learning from the prd

This week in The Economist, an introduction to the PRD as China’s most dynamic, open, and innovative region. Good overview that introduces landmarks for navigating a landscape which has changed and continues to change China. And yes, Learning from Shenzhen gets a shout out!

nanting village, guangzhou

On Friday September 9, 2016, I had the privilege of visiting Nanting Village, Guangzhou with Professor Chen Xiaoyang, from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. The occasion for the visit was a screening of Zhong Shifang’s film, “From Border to Border,” a documentary on the Chinese community in Tangra Calcutta. I will discuss the film in my next post. Today, I would like to contextualize the screening of the film with a brief introduction to Nanting Village. Continue reading

digital soul: the 2013 independent animation biennale

Actually it’s called The World of the Soul: A Virtual Art Engineering Project (心灵世界:作为虚拟艺术工程) and it’s the first Shenzhen Independent Animation Biennale. Interestingly, in addition to the usual OCAT sponsors, Southern Weekend and Youku, two leaders in China’s youth culture also contributed to the event, which includes lectures in Beijing and Guangzhou.

Curators Wang Chunchen, Zhang Ciaotao, and He Jinfang provide viewers with a smorgasbord of videos that range from short shorts through mid-length pieces to feature films. They have also selected styles that include virtual reality avatars, hand drawn characters, and experiments with Chinese ink painting. So, if you have a leisurely afternoon, a stroll through the exhibition offers much to sample. What’s more, if you decide to watch the longer pieces, you may decide to return for a second or third time.

In addition to the exhibition, the biennale offers a series of monthly lectures. On January 22, artist Lei Lei (雷磊) gave a talk on free and easy animation. Just after the Chinese New Year on February 26, artist Sun Xun (孙逊) will discuss “Animation is a Layer of Skin”. Clearly, animation is a way of life and digital soul as earnest as painterly counterparts.

Venue: B 10 Gallery, OCAT Loft North

Dates: Dec 22, 2012 through Mar 22, 2013

Time: 10:00 to 17:50 on weekdays; 10:00 to 20:00 Saturday and Sunday

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bardo

Chen Dong, the director of Da Ken Art Center (大乾艺术中心) commissioned me curate a performance for the Mayan apocalypse, December 21, 2012; Bardo was the result. Choreographers, Eagle Ho and Samuel Morales performed the split soul; composer Robert Copeland created the emotional landscape through which the soul traveled, and; Chen Yujun crafted its two faces. Photographs by Shan Zenghui, Chen Dong’s partner in bringing new kinds of art to Shenzhen.

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Online reviews, here and here.

impressions of floating color

飘色 (literally floating color; piaose) is a wonderful South China tradition. This past month, I’ve had the privilege of helping organize an updated and modernized version of piaose, working with artist Momo Leung (梁美萍), Tan Yuanxing (谭源兴),  and Tracy Lee of CultaMap (香港文化意图). Today, we tried on the costumes and put the girls up on the float. The story is fairytale happy — a flower princess and her froggy prince.

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the back side of the eye

It is one of the ironies of a human life that we experience history not chronologically, but through the cultural present. This is especially true in the arts, where although painting had historically preceded photography, nevertheless most of us saw and took photographs before having seen a painting, whether oil or ink.

Moreover, with the increasing availability of digital images, there is now a generation who has probably first encountered photographic images on a cellphone or computer screen, before contemplating an actual, printed photograph, let alone having viewed a painting. Irrespective of the fact that in point of fact ink painting preceded oil painting, which in turn arose before the invention of photography, in my personal experience, the history of the image has been: photograph, oil painting, ink painting, and then digital image. Other experiential histories are also possible: digital image, photograph, ink painting, and then oil painting.

The Back Side of the Eye, a creative collaboration between photographer Martin Zeller and painter Vai Keng Sou (苏惠琼) reproduces and challenges our experiential history and culture of the image. On the one hand, the production of the images for the series reproduces experiential history, moving from the most recent image technologies toward increasingly distant (and thus increasingly shocking) techniques. Zeller’s digital photographs of Berlin winter landscapes were first viewed on a small camera screen and manipulated on a computer before being printed on rice paper; only then Sou added interpretive brushstrokes. Thus, their creative process itself formulates a question for the era: how do we bring cultural tradition into dialogue with industrial modernity?

On the other hand, viewing the images requires that the photographic and ink elements be engaged concurrently, as elements of a given whole, such that the object itself holds in tension two different aesthetics, which in turn, point to the ways in which human consciousness fabricates past and present out of experience. Indeed, the simultaneous presentation of a past created through digital photography and a past created through ink painting interrupts our appreciation of the image as an example of photography or ink painting. Consequently the result of Sou and Zeller’s collaboration reframes the question of productive process into one of receptive consumption, allowing us to ask: how might bringing cultural tradition into dialogue with industrial modernity enable viewer’s to otherwise engage what-has-been?

