station project that we were going to collaborate on in Shanghai. The conversation traced back to her Artist Residency in China (2006), where she had a project named The Taxi Driver: Anna took several taxis and asked drivers to take her to some places, where the different places were a response to the artist’s questions from their own perspectives, and these questions were summarized as the description of the city such as sadness, terror, ugliness, beauty through the project. Due to the different language translations, interpretations and culture differences, each destination was surprising and unpredictable, and sometimes Anna was confused by the taxi drivers’ answers. What shocked her most was an answer to the questions of ‘ugliness’, where a driver brought her to the venue of Shanghai Expo. That also partly implied the local people’s comments to the construction of Expo: It was a dusty, massive and mechanical building site.
Experiencing the high-speed plan of the city, Anna had an interesting metaphor that the construction of shanghai was just like the growing bamboo. It was hard to predicate which building would be highest in the city, and which one would be destroyed in ten years’ time?” Anna and I were both amazed by the enormous expansion of the city, the speed of urban construction and the relative capacity of the city. Talking about the Metro Station project, we agreed that the Expo was a theatre of various social activities, acting through a number of specific global institutions and associations. The exploration of this project was to re-examine the Expo phenomena of Shanghai and analyze the affect on people’s lives, and its aim was to express the moments from the artists’ perspectives in every single day during Expo.
Anna suggested a website named Art on the Underground, which could be a reference for my project, and she was also involved in one of these projects: The waiting room. Participating with art students, the project was divided into two exhibitions at Dagenham Heathway and Upney Underground stations, and it aimed to tract the memory of past journeys, and engage people to raise awareness of their location station. It started at the waiting room of the station, works as images or installations were displayed on the windows, platforms and walkways. These projects on the underground could be precedents of my project with Anna and suggested the way forward for the curatorial practices and art discourses.
Focusing on this project, Anna’s initial artistic approach was to start with the billboards and commercial advertisements in the public spaces, where these images turned to manifest the presence of the city and appeared as urban elements to present the trends of pop culture, consumption and political propaganda. We believed that further discussions of appropriate contexts and methods were fundamental and should be continued. That is the main focus of our third topic for the next studio visit that we both look forward to.
How and under what conditions can new media art present memory?
–The analysis of Hu Jieming’ art practices
A Report of Fifth Workshop- Forgery – memory – realism
There were a series of shows named Things from the gallery warehouse in 2009, and they exhibited several large –scaled installations from ShanghART’s collection. The aim of the shows were to present Chinese established artists’ early works and reveal a period of Shanghai Contemporary art history. The exhibitions can also help critics and curators to compare artists’ present coherent works. As can be seen in the second exhibition (Dec 19, 2009 – Mar 10, 2010), one piece of new media art work from Hu Jieming named The Fiction between 1999-2000 (1999) was displayed in ShanghArt H space. Artist Hu can be considered as one of the pioneering artists in Chinese new media art
The Fiction between 1999-2000 was firstly exhibited in San Franciso MoMa in 2000. As photographing a moving object, artists shall make a decision either shooting a single moment or shutter open through the whole movement (Huberman, 2005, 32). Hu’s work chose the second gesture: the art installation was constructed by the large quantities of information from the television channels and the websites, and the progress of the recording information lasted 24 hours from midnight of 31s December t 1999 to1st January 2000. The information was collected and transformed into films, which recalled a period of memory that new media was increasingly proliferated at the beginning of 21st century and fully engaged with people’s daily life. The work also revealed the prevalent saying: the distance of the world has been reduced by information our contemporary society (http://www.shanghart.com).
Looking at this art work again in 2010, the viewers’ senses of the images have been transformed into memories and changed into different contexts. That reflected a simple possible case in Huberman’s analysis. In his book Image not available stated that, “ images’ character of obscured immediacy passes into background ……as a narrative sequence appears no longer the performance of crystal but the chronology of a story (Huberman, 2005, 13).” The familiar scenes from these images represented the fragments of viewers’ memory, which they were memory of the past and the contrast of present sensation (Ricoeur, 2004, 15). In fact, these images have not been shown on the televisions since 10 years ago and they only existed in people’s memory partially and unreliably. The artist collected the images of past in order to show that new media technology had occupied people’s life and influenced the way of receiving information at the end of 20th century. The work implied a problem that the information is so powerful that influences our navigation in the world. His work also questioned if we would choose to do independently or lose ourselves when we are controlled by the information.
Time is also considered as a significant element in this work. It is true that memory depends on time having been passed by, and people do not have the perception of time (Ricoeur, 2004, 16). The Fiction between 1999-2000 recorded available information through changing website and television channels at a specific moment, which it was a time ‘passage’ between 20th century to 21st century. These vivid images represented a period of the informative moment, and viewers can perceive that moment even they do not have experienced it.
This new media art work also can distinct two forms of memory like in Bergson’s influential book, Matter and Memory (1896). According to his theory, memory can be divided into habit memory and the memory of a particular reading (Ricoeur, 2004, 25). Firstly, the images of the art installation were captured from what people saw, exactly like assembling the information from their habit of watching TV or searching the Internet (habit memory). These vivid images were collected from people’s habit memory, and they were then reinstalled as a mix- media sculpture in a gallery-space (transformed into the memory of particular reading, just like a event) When viewers saw the work, the images turned to be a readable presentation, but as time passed, the viewers ‘memory of the images were not the same compared to the actual work; they became obscure and were unrelated to their habit memory. Consequently, the work illustrated the transformation of two forms of memory by the particular images that the artist had selected.
