A Short Tour of Three Major Contemporary Art Exhibitions in China

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Image: Shanghai Art Museum

I arrived by air over the uniform grid-like cityscape of Shanghai, a graphic image that acted as an uncanny precursor to this year's bienniale. In the center of the slick corporate heart of the city resides the location for the 7th Shanghai Bienniale, at the Shanghai Art Museum, a former colonial equestrian sports club now surrounded by Western coffee chains and mirrored towers. Curators Julian Heynen and Henk Slager employ their neologism 'Translocomotion' to title a show dealing with issues of migration and urbanism both particular to Shanghai and in a wider context. In comparison to Guangzhou's "Farewell to Post-Colonialism," the show was carefully organized and maintained a well rehearsed theme. That said, it came across as rather sterile, despite some remarkable works by Chinese and international artists. Divided into three main sections, spatially and thematically distinct but interdependent, the Shanghai Biennale comprised 'Project', 'Keynotes' and 'Context', with an annex devoted to the heritage of the People's Square, a park next to the museum.

'Project' on the ground floor and on the external peripheries of the museum involved 25 different artists, each commissioned to work in response to the People's Square. One stand out was a series of videos by Ayse Erkmen which captured many of the clichés and western interpretations of the dynamically expanding city of Shanghai. Zhou Tao's video, 1,2,3,4 was a hilarious parody of the militaristic chants typically sung by Chinese service industry employees as a form of unifying the workforce. A couple of installations from Bethan Huws and Yin Xiuzhen were worth the pause.

'Keynote' on the second floor was devoted to just three major artists or groups. Mike Kelley's Kandor-Con was a disturbing alternate sci-fi reality, embodying real-life issues facing the ...

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ADSL (2008) by Aleksandra Domanovic

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ADSL (2008) by Aleksandra Domanovic

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Less Lossy, More Glossy

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What is one to do with all the world's magnetic tape, now doomed for dustbins and landfills as digital files push out the slinky black tendrils that preceded them in the family tree of recording media? Audio cassettes, VHS tapes, and those ancient vinyl records that came before them were the medium of choice for entire epochs of cultural production and, as such, have stored not only many of the world's most important creative moments, but also a large percentage of German artist Gregor Hildebrandt's personal nostalgia-fodder. Interestingly, it is preservationists and conservators who persist in using these materials to store works, and Hildebrandt's own practice certainly crosses similar territory by serving as a sort of memory repository. The artist uses old tapes to create portraits, sculptures, and other installations. His "magnetic tape on photocopy" pieces (such as Als würde ein Engel kommen (Cure), 2007) force a juxtaposition between two forms known for rendering low-fidelity or "lossy" copies, while creating a rupture, like a trickle of black blood, down the otherwise seamless faces of perished movie starlets and forgotten supermodels. For Schallplattensäule (2007), he built a tall stack of compression-molded vinyl records, a totem whose invisible icons are indistinguishable from the matter on which their aural likeness are encoded. Many of his works consist of cassette tapes, uncoiled and stretched out across canvas, with letters or shapes often cut out into negative space images seemingly volunteering for battle in a duel against "ancient" photography for the prize of best black and white image format. In Kassettenschallplatte (2003) Hildebrandt made the bold move of melting a cassette into the form of a vinyl record, and the result is a gloppy, rust-colored monument to the failure of media to cross-breed. Check out more of his work ...

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Sean Dack at Daniel Reich

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"Ghost Hardware," Sean Dack's latest exhibition at New York's Daniel Reich Gallery, builds a visual language, in photography and sculpture, from the limits of technological legibility. Over a series of unique c-prints, thoughtfully hung throughout the gallery, Dack coats a panoply of sourced images with thick layers of digital interference: glitches that "tangle and halt the flow of information," but in so doing also provide the precondition for the exhibited art-objects. Formally, these images are beautiful, their striated lines of pixels at times staining underlying images in cyan and magenta; at others, reducing them to wholly abstract geometries. These techniques prove most effective when echoing the sourced images, as when Dack's pixels form postmodern building block analogues to the structural units of the unfinished, contemporary skyscrapers in Building (Hotel, Pyongyang) (2008) and CCTV #2 (2007). Yet on a broader level, Dack's choice of images risks belaboring his conceptual inquiry. Shots of isolated women, an airborne helicopter, unmarked CIA airplane and a missile test quickly move the exhibition into well-trodden, conspiracy theory terrain. One wonders whether Dack's Pop sensibility - most explicitly manifest in his rubber encasings of obsolete tape decks and CD changers, also on display - extends into the realm of his photographs' subject-matter and thus justifies the indulgence. Whether or not this is the case, the artist's formal investigation of the psychic life of digital technology would be far more interesting without its narrative props. - Tyler Coburn