Consider, for example, the image “Uncertain Extension”. The underlying photograph is of a swathe of snow-covered trees and, in the background, a line of boxy housing, which evokes the streamlined precision of Cold War modernism. On top of this bleak stillness, Sou has overlaid a clouded spirit, muffled ink smear and trapped purple cloud. The image forces us to engage two past moments simultaneously, the hyper detailed what-has-been of the photograph and the ephemeral what-has-been of Chinese ink painting.

The enigma of a photograph is that a past moment – ‘captured’ on film, we say – is a product of a technological intervention, but is treated as a replica of what-has-been. In fact, no human eye sees the world with the same precision as revealed in a photograph, where details retrospectively emerge to be seen and having-been-seen, to be contemplated. Thus, in “Uncertain Extension”, as viewers note the pattern formed through the delicate wrap of snow on every branch and the rigid precision of housing blocks, we become increasingly sensitive to the atomized materiality of a winter’s day. At the same time, however, Sou’s boneless brushstrokes blur and activate the immobility imposed by photographic accuracy, enabling us to reconsider the psychological what-has-been of winter, not as snow white austerity, but rather as a time of dark sedimentation, of thick ink absorbed by paper already reshaped by printing.

Walter Benjamin asserts that the dialectical value of images, especially photographic images is that they create an analytic space in which to reconsider what has happened, “For while the relation of the present to the past is a purely temporal, continuous one, the relation of what-has-been to the now is dialectical: is not progression but image, suddenly emergent.” In contrast, Zhang Daqian scholar, Pai Tsung Jen (白宗仁) defines the yixiang (意象) of an ink painting outside of history, in terms of the intersection between interior and exterior realities, “創作者主觀意識(意),與外在客觀物象(象)”. In other words, the photographic what-has-been intentionally distances the viewer from the past, while the ink what-has-been purposefully sutures the viewer to the past.

Within their respective traditions, both photography and ink painting denote a particular moment in space and time. However, they emphasize different aspects of that moment. Photography makes the what-has-been relentlessly material, flattened into surfaces that can be endlessly reconsidered. In contrast, ink painting creates yixiang (意象), a sense of being in the world that is shared by both the artist and the viewer. Consequently, the juxtaposition of artistic techniques destabilizes the viewer’s culturally intuitive sense of the nature of what-has-been. Is what-has-been as meticulously concrete as represented in Zeller’s photography? Or is what-has-been as fluidly transient as realized through Sou’s brushstrokes?

The Sou and Zeller collaboration reminds us that although the dialectical contours of the what-has-been may be created and experienced through techniques such as photography and ink painting, nevertheless we use these techniques to make value judgments about what it means to contemplate the past. This is important because how we create the past and its relationship to the present defines who we are as historically and culturally situated people. For Benjamin, photographic pasts were deployed to critique an unjust present. For the ancient literati, ink brushed pasts recorded continuities between external and internal worlds, past and present.

Unlike Benjamin or Pai Tsung Ren, however, we live in an era where although digital images have gone global, nevertheless aesthetic conventions for understanding the relationship between the what-has-been and the present are radically different between  historical generations, let alone different cultures. We need different ways of thinking about the past in order to create a common present. The images brought together in The Back of the Eye beautifully hold the contradictory tension between pasts we create through modern technology and the pasts we create through more ancient forms of human creativity, offering one model for using art to bridge our different approaches to the past.

Their most recent collaboration New Gardens will be exhibited at the Goethe Institut Hong Kong, November 13 through December 18, 2012.

2012 guangzhou triennial

Yesterday, I visited The Unseen, the GZ Triennial exhibition and spent a pleasant 1/2 day engaging the works of 61 artists from China and the world, including Korea, Russia, India, and Indonesia, a diversity of representation much larger than the usual “global” expositions.

Curators JIANG Jiehong and Jonathan WATKINS have selected works in which what is seen directs the viewer’s attention to what is not. Sometimes the unseen referent is concrete, like the crank that twists a rope in XIAO Yu’s piece of twisting rope, Popularity 1. Sometimes the absent referent is more ephemeral, like the possible corpses buried beneath KAN Xuan’s Millet Mounds (大谷子堆). Sometimes, the unseen is a clever joke – Tim Johnson’s never seen flying saucers, for example. Nevertheless, as a viewer engages more works, the accumulation of unseen referents blurs the artificial division between concrete and ephemeral references, directing the viewer’s imagination instead to the illusive yet invisible worlds in which objects can come to signify relentless social pressure, cultural continuity, and comic book fantasy. So yes, it’s worth making the trip to the Guangdong Museum of Art (广州市二沙岛烟雨路38号广东美术馆) to see what else is there.

The Unseen will run until December 16. Impressions, below.

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