The new media art was directly related to the development of the technology itself. Computer-based interactive art provides a platform for viewers to participate in visualizing time. The relationship between time and memory can be interrupted into still and moving images and captured into successful movements. Towards late 20th century, these art actions named Multimedia art reflected advanced technologies in film and video (Rush, 1986, 9). This also was proved in the history of Chinese New Media Art. The term computer technology came to China in late 90s and was adopted by artist practices. In 1996, Hu bought his first computer and started to explore new media technology such as photography, video works, and digital interactive technology.
As a core new media artist, Hu’s works always attempt to present visualizing time and interact with the audiences. These artistic approaches have the advantage of new media’s features: it is dynamic and interactive. This can be directly related to Ranciere’s theory, who cited that:“ a form of material presentation that is adequate to its idea（Ranciere, 2007, 110）.” The material form is secondary to ideas of the art works, and multimedia art tends to develop as a new platform to inclusiveness of new technology and ideas(Rush,1999,84). Rooted in this concept, Hu’s early digital collages the Raft of the Medusa (2002) was referenced to the historical painting the Raft of Medusa from Théodore Géricault in 1891, which was about a poetic memory of 15 survivors after a fatal shipwreck. Using similar pictorial composition of the painting, Hu described another narrative of society in sinking collapse by the digital synthesis technology. This work consisted of a reference of the past, today’s consumerism and youth gestures in self- indulgent hedonism
Using a wide array of mix-media methodologies, sound instruments were involved into his works and its purpose was to make his ideas visible. This was explained by Ranciere in What Representation Means: “Speech makes visible. refers, summons the absent reveals the hidden ( Ranciere,2007, 113). Hu’ solo show Reverberation of the City (2005) can be an example of a dialogue of vision and sound；as a dependency of the visible on sound. The exhibition consisted of four pieces of video installations: Up and Up (2004), Something in the Water (2004), It is still there (2003), and From Architectural Immanence (2002). The sound and the explanations of urbanism were essential elements in all of these video installations. In fact, the sound did not really make artist’s ideas visible, but it evoked and affected audiences’ imagination to their response to the art work.
Over the last ten years, Hu’s artistic practices always focus on addressing the economic growth and consumers’ waste, and his works analyze the relationship between art and consumer culture, between daily life commodities and commercial advertisements. Hu has rich experiences of manipulating time, which makes his ideas embody an adjusted relationship between past and present. This is indeed what characterizes the work Dozens of days and Dozens of years (2007).The artist did not consider time as abstraction, but concrete as substance.
The work consisted of six pieces of furniture and they were installed in the glass cabinets. Due to the special chemical reagents and UV lights, a new piece of furniture was eroded day by day and gradually changed its internal structure and shape. This process was recorded during two months and showed as pictures to the audiences every day, aiming to reflect the destruction of these works. There was also an electric timer installed beside each work, counting the days after each twenty four hours. During two months ‘exhibition, the audiences could see the legible changes of the works, which had been transformed from daily objects to a pure place of memory in a concrete form. Although this multi-media installation seemed to be fictional entities, Hu tended to reveal a fact under the recognizable memory. One the one hand, it was to criticize how fast an invented commodity becomes out of date and is eliminated from the market. On the other hand, the contrast between new pieces of furniture and instant changes revealed a phenomenon: Chinese contemporary economy was dramatically increased to make previous commodity gradually disappear
New media art can be considered as a new genre of contemporary art, and it has been widely accepted in museums and among critics. Currently it tends to be frequently applied into art works rather than other forms of art. The exploration of time is one of new media artists’ central concepts. If time can be manipulated in multiple ways within various media, artists can present immediate experience of time just passed in order to have a quick response that has been significantly influenced by society. In recent Hu Jieming’work The World is Under Construction (2009), he questioned whether our planet was prepared for man’s constant construction and doubted the capacity of earth. He believed that time would affect people’s daily life and society, and the role of artists was to reveal the time engagement with both history and the present (http://china.shanghartgallery.com). New media art with the advanced technologies can recombine and adjust the relationship between the memory and reality.
Zhu,H. (2009). Things from the Gallery Warehouse http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/shanghai/events/55894/ (accessed on 08/03/10).
Huberman, G,D. (2005), “ History of Art, Practice” in Images not available. Pennsylvania: The university State University Press.pp13.
Jacques Ranciere, Are Some things Unrepresentable in ‘The Future of the Image’ (London: Verso 2007), pp109-118.
Ricoeur, P．（2004) “Memory and Imagination＂in Memory, History,Forgetting．Chicago： Chicago University Press．pp5-55.
Rush, M. (1999). “ Introduction” in New Media Art in Late 20th-century Art. UK: Thames&Hudson LTD. pp84.
Shangart Gallery. (2004), Hu JieMing
http://www.shanghart.com/pdf/hujieming_low.pdf (Accessed 10/03/10).
Shanghai Stock Information. (2007), Hu Jieming’s sole show Dozens of days and Dozens of years.
Formulating a new structure for the corporate-funded gallery in China
-A Report of the Fourth Workshop: Laughter-Contamination-Mediation
The way of seeing art always reaches a point where we see the space first, and images from art viewers’ memories always come to the white ideal space of the gallery. Galleries or museums frequently become the medium to manifest and articulate artistic ideas. The Gallery as a Gesture statues that, “The gallery’s implicit content can be forced to declare itself through gestures that use it whole. That content leads in two directions: it comments on the “art” within to which it is contextual, it comments on the wider context- city, money, business-that contains it.” (Doherty, 1999, 87) The content can be one of the key coordinates in art institutions, which can be classified into different types of galleries and museums. Seth Siegelaub comments that, “art institution without social authority and its subservience to power could be very interesting, imaginative, and even spontaneous, but to degree to which it achieves this authority, it loses these possibilities (quoted by Siegelaub, 2008, 121).” Thus art institution should understand contradictions of changing new structure to formulate creative contents, but lose larger interests.
