The 58th Venice Biennale, May You Live In Interesting Times (11 May–24 November 2019), certainly benefitted from low expectations, given the lacklustre curatorial of the previous edition, when different segments of the show were conceptually framed with titles like 'Pavilion of Joys and Fears' and 'Pavilion of Colours'. Add to this the...
Hong Kong-based artist Zheng Bo's social, ecological, and community-engaged art practice has, in recent years, focused on moving beyond a human-centred perspective to an all-inclusive, multi-species approach. He takes up marginalised plants and communities of people as subjects in his large-scale interventions, which reintroduce wildness into...
The weather was clement for the annual Auckland Art Fair (2–5 May 2019), which was again at The Cloud on Queens Wharf. This year's edition was a get-together of 41 galleries, mostly from around Auckland and across New Zealand, with 5 spaces hailing from Sydney and the rest from Cook Islands (Bergman Gallery), Hobart (Michael Bugelli Gallery),...
At 2:30 pm on July 2, 2016, Time Test – International Video Art Research Exhibition was unveiled at CAFA Art Museum. The exhibition is jointly hosted by Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University East Lansing, Michigan, U.S.A. and CAFA Art Museum. In the axis of the development course of the video art, the project presents more than 60 domestic and foreign artists with two collateral exhibitions echoing each other. The Moving Time: Video Art at 50, 1965-2015 section presents the greatly significant artworks of the last 50 years of Western video art development, while Screen Test: Chinese Video Art since the 1980s focuses on organizing and reviewing the last thirty years of video art through representative Chinese voices of active moving image art.
Marina Abramović is a New York-based multimedia artist who is hailed alongside Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman and Chris Burden as one of the pioneers of contemporary performance art. She is best known for long-duration performance pieces that often require both mental and physical endurance as well as the power to withstand intense tedium, exhaustion, pain and even the threat of death.
Abramović's abusive upbringing deeply impacted her work. She was raised in the capital of Yugoslavia (now Serbia) by parents loyal to the post-war communist regime. Her mother ran the household with harsh military discipline. These unpleasant origins were re-lived by the artist in 2011 through the autobiographical play, The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, directed by Robert Wilson. Abramović spent years addressing the repression present in her upbringing and country of birth in visceral performances. In Thomas Lips (1975) she carved a five-pointed Communist star into her abdomen. Although such performances have been called masochistic, Abramović sees pain and privation as a door to the subconscious mind. From her perspective, the only way to have control over pain or tedium is to focus on and endure the experience.
These ideas were present from the beginning of her artistic career in the early 1970s. Following her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade and a brief experimentation with sound installation, she produced her 'Rhythm' series (1973–74): five different performances involving risk and pain interlaced with symbolic meanings. In 1974, for Rhythm 0—the final work in this series—Abramović carried out an experiment at a gallery in Naples. In this performance, she laid out 72 items on a table with an invitation to the public to use them on her as they wished. There were harmless items such as a grape, a feather, a rose; however, there were also items of a more sinister nature, such as knives, a whip, scissors, a gun and a single bullet. Over six hours the artist revealed the savagery lurking beneath the surface of seemingly civilised human beings while remaining totally passive and vulnerable. Visitors slowly began subtly torturing her: stripping away her clothes, cutting her body and even pointing the gun at her head.
From 1976 Abramović began collaborating with her then-partner, the artist known as Ulay. For five years, they toured Europe together, living out of a van. The pair terminated their relationship in 1988, grandly marking the occasion with The Lovers. In this lengthy performance, the former couple walked towards each other from the two ends of the Great Wall of China, each covering 2,500km over several months and finally meeting in the middle to say goodbye. Her works following the break-up—such as Cleaning the Mirror (1995), Balkan Baroque (1997) and The House with the Ocean View (2002)—were, though not without privation, more contemplative and less violent.
In her Seven Easy Pieces show at the Guggenheim, New York, in 2005, Abramović took an approach closer to an art-historical retrospective. As well as re-enacting Thomas Lips, for seven hours on seven nights she reenacted five works by performance artists Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, Valie Export, Gina Pane and Joseph Beuys.