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Into the Void

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Loss, reduction, vacancy and dissolution: all topical buzzwords the New York art world has come to expect from the emergent generation of European artists. After the Vincent Honoré-curated "From a Distance," at Wallspace in 2007, and artist Matt Saunders' group enterprise, Out Riding Fast, this past winter at Harris Lieberman -- both of which tipped the scales towards the Old World -- Foxy Production's current exhibition of seven continental practitioners feels a bit superfluous. Curated by English artist Dick Evans, "Nul" muddles through the post-historical morass, with many of its participants masquerading vintage modes of object- and image-making to little effect. Anders Clausen builds wooden pedestals and sculptural busts, in the fashion of Jacob Epstein, that lack the verve and ingenuity of similar works by contemporaries Steve Claydon and Matthew Monahan. Salvatore Arancio's photo-etchings rehash the type of psychically-fraught Gothic imagery that made its rounds on the market a few years past. More promising is the work of Lars Laumann (here only partially represented by a screen-print, entitled Hatful of Cocteau, of a posthumous article on Jean Cocteau), whose videos about Morrissey, Princess Diana and Eija Riitta Berliner-Mauer drew buzz at White Columns, in 2007, and most recently at this year's Berlin Biennial. Simone Gilges' installation also excites, with its oblique mix of photography and sculpture. Attempting to draw connections between her hanging curtain, framed piece of black silk and ornately framed photograph of a cupid statuette makes for the most interesting -- and irresolvable -- experience in the show. - Tyler Coburn


Image Credit: Simone Gilges, MATERIALPROBE II (SEIDE), 2008

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Robert Rauschenberg 1925-2008

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Artist Robert Rauschenberg passed away on Monday. He was 82. Easily one of the most significant artists to come out of the twentieth century, Rauschenberg began painting in the 1940's, and eventually integrated collage, sculpture, performance, choreography, set design, and printmaking into his trailblazing practice. Throughout his career, he was continually dedicated to the concept that the artist must take on an active, participatory role in relation to the culture at large. This perspective was perhaps encouraged and strengthened while studying in the 1950's at the experimental and visionary Black Mountain College. During this period, he met John Cage and Merce Cunningham, and in 1952, the three participated in Theater Piece #1, cited by some as the first "happening" which involved the simultaneous performance of music, dance, and visual art. In 1967, he co-founded the groundbreaking organization Experiments in Art and Technology, whose mission to foster collaborations between artists and engineers served to bolster the creative application of new technologies in ways unimaginable before. To this day, the formation of Experiments in Art and Technology, along with the series of performances in 1966 from which it emerged, 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, mark a major milestone in the history of art and technology. Rauschenberg's openness to experimentation- both formally and conceptually- remain one of his principal contributions to American art. - Ceci Moss


Image Credit: Robert Rauschenberg, Open Score, 1966

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Out of Office AutoReply

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Things aren't always as they appear in automated communication. Cory Arcangel humorously showed us this when he posted instructions for rapidly saving $500 by adding a "Sent by my iPhone" signature to one's GMail account. A similar effect is achieved in Permanent Vacation, wherein two computers enter a logjam of endlessly bouncing auto-replies announcing that each user is away. Viewers watch as the self-generated feedback loop leads to the piling-up of messages in the respective computers' inboxes. The actual message is, in fact, never seen, but a "ding" is heard each time the index of repeated subject lines becomes longer. The work is actually a four-part series that has been showing throughout Europe since last Fall, most recently at Salzburg's Ropac Gallery. Each time it's been exhibited, the computers and their attached monitors or projectors change slightly. Originally, used computers were purchased online and the original owners' names were the names on the inboxes. In the last incarnation, brand new Macs were purchased and placed atop shiny new IKEA tables--perhaps the most convincing "workstation" of the four. Asked whether this evolution in materials was a comment on media change, the master of using defunct hardware replied, "remember, new computers become old computers very very quick, so in the end, they will all look similar." The joy of Permanent Vacation lies partly in its subtle tugging at fears about the "ghost in the machine" or artificial intelligence--the idea that these computers are somehow complicit in this tete-�-tete. Nonetheless, it also implies a kind of human glitch or failure on the part of two subjects to successfully communicate. In science fiction terms, Arcangel has created what might be called a "stasis field"--a space and time characterized by an almost blissful lack of progress. (This would be ...

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Rhizome News Video: Replicant at Virgil de Voldere Gallery

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Rhizome News: Replicant, Virgil de Voldere Gallery from Rhizome on Vimeo.



"Replicant", on view at Virgil de Voldere Gallery in New York from January 10-February 13th, brings together four artists- Ian Burns, Shane Hope, Gilles Rotzetter, and Scott Wolniak- whose work playfully imagines the course of creative expression within a post-apocalyptic future. In this video, the gallery's Director and Founder Virgil de Voldere discusses the concept behind the show and reviews the works included.

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Cloud (2008) by Troika

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Troika is a London-based art and design studio run by Conny Freyer, Eva Rucki and Sebastien Noel. They were recently commissioned by British Airways to produce a new project entitled "Cloud" for the luxury lounges in Heathrow Terminal 5. See below for a statement from Troika about the sculpture:

...'Cloud' [is] a five meter long digital sculpture whose surface is covered with 4638 flip-dots that can be individually addressed by a computer to animate the entire skin of the sculpture. Flip-dots were conventionally used in the 70s and 80s to create signs in train-stations and airports. We were fascinated by their materiality, by the way they physically flip from one side to the other. The sound they generate is also instantly reminiscent of travel, and we therefore decided to explore their aesthetic potential in 'Cloud'...

We started to work on the metaphor of clouds as one's flies, and the contrast which exists between the busy, hectic airport experience, and the calm, luminous and ethereal world which we discover as we fly through this dense layer. Another of our inspiration came from the old electromagnetic flip-dots which were used in railways and airport signs from the mid 70s. Those signs, with their characteristic flicking noise which instantly reminds us of travel, represent to us a golden age of technology, when analogue and digital started to merge. The indicators, dots which can flip from one side to the other with an electric impulse, have a fantastic materiality, a physicality which more modern technologies often lack, de-materialised into the virtual...

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