However, art institutions in China can not be simply defined by various contents because of the intervention of corporate facilities such as a bank, estate investment and a private-owned enterprise. These types of galleries can be defined as corporate-funded art galleries, which differ from national museums, non-profit or commercial galleries. In fact, approximately 95% corporate-funded galleries are invested in real estate companies (http://www.ccm.gov.cn/show), and they are not formulated in monolithic gallery system. The contents of gallery practices are never “free” and indeed are always blocked by budgets and curatorial control, by restrictive definitions of art institution and governmental control (Cifford, 1997, 2004)
The term corporate-funded gallery has been in China for ten years since the Upriver Art Gallery was established by Chengdu House Property Company in 1991(http://www.artnow.com.cn). These types of galleries have increased due to the boom of economics and the popularity of Chinese contemporary art. On the one side, corporate-funded galleries have rapidly evolved during recent years. On the other side, they face problems: lack of funding- more specially state funding and government mechanisms of strict control, which make a complex and unscalable structure in some way.
Zendai Museum of Modern Art Shanghai can be a typical example, which was established in 2005 and sponsored by Zendai Group, a privately owned enterprise. It is one of the significant contemporary museums in China and was officially renamed as “Shanghai Himalayas Art Museum” in September 2009. Tracing back the history, there were more than two years’ experimental exhibitions and it also collected some international art works like the public sculpture Love by Robert Indiana at the beginning. Then it tended to change its structures and had a series of programs named Intrude: Art and Life 366, starting from 1st January to 31st December2008. The project was designed to explore an alternative outside traditional art institutions, which aimed to a public sphere beyond the legislative control of art experts (Fraser, 2005, 278). In doing so, the entire project was divided into art events each day of the year, and it introduced contemporary art to the public through various art discourses such as urban sculptures, performances, symposia and concerts. But the curatorial idea was too ideal to be achieved because of the insufficient funding and weak organization. Intrude: Art and Life 366 was a pilot for progressive contemporary art institutions and turned out to be a regressive uncompleted presentation (Sheikh, 2004, 1). However, the failure of the project directly related to the curators’ obligations, which they failed to mediate between artists’ representation and the public participation. They also failed to complete the programme and there was a lack of good marketing skill (http://www.intrude366.com/zh-CN/about/).
The Middleman: Beginning to talk about mediation states that, “Contemporary art is produced, consumed, and communicated in a capitalist society” (Andreasen, 2005, 25). In 2009, Zendai Museum of MoMa was changed into an art supermarket. It was same venue, but a different institution. Considering the arts as an entertainment industry and in term of populism (Sheikh, 2004, 03), Zendai Art S-Supermarket (ZASS) combined the art institution with an IKEA warehouse store and internet trading. It attempted to break the boundary of art serving the bourgeoisies. On 28th November 2009, the director called for the art collection and posted the information on an official website named Shanghai Online. After one month, the result was agreeable and ZASS collected approximately ten thousand art works mainly from unknown artists and art students. These works were divided into two types: original art works and creative design products, and the affordable prices were from 1 pound to 5000 pounds, which meets the various requirements of different art consumers
Fernand Braudel put forward the relationship between use value and exchange value, and he cited that, “nothing passes through the narrow gate into the marketplace by itself. The transformation from use value to exchange value involves a deliberate action and ‘a someone” (Andreasen, 2004, 24). Braudel’s point of view was applied into ZASS, which took the advantage of the interests through exchanging values. For instance, it would get 50% return from an art work’s selling price. ZASS was an intermediary agent and took over the relations between art producers and consumers to some extent.
What kind of mediation was in the work of the artists and ZASS? How did the curator work as a mediator in this project? Deleuze explained that the “Mediator” was to put ideas into movements in order to keep the world alive (Andreessen, 2004, 22). As can be seen, there was no mediation except the agreement of interests, and the curatorial idea was not closely involved in this process. Without the curatorial approach and relative selection art works, ZASS was only basic supermarket and full of quantitive ‘products’ with less quality. Moreover, there was an Interior Decoration department Company in order to have more funding
Staring as an exhibition-based institution, becoming an experimental project Intrude: Art and Life 366 and more recently ZASS, the Shanghai Himalayas Art Museum is facing a problem with keeping a sustainable model of institution. That also reveals the common problems of Chinese corporate-funded galleries, and the problems mainly turn out to be funding resources and the form of institutional administration. Though these problems also appear in Western galleries funded by private foundations and donations, Chinese corporate-funded galleries have more difficulties because there are no complete tax laws that can attract private donations to support contemporary art in China.
Nowadays it is still hard to respond to these questions: who pay for the gallery constantly and which institution can support the long-term programming? Because China does not have a philanthropic tradition to fund public art, especially in the recent global recession. Due to this disadvantage, curators need to negotiate with a company or a business people to establish such an institution, engaging with a boundary of commercial interests and artistic objects. Aesthetic criteria are always subordinated to market and curatorial programming always supports commercial interests, which make corporate-funded galleries in a dilemma, neither belonging to experimental art spaces or well- organized commercial galleries.