At a major retrospective of her own work at The Museum of Modern Art in 2010 Abramović presented a new performance, The Artist is Present. Eight hours a day for nearly three months, she sat impassively in the gallery while visitors came one by one to sit opposite her. The reactions ranged from tears to laughter (and one incident of unauthorised nudity). She broke protocol only once, when Ulay made a surprise appearance, by reaching out to grasp his hand. In contrast to the Rhythm 0 experiment the interactions were mostly based on love and brought out the best in people.
Marina Abramović: In Residence (2015), for Kaldor Public Art Project 30, was a paradigm-shift that placed the onus of performance on the public rather than Abramović herself. In the 12 days onsite at Pier 2/3, Walsh Bay, Sydney, visitors were guided through focus-shifting, perception-challenging experiences based on the 'Abramović Method': a process pioneered by the artist and intended to use slow and conscious movement to heighten people's mindfulness of the moment they are in and the actions they perform.
Alongside these often controversial performances, sound, video, sculpture, installation and photography have also been important aspects of Abramović's work. Video and photographic stills often document or reference her performances. She has also used these media on their own, as in the independent photographic series, 'Places of Power' (2012–2013), which draws connections between her art and spirituality. Her sculpture addresses pain, the body and other themes from her performances and photography. The artist's body will always be the primary medium of Abramović's practice. As the self-proclaimed 'grandmother' of performance art, she has striven to sustain it by founding the non-profit Marina Abramović Institute in Hudson, New York, in 2012.
Known for her films and multimedia installations, Cao Fei is one of China's most well-known contemporary artists. Working across photography, video, and digital media, Cao explores permeating alienation in a changing China characterised by rapid development and urban growth. She is particularly interested in popular culture, technology's effect on human relations, and the role of fantasy in youth subcultures.
Cao's practice has always been deeply invested in film. Made while she was still a student in art school, her first work, Imbalance 257 (1999), was an experimental video about disenfranchised youth rejecting Chinese traditions. Soon after, Cao began using Surrealist strategies to make her social commentaries. Chain Reaction (2000) shows eerie footage of morbid figures wearing medical uniforms and heavy theatre makeup to comment on the presence of evil in daily life, while the two-minute video Burners (2003) sees two hooded actors interact with a dangling banana, dead fish, and potted sex toy in order to parody male erotic egocentricity.
Over the years, Cao's work has been consistently concerned with the ability of pop culture, technology, and the virtual world to provide a means of escape. In her eight-minute 2004 video Cosplayers, Cao focused on disillusioned youth who find refuge in video games and fictional characters. By donning the costumes of their favourite characters, the young people in the film could escape the ennui of their ordinary lives.
Similarly, and launched in 2008, the project 'RMB City' is based around an imaginary city made by Cao on the virtual world-building game Second Life. Using the platform, Cao created a fantastical futuristic city that 'combin[ed] overabundant symbols of Chinese reality with cursory imaginings of the country's future.' The project was attributed to Cao's online avatar, China Tracy, and was first exhibited in RMB City (2008) at the Serpentine Gallery in London. In 2009, Cao followed up with RMB City Opera, a 40-minute experimental performance inspired by Cultural Revolution-era propaganda plays.
Exploring again the power of imagination to subvert dehumanising labour, Cao undertook an extended residency at a lighting factory outside of Guangzhou in 2006. Over the period of six months, Cao interacted with the workers (most of whom were migrants to the Pearl River Delta from other parts of China), seeking to understand their lives beyond the assembly line. To Cao, the factory stood in as a symbol of China's rapid integration into a global capitalistic market and its subsequent human cost. Her time at the factory culminated in the 20-minute film Whose Utopia (2006), in which the employees temporarily abandon their repetitive work to perform their talents, passions and dreams; the video shows labourers doing tai chi, dancing, and playing music.