Some critics suggest that cooperate-funded gallery should be non-profit to gather more social support and public funding resources. But what is the definition of a non profit gallery in China and how can they survive in a non profit system? An answer came from Curator Wu Hung, based in the USA states that, “These are galleries defined by their owners as “non-profit,” meaning that they support these galleries and their operations with their own money, and that the art works exhibited there are not for sale (Wu, 2001, 169).” Supported by the owner, the main programs of these galleries are to organize temporary shows by gallery curators or guest curators. Due to the structure of galleries, short-term programming and “rental” exhibitions are the main source of gallery’s incomes (the gallery sometimes collect a high fee for renting its exhibition space and facilities). It is not surprising to find that galleries in this position are losing its credibility rapidly and hardly share interests with other semi-official museums or commercial galleries.
It is not clear how many corporate-funded galleries exist in China, and they are searching for a new system that can allow the Chinese art market to develop. A Chinese established-curator Huang zhuan once suggested, “Today Chinese contemporary art is without authorities. How do we establish authority? We need to establish authoritative organizations via media…that every type of exhibition and art work can exist in this authority (Wu, 2001, 147).”A flexible authority needs to be associated with legal support, art institution, curators, artists and audiences. These aspects need to be closely related, exchange resources and formulate a new system. This ideal system could be a starting point for an entry into the alternatives of corporate-funded galleries today.
Doherty, B. (1999), “The Gallery as A Gesture” in Insides the White Cube: The ideology of the Gallery Space. England: University of California Press. pp73.
Obrist, HO. (2008), “Interview with Seth Siegelaub” in A Brief History of Curating.Dijon: Ringier&Les Presss.pp126.
Sheikh, S. (2004), Public Spheres and the Functions of Progressive Art Institutions. posted on a.aaaarg.org.
Song, R. (2009), The Situation of the Corporate-Funded Gallery
http://www.ccm.gov.cn/show.php?aid=62106&cid=31 (Accessed 06/03/10).
Soren Andreasen, & Lars Bang Larsen. (2007), “The Middleman: beginning to talk
about Mediation” in Curating Subjects. London: Open Editions. Pp23.
Wu, H. (2001), “Reinventing Exhibition Space in China” in Chinese Art at the Crossroads: Between Past and Future. Between East and West. Hong Kong: New Art Media Limited. Pp168.
Zendai MoMA. (2005),http://www.himalayasart.cn/ ( Accessed 07/03/10).
Clifford, J. “Museums as Contact Zones” in Routes: travel and translation in the late twentieth century, Harvard University Press 1997, pp188-219
In the artist’s studio:
There are nearly 100 frames in A4 size, wooden colour with golden line as decoration, standing on the floor. They look cheap even cheesy, and so are those printed emails that are framed in them. Those emails are replies to one email, an email sent by Ting-Tong Chang, title ‘What is Democracy?’ These replies are from various institutions, organizations and government offices or parties in the UK, Taiwan and China. In the most of the emails, it’s written that they do not have any information about this question; some of the replies ask Ting-Tong to look for the answer in dictionaries or Wekipedia; some say that it is not their roles to answer such a question; some of them persuade Ting-Tong to join the community instead of responding to the question; some reply that they hope Ting-Tong can address the question more specifically and they will investigate and deal with this inquiry in a rather sincere tone, and some suggest Ting-Tong should send the email to a more appropriate department.
The conversation begins with laughing at some of the replies. I start to talk about how I understand the concept of this work, which is the part that I think the work is successful and good. I continue saying that, however, I am also confused by Ting-Tong (the artist)’s mailing list, in terms of the variety of institutions and nationalities. So many different subjects seem blurring the central criticism of the work. He was worrying about the same thing. We talk about our ideas and then he says his ideas of the possibilities of installation. The discussion continues.
An email from the artist:
In the attached image, there are around 50 emails from varied government offices and parties, organizations and institutions in the UK being framed and hung on the wall. The artist keeps only the replies within the UK, and decides to hang them on the wall in a regular order, as a formal display. It is more concentrate and much clearer as we discussed last time, he writes.
The work looks great. I think it would be a good idea to include this work in the exhibition that we are going to work together in Berlin, and we should meet another time to discuss further, I reply.
In a conversation with the artist:
A spraying apparatus that is often set up in a toilet or public space for fragrance is filled with black spray paint instead of perfume and installed in the seminar room at the college. During the seminar, people sense a strange smell and gradually feel a little uncomfortable. They notice the tricky device because of the black paint dripping from the spray and the floor in front of the installation is becoming black. He said with a smile, people in that seminar either love the work or think it is provocative and hate it and him.
Listening to the story, I am smiling too. I like the situation of the work, subtle yet aggressive. I think this work will suit the show very well too. He thinks it is a good idea. We start to discuss how this work can be installed and what kind of result, effect and reaction it might cause in the exhibition. Gradually, the topic of the discussion is shifting from the work and the show to our interests and our recent reading. He talks about Art Power and I recommend Commenwealth and The practice of everyday life. A new conversation just begins.
There are six of them, in a hall. Either they are too small or the hall is too huge which makes the space seems a little bit empty. Maybe it’s both of the two causes. They are quiet, no sounds but the noise of operation. They are close to the walls of the hall and facing different directions, where are no specific objects in front of them.
Walking towards one of them, you are shown a pair of hands filling pastries, pastries on a table. The filling was creamy and white, and messy ingredients all over the table made those pies look not tasty at all. You look at the one next to it, which faces the same direction yet a little further. A man was putting the creamy and white filling into pastries, making pies in front of that table, which was against the wall. There is no table and pies. They are watching only the space and the wall.
On the same side of the space, far away from the previous two, there is one facing the centre of the space. Another one in the opposite corner of the hall is also facing the centre. There is nothing but people walking or standing in the middle of the hall. They two don’t show you these people. They were looking at emptiness and the space itself, and the empty space is the only image they show.
They are camcorders, six of them, in the hall.
The camcorders seem on, because each of the screens is showing the space where they are shooting. But they are not recording. There is not table with pies or the man filling pastries next to the wall where the camcorders are facing. People all around are not in those screens. There are also two more of the camcorders, facing a stage, at the end of the hall. On the stage, in front of a clean wall, there are few things and a table, with a frying pan and bacons, no pies though. In these two screens, some pies had been thrown onto the wall on the stage, and left the white creamy filling and pastries in pieces on the floor.
The camcorders bring you a live performance in the space where was a live performance. When you are wandering in the space, the relationship between you and them, the six camcorders, creates a physical and mental activity. With your imagination, you will envision the past performances taking places lively at the vacancy in front of you, and those different events might be connected linearly in a certain way in your mind. The fragments of the performance that happened in the past, showing on those screens, are displayed with the fragments of the huge space, where the camcorders and you are facing. The seemingly empty space becomes the perfect playground for your activity and imagination. The narrative of the performance comes from your narrating with the camcorders. The six of them and their screens become the elements of the montage for the ‘diegetic sound design’ of this work. If performance deals with time, space and the interaction with participants, Diegetic Sound Design 5 in ‘Testing Ground: Live at 176’ can be seen as the most lively performance in the most private way.
Nicolás Vass, Diegetic Sound Design 5 (2010) curated by Stef Hirsch in ‘Testing Ground: Live at 176’
The 23rd – 24th January, 2010 at 176/ Zabludowicz Collection
Without any artwork or a laptop to show images, the studio visit with London artist Dick Evans was all talk of the past, the possibilities, and production. Now, a meeting with an artist without any actual art could seem lacking or perhaps even terrifying, but this space created by the absence of realized work can allow budding ideas to flourish. It also lets the artist and the curator the chance to get to know each other. And it’s this dialogue of what comes before the making that opens the realm of understanding in such an inclusive way that when Evans’ thoughts eventually do become things, they will be all the more personally intriguing.
Of course, there were still things to see. The studio itself, housed in the back corner of a warehouse behind the VW car dealership on Old Kent Road that’s shared with an artist-run space, is an ideal house of contrasts: the sharp lines of welding materials, electric saws, and metal mesh with the softer qualities of a Victorian-style chaise and stool, portraiture painting books, and even a model of a British ship. But this makes sense. Evans’ previous work exists in polarity, taking urban and cultural references and turning them into a slightly dark gothic narrative, one in which the works have feeling. Take for instance his recent work at URA Gallery in Istanbul, The Swan and the Spectre, where he reconstructed Cinderella’s castle as depicted in Diane Arbus’ A Castle in Disneyland, CA (1962). The black volcanic three-dimensional castle intertwines Disney’s fairy-tale with Arbus’ representation of the marginalized to reflect a darker narrative about the ruin and the failure of such a utopian ideal.
After a yearlong break from working, it’s taken Evans six months to get to the point where he can discuss three new concepts for pieces he’s conceiving. These include a large-scale ghost ship and two-dimensional series influenced by ballet that are visible only as sketched in a notebook or as a skeletal beginning framed on the wall. Still, that’s enough to grab attention. Not surprisingly the color black comes up a lot, questioning its cliché-ness or it being over-played, but it simply feels to integrate best with his work. It’s not metal like Banks Violette, it’s more of a haunting tale that casts darkness onto a familiar image. It’s also a useful strategy that cohesively binds the elements of the work.
Evans seems to be an artist who’s learned from success in his twenties. Slightly jaded he’s had experiences that are enabling him to make the necessary changes to let his practice develop and that allow the work to become something more than a saleable one-trick-pony. His usage of Romantic notions, aestheticism, and form are perhaps are more acceptable now than ever before but he’s still pushing, testing the boundaries of what he wants to do. Hearing of an artist taking some time to do this is refreshing and having a studio visit reveal the initial stages of the next chapter, it should be worth the wait.
Image: Dick Evans, Swan and the Spectre, 2009.
Everything is unpredictable
A Studio visit in Gransden Avenue London Fields, 10th November 2009
After two months’ trial and effort, I did not succeed in getting a working position in 1mile² project from Visiting Arts. However, I found alternative ways to find out more information about this project. Recently I made the acquaintance of a young artist called Shaw working in the 1 mile² in Waltham Forest. One week later, it was by chance that Shaw brought me to his friend’s studio in East London. This turned out to be an unpredictable studio visit.
I still remember the day: it was a freezing, rainy and windy evening. Shaw, another artist Chen and I were walking on Hackney Street and looking for their friend’s ‘home’. Heavy rain made the scene vague and obscured our visibility. Just then, a lady in red came along walking her dog, smiling and waving her hand. This was their friend Anna Boggon, who came from Edinburgh, now based in London and teaching in Wimbledon College of Art.
After Several minutes’ walk, we arrived at her studio, which used to be a gallery and now is designed as a simple cosy home with three pieces of furniture: two chairs and a long white painted table and an old fashioned wood stove. We sat down, holding cups of hot tea with tasty chocolate biscuits. Anna gave us a brief introduction to the studio: Originally，many years ago there was no studio here，Instead there was a gap between two factory buildings, which it was not convenient for workers to cross between the factories. Consequently, workers built corridors between the two buildings and gradually this area was extended and built into a house. Anna did not expect to take this space as her studio and home after her exhibition in the same place last year. Anna felt life was unpredictable as she had just finished moving her studio from Oxford to the previous gallery she worked with. I had same feeling: although I did not work with the 1 mile², now I knew many artists with different art practices either involved in this project or unconnected to it.