Cao's interest in urban life was continued in the dystopian film La Town (2014). Featured in the 56th Venice Biennale and based on Marguerite Duras' novel Hiroshima Mon Amour, the film tells the story of a small town struck by an unspecified disaster. Instead of actors and life-size sets, however, Cao uses miniature clay models and plastic toys to convey the film's narrative. Made the next year, the video Splendid River (2015) focused on a building in Guangzhou that replicates Vienna's Secession, which Cao used to comment on the culture of copying in China that has arisen from globalisation. The video was exhibited during Cao's solo show Splendid River at the actual Secession, for which the artist mounted Chinese characters on the Austrian building's facade so as to mimic its bootleg copy in Guangzhou.
In 2015, the artist began incorporating robotic vacuum cleaners into her work, a symbol of the preternatural technological development that appears frequently throughout her practice. In Rumba II: Nomad (2015), the vacuums clean up dust and debris in an area undergoing demolition on the outskirts of Beijing. Also focusing on robots was her 2018 Robert H N Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative commission Asia One (2018), an hour-long film that followed two lonely human protagonists and one robot in a factory where humans are no longer needed. The film was shot inside the world's first fully automated sorting centre in Kunshan, Jiangsu Province.
Cao's films are often accompanied by installations that echo their videos. When exhibited in One Hand Clapping at the Solomon R Guggenheim in New York in 2018, Asia One was screened in a room full of e-commerce paraphernalia and documentation. Similarly, when the site-specific film Prison Architect (2018) was shown in 2018 exhibition A Hollow in a World Too Full at Tai Kwun Contemporary in Hong Kong, sets from the film's production were presented throughout the institution's galleries. Music is also integral to her films, serving as a tool for quoting disparate cultural references.
Cao earned a BFA from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in 2001. In 2006, she received the Chinese Contemporary Art Award Best Young Artist Award, and in 2010 she was a nominee for the Future Generation Art Prize and a finalist for the Hugo Boss Prize.
Cao currently lives and works in Beijing.
Yang Fudong's natural talent in drawing led him to train as a painter and he graduated from the Oil Painting department of the China Academy of Art in 1995. However, it is film and photography that he is now best known for. Through often lateral, fragmented and surreal means, Yang presents different ways of being in the complex socio-political landscape of his nation, often centring his concerns in the conflict between tradition and modernity.
Yang first rose to prominence in the art world in 2000 following the controversy surrounding his photographic triptych The First Intellectual (2000). The work was removed from the exhibition Uncooperative Approach (Fuck Off)—curated by Ai Weiwei and Feng Boyi—by the Cultural Inspection Bureau, who considered the images inappropriate. The First Intellectual depicts three images of a dishevelled businessman standing in the middle of a city road, briefcase in one hand, brick in the other, blood pouring from his head onto his white shirt. In the centre image the briefcase has left his hand and papers are flying through the air. These images became the seed of Yang's five-part film Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest (2003-2007), which was mostly shot in Shanghai but presented both rural and urban settings. The film focuses on seven idealistic youths who act on feeling. It references the legendary Seven Sages—a group of third-century Chinese Daoist intellectuals who rejected the morally corrupt government and the normal lives that were being forced upon them. They instead chose to live a life full of music, poetry, alcohol and qingtan (pure conversation).
Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest reflects Yang's interest in breaking away from mainstream cinematic dogma. The film does not emphasise narrative but instead focuses on long sequences with sparse dialogue. The near-static composition of the filmic picture plane is perhaps influenced by Yang's experience as a painter. This strategy is also visible in Yang's The Fifth Night (2010), shot on a film set at the Shanghai Film Shooting Base. The film is designed to be projected onto seven screens that sit side by side, revealing events like a scroll gradually unfurled. Like Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest, it follows seven young people, mixing and overlapping perspectives and time continuities. While painterly in its consideration of the picture plane, The Fifth Night is also sculptural; it is part of his group of 'space' films that relate to the presentation of video in three-dimensional space.
In an interview with Ocula in 2015, Yang said of The Fifth Night, 'if the eyes of the audience are focused on the third screen, they'll still be able to take a glimpse of the changes on other screens out of the corners of their eyes. ... Through their eyes, the space films are edited and would become unique to them'. In The Fifth Night, Yang presents what could be interpreted as separate instances but are actually tied together. This is also true of the way the screens themselves must be viewed. In this skewing of perspective, Yang reveals the controlled and selective vision of cinema, and also the woozy instability of reality.