We began to talk about Anna’s art practice and recent exhibition the other shadow of the city in Jerusalem Oct 2009. She worked in the Palestinian Artist Residency for several months and made a film. The film was about a pair of shoes that walked automatically at certain speed, step by step, and the soundtrack was bright, touristy and full of Islamic melody. The travel route of the shoes showed images of the urban city, religion, local people and their dairy life. The shoes also went to another country, Lebanon, across border from Palestine, about one hour’s driving distance, but local people could not visit it without a visa permit. So how could a pair of shoes cross the border between two countries? With help of Anna’s Lebanese friends, the shoes could be shown successfully in her film, providing an opportunity for Palestinians and Arabs to see the urban view of Jerusalem during the intense political conflict. Her work responded to people’s curiosities and dreams, testifying her idea that a city is a product of unconscious desire. Anna told us that the result of the work did match her exceptions and the initial proposal was changed several times because she was inspired by the separation war and national politics, and updated her point of view. Through her rich experience of international artist residences, she always approaches her art practices through historical research or her curiosity of objects, and her works relate to the context of space, both mental and physical.
After three hours’ chat, we had to say goodbye to her lovely warm studio. Outside raindrops were falling again. The weather in London is hardly predictable, just as it is same as meeting artists. You never know who is the next artist you are going to meet.
Walead Beshty’s first solo exhibition in London, Production Stills at Thomas Dane Gallery, shows that he is the art world’s Wizard of Oz. The young British artist who lives in Los Angeles effectively pulls back the curtain to reveal how his art is made, installed, sold, processed, and shipped; rendering the prestige of the final art object obsolete.
Production Stills includes Beshty’s familiar clear shatterproof glass cubes exactly measured to fit inside a standard Fed Ex cardboard box for shipping to their intended destination. The result is a fortuitously damaged object with varied web-like crack formations throughout the exterior of the work. Situated on top of the cardboard box from which it was contained, complete with the shipping label, Beshty creates the anti-pedestal while adhering the history of its journey to display. The exhibition also debuts his copper boxes (20-inch Copper and 24-inch Copper). Similarly contextualized, these are shipped with the label affixed directly onto the piece meaning that the elements it encounters, ranging from the handler’s handprints to water to dirt, create a stunning random visual pattern of stains, bumps, dents, and patina.
In all their forms, Beshty’s wall works provide a literal background for his boxes rounding out the differing ways we can interpret art production. Slightly less obvious than the former, his brightly colored large-scale photograms anchor each room. Created by randomly folding paper to manipulate the design caused from light exposure, his two-dimensional works equally render and represent elements of chance. However, a more tactile approach is apparent in his Selected Works, 2008-2009 where a pulpy mass of paper remnants and a hidden button down collar shirt are shaped into a neat rectangle. Two ink jet print photographs are also featured, one showing Bard College (showing where art is made and discussed) and the other a clever image of his laptop placed underneath an Elsworth Kelly painting at the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (showing where art is displayed and discussed).
In his recent solo exhibition at the Hirschhorn, Hans Haake’s Condensation Cube sat in the nearby sculpture hall where the conclusion could be drawn that Beshty is part of a historical lineage of accessible, factory-made, conceptually intended cubes of made by Haake, Donald Judd, and Joseph Kosuth. Beshty is also situated amongst Allan Kaprow who would establish a set of rules for participants of his happenings and projects to enact at their own discretion. Each artist exercises an authoritarian role while relinquishing control and it’s this tension between the controlled and uncontrolled elements inherent to Beshty’s process that makes the work truly alive. Importantly, his work is still firmly planted in the now by incorporating the familiar and superfluous materials such as fellow LA artists Jedediah Caesar and Kaz Oshiro.
Walead Beshty’s work is simultaneously abstract and minimal, constrained and free, rubbish and art, static and evolving. There are no bells and whistles here, no glamour involved in the artistic creation. Instead his work is the culmination of a controlled system that has uncontrollable circumstances purposefully built in. This results in an object without the obvious touch of the artist’s hand and one whose structure is intended to represent ‘what remains’ yet still holds a powerful aesthetic appeal.
In a show in which the idea of hysteria seems to entail an interesting conversation on simulation – taking place, moreover, in Freud’s house, now a museum – Matt Collishaw’s latest works match almost perfectly, camouﬂaged within the myriad of objects collected by the Austrian psychoanalyst and displayed through the rooms. They pulse of their own lives, attracting visitors’ eyes and bodies towards them, machines in disguise fully intentioned to deceive and challenge senses and perception, blurring the distinction
between reality and illusion, between physical and immaterial.
The two works ‘Slipping Into Darkness’ and ‘Women Under the Inﬂuence’, respectively constituted by an antique sewing table and a large mirror, found their place in the house’s dining room on the ground ﬂoor. On the small table, lies an anamorphic render of a print depicting Martin Charcot in the act of showing his students a patient in a hysterical ﬁt; in the second work, another mirror reﬂects distorted images of Charcot’s photographic case studies. In both these pieces, glass – the material at the core of any device of observation – changes the relationship between the viewer and the subject of these works: the cylindrical mirror positioned at the center of the anamorphosis has the function to restore the distorted image to its correct, lost, proportions, whereas the mirror of ‘Women Under the Inﬂuence’ showing photographs in constant process of distortion, plays the opposite role, making difficult the distinction between recognizable features of a face and the
smoke that generates/constitutes them.
In the zoetrope ‘Garden of Unearthly delights’ – shown in the room of Freud’s daughter
Anna, known for her studies on childhood psychology – a series of three dimensional
sculptures of tiny imp children smashing eggs, killing snails and butterﬂies with sticks
and rocks are displaced on a rotating platform, lighted with stroboscopic LED-lights
producing the illusion of movement and recalling the father-daughter’s studies on cruelty
in childhood. The installation ‘Charcot’s case studies’, shown in the adjoining room, is a
slide projection of original photographs of Charcot’s patients on a wall covered with
photosensitive panels. The images remain impressed on the wall for a short time even if
the slide is not actually projected thanks to the peculiar material of the panels, able to
absorb and emit light in an amount equivalent to the intensity of the bygone image’s
shades of grays.
The works presented, question ideas of simulation and illusion by shifting the laws that
regulate various optical-physical effects such as retinal persistency outside of the viewer’s
body. If in ‘Garden of Unearthly delights’ the sculptures move because the persistency
takes place on the viewer’s retina, in ‘Charcot’s case studies’ a similar effect is enacted on
a wall, causing a short circuited situation in which it is no longer clear whether the cause of
the visible is mechanic or organic. Hysteria is a term that describes physical
manifestations not supported by organic causes, and the exhibition appropriates such
deﬁnition to extend the gap between order and disorder, that is, to highlight the conﬂict
between the rational, controlled analytic thought processing and the irrationality of
Damien Hirst at Wallace Collection
No Love Lost, Blue Paintings
14th October, 2009 – 24th January, 2010
Rumors abound, of him and his lack of painterly skills abound. His series of blue paintings are evidence to his self-acclaimed fear of the void space on canvas. His creation lacks substance yet proclaims to be the symbol of the artists’ integral growth and a grand embarkation from his previous practices. At most, the artist’s experimental approach to the two-dimensional plane seems to be present, however it only goes as far as emulating the convention of mark making, and his attempt to personify the soul of Abstract Expressionism is only subsumed by its own superficiality. The artist is consumed by the end product, and not by the process of painting itself. His compositions are shockingly poisoned by the aggressive central elements, mainly depiction of skulls and shark jaws, suspended in mid air, set against the deep blue background. Half hazard white lines and dots spewed across the canvases appeal to be a pseudo mathematic/scientific diagram which, along with precariously rendered lemons and ash trays, detract and hinder the eyes from exploring the painting in depth. The eyes have no-where to go, and his faintly layered green tropical leaves sadly become embarrassing eyesores.
There is, however, one painting that glows dimly in the room, and it seems to directly and rightfully translate the artist’s genuine transition, growth and passion for painting. The modestly scaled painting occupies a small wall towards the entrance of the gallery room. Hirst began his journey into Floating Skull in 2006 and it is by far the most ‘worked and re-worked, filled and refilled’, genuine piece of painting. Confusion, progressive struggle, persistence and feeble spirit seep through and transcend the black paint, glossy and thick like crude oil.
The work has also been considered curatorially. The spotlight is angled scrupulously at the fading skull, illuminating the bluish-white pigment which seems to absorb all light energy, while the gleaming black backdrop counteracts by jarringly refracting it, resulting in an atmosphere drenched in some dramatic romance. Throughout the rest of the show curatorial decisions seem rather vacant and it presses the question of how well Hirst’s paintings are integrated, or how much creative tension is developed between the site and the art. What is at stake here is the existence of the contemporary paintings within a historical collection, housed in a listed building. Like an unfriendly flat mate, No Love Lost lives exclusively, and the temporary exhibition is divorced from its counterpart. The single bridge between the two worlds is necessarily erected through the pamphlet entitled Damien Hirst’s Wallace Collection Trail. But the quest for seeking their relationship miserably fails, as it appears the leaflet is an assortment of Hirst’s ‘TOP 26 inspirational works’ drawn from the collection. The caption on the front: “…have ignited Damien Hirst’s imagination. Text © Damien Hirst”, eludes to an ultimately fictional development, that the specific works within the Collection have a direct correlation to the making of his blue paintings.
All cynicism aside, I do believe Hirsts removal from the glamorous, shining and ‘Sensation’ revealed something of the artist and his production that has never been revealed before. As much as I perceive Hirst’s incompetence as a painter (not necessarily an artist) I also believe in his honesty that seemed to bleakly shine through the exhibition, and his genuine interest or deep reverence towards these painters cannot be dismissed. I say this with a certain amount of conviction, whether derived out of dogma or inclination, for this is what I felt Floating Skull spoke of, but not what the exhibition translates.
Am I pleasantly dissatisfied and challenged, or am I enduring an amusing yet critically unchallenged state? Having visited the exhibition over a week ago, I still remain transfixed and haunted by it, as I attempt so often configure the show, asking what the right questions would be, if in fact there are any.
*Talks and discussions held at Wallace Collection, prominent speakers include: Michael Craig Martin, Richard Cork, Iwona Blazwick, etc. More info at http://www.wallacecollection.org/collections/exhibition/77
It’s about 9am at Tangier train station. Mohamed and I got in the crowded and already overheated train. Direction: Casablanca. We find an empty square of seats and sit down. We start talking about insignificant things. The travel is about to start. 7 hours, at least…
My phone rings. The TV is about to arrive at the exhibition. They want me to explain the project. “Why didn’t they warn us?” I ask Mohamed.
“Oh you know, the TV….” he says.
Alright, at least the artist is there. I phone him. “Mohamed – his name is Mohamed, too – the TV is on its way. They want to see the exhibition. They will interview you, ok?”
– “Oh, that’s nice, he says, but I don’t want to be on TV you know!”