Through his films, Yang ponders what can truly be defined as 'real', and opens up the possibility that the performance of reality comes closer to reality than daily life. In this line of inquiry, the boundaries between myth and memory, as well as idealisation and actuality, begin to blur. In fact, Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest and The Fifth Night present and blur many dichotomies—man/woman, individual/collective, past/present—and in doing so emphasise the individual identity of each side while simultaneously allowing the pairs to flow freely towards and away from each other. By this method, Yang destabilises definition and allows the viewer greater autonomy in their understanding of the ideologies they have been fed both within and outside of cinema.
American artist Andy Warhol was a leading figure in the American Pop Art movement in the 1960s and 70s. His works are often comprised of images appropriated from popular culture and created in a variety of mediums including drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, film, and sculpture. Prior to working as an artist full-time, Warhol had a successful career as a commercial illustrator for several high-profile publications including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, and The New Yorker. The artist first exhibited his works at the Hugo Gallery, New York in 1952 and was later included in his first group show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955.
In the 1960’s, Warhol rose to prominence with his ground-breaking paintings and screen-prints of commonplace American objects such as Campbell’s soup cans, dollar bills and Coca-Cola bottles. Arguably the most productive decade of the artist’s career was in the 1960s when Warhol launched his studio, known as ‘the Factory,’ which brought together an eclectic crowd of like-minded liberated individuals including writers, actors, musicians, and drag queens. At this time Warhol also began making films using the same deadpan approach to the commonplace. They were also further evidence of an interest in the serialism and automatism as found in the works of musician John Cage and writer William Burroughs.
Warhol’s art seemingly embraced consumerism, yet alongside the images of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Marlon Brando, Warhol was also producing works that depicted darker subject matter such as police attacks against civil rights protesters, the death sentence, and car crashes. Ultimately it was the ubiquity of mass media imagery and how it flattened all events into a consumerist landscape which was central to Warhol’s practice.
During the 1970’s Warhol became more preoccupied with his entrepreneurial pursuits than his artistic practice and established the influential magazine Interview and published a book titled The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. By the 1980’s, Warhol’s profile was growing once again due to his association with Neo-Expressionist artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, and David Salle. Warhol unexpectedly died in 1987.The Andy Warhol Museum in the artist’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, holds the title for the largest museum dedicated to a single artist in North America. His works are held in major public and private collections worldwide.
XU ZHEN® (徐震) is a Chinese conceptual artist and curator. Working across a variety of media, including installation, video, painting, and performance, he has established himself as an iconic figure in contemporary Chinese art.
Xu’s works combine a social critique of contemporary life with a dark sense of humour and an obvious, albeit ironic, disdain for the politics of art. His installations often take the form of elaborate, theatrical pranks. His ShanghART Supermarket, originally exhibited in 2007, replicates exactly an ordinary convenience store, though with empty products that are sold at the original price. Other, more recent works, have aimed to fuse elements of Chinese and Western cultures in a way that rejects typical perceptions of Chinese culture.
XU ZHEN® founded MadeIn Company, a collective contemporary art practice, in 2009. Xu has been producing works collaboratively since the collective’s inception, although several have been censored due to ‘inappropriate’ themes of violence and erotica. In 2014, Xu returned to his individual practice, though now as a ‘product’ of MadeIn Company, rather than its founder.
The artist’s recent solo exhibitions have included Movement Field at Long March Space, Beijing (2013); ShanghART Supermarket at ShanghART, Singapore (2014); Blissful As Gods at ShanghART H-Space, China (2014-2015); and Look Again at Pékin Fine Arts, Hong Kong (2015). Xu has exhibited at international institutions and biennales such as the Venice Biennale (both 2001 and 2005), the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; the Tate, Liverpool; and the Long Museum, Shanghai.In 2004, Xu was awarded the prize for Best Artist at the China Contemporary Art Awards. He lives and works in Shanghai.
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