I throw a desperate gaze at the other Mohamed, the one in front of me, who is actually the artist’s friend. He laughs. “Of course, he says, I knew he would refuse!”
The travel continues, as slowly as I calm down. Outside, the monotonous barren landscape unfolds, sometimes punctuated by characteristic small villages. “You want to see something?” Mohamed asks, probably feeling that I need some distraction. “Sure!” I say. He takes a catalogue in his bag. I recognize the catalogue he submitted for his final graduation from Tetuan’s National Fine Art School. I remember his viva and especially one video, particularly insightful. I also remember his focused and charismatic attitude and the inadequacy of the teachers’ comments. “We can’t tell about your videos because we don’t know anything about video. We want to see some paintings.” they said. I remember how I so wished I spoke Arabic…
Mohamed starts turning the pages from the right to the left and translates the summary, from Arabic to French. I think to myself: “I should take a pen…this is going to be interesting” but I just cannot. I feel like it would break the casualty of this quite intimate moment. Things in Morocco never happen the way you have planned then, nor when you have planned them. They just happen.
Mohamed explains to me that art is for him a tool that helps him to go toward people; it is also a way for knowing himself better. He shows me several works following the unfolding of the book. One of them – or rather the way he talks about it – catches my attention. One day, he decided to ask the first person he met on the street to draw the way to the nearest pharmacy. The first man he crossed explained to him how to go there but did not take the pen. The conversation went on and on for about two hours. The old man had never had a pen in his hand. Finally he gave up and rather angrily drew a line and a dot. Mohamed followed the drawing of the man and stopped at a place he assumed was matching with the end of the line. There he asked the same question to the next person he met and followed the indications of the improvised “map”. The whole action lasted 3 weeks. At the end of the process Mohamed had met all sorts of people, persons who insulted him, who took him to the place he wanted to go, who could perfectly draw the way, some who are still friends with him today. He also possessed an incredibly wide range of drawings he started to organise and connect as to create a new map of the city.
Mohamed doesn’t really show works. He tells stories. Stories about himself, stories about his life, about his doubts, his hesitations and his joys. He told me how the sensation of being schizophrenic led him to create this strange bifid portrait where his left side shows a shaved scalp and a beard whereas his right side is beardless but with hairs. He told me how he went out like that, how he met the amazed gaze of people and listened to the ironic commentaries of his friends and of his family. He also explained to me the context within which he created the video I noticed the first time I met him. And I realised that my understanding of this particular work was really far away from his original intentions. I told him how this video evoked to me a critique of the religion’s omnipotence in Muslim countries and we discussed about the different interpretations one can have of a work depending on culture, sexual identity and experiences. We kept talking until he went out of the compartment for a cigarette. I relaxed on the seat. We had been talking for about four hours and we still had plenty to say. This is when the slow and repetitive rhythm of the train enveloped me and my eyes closed softly…
This was not a studio visit. The preparation for this meeting was more like a ladies’ afternoon tea chat rather than a studio visit. I did not even leave my house.
It’s a sunny afternoon, and home-bake chocolate muffins are sitting on the tea table. Burcu’s compliments on the house and muffins make the meeting more and more like a ladies’ home visiting. The conversation starts officially from showing the images of the exhibition space in Taiwan. The gallery space in the Everspring Museum of Fine Art is on the first floor of the building. The huge French window and the dormer, which brings a lot of natural light into the space, is one of the features of the space. No plastering with the exposed form of the wall and floor is another feature of it. Burce loves it and is excited about exploring a new region.
When she brings out the small DVD player with a screen, once again, we become two friends enthusiastically discussing about how convenient it is and the difference between having a player and a laptop. However, business has to continue. I have seen the images of the installation view of her new video installation Subtitles of a Ghost’s Humiliations and Pleasures. Now, with my imagination connecting the video with the installation, I can almost feel the uncomfortably depressive atmosphere in the hotel room, where the work exhibited. While watching the video and waiting the impression of ‘please touch’ on her back to go away, I only wish the time can pass sooner. It’s not because I don’t like the video, but because the uncanny feeling. On the other hand, the second video creates an absolutely different sensation. Untitled is a one-minute video that records the process of a hair being pulled out of the skin, and somehow, I feel it very funny instead of irritating.
I apologize for my silly giggling reaction of the work. She laughs and says that she actually understands why I think it’s funny. While folding the DVD player, I ask about her idea of the show, yet she throws the question back to me and wants me to talk more about my initial thought of the title of the exhibition. ‘The Tender Touch’ addresses my idea of her practice of drawings, paintings, videos and installations. For me, her practice looks very feminine. It has the gentle and submissive impression, yet the sensitive, delicate approach expresses a tough concept in her works. Hence, ‘tender’ indicates the impression of her works, and ‘touch’ is an active movement from her. In a way, in my eyes, her works are like her, very graceful but always has a strong attitude about her idea or position, no matter as a female, an artist or a student. Burcu keeps smiling while I am trying to articulate my thoughts on her practice. Continuing, I say that sometimes I am like this as well, being gentle but having a tough character. ‘Yes, I think so.’ So she speaks. ‘I have the feeling for you too, and yes, that’s what I want my artworks show – gentle yet contain forceful messages. I really like the idea “touch,” but we can discuss about the term “gentle” more.’ Until now, I realise that it is a destiny to have this meeting as a ladies’ tea talk because we are two professional ladies sharing each other’s thoughts. ‘Sure, it’s just my initial thought, and it’s not grammatically correct so we won’t use it just like that anyway’ I say to her.
It was a sunny afternoon, we kept the information that we had exchanged for the show and said goodbye, looking forward to the next teatime.