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Gallery Weekend Beijing

­Themes of contemporary urban structure and the human condition are the main subjects of the many exhibitions on display at Beijing’s 2018 Gallery Weekend, spread across various galleries and institutions in the 798 and Caochangdi Art Districts. These seemingly independent exhibitions reveal some intrinsic connections to each other, as if a kind of urban fable was being staged.

New York–based Sarah Morris’s first solo show in Beijing, “Odysseus Factor,” occupying the largest room of UCCA, includes all of her cinematographic films, ten colorful diagrammatic-style abstract canvases, posters, and a large customized wall painting. Out of the half-dozen showcases of foreign artists, Morris’s exhibition sits most comfortably in a contemporary Chinese setting, not only because of her eighty-four-minute-long documentary film focusing on the 2008 Olympic Games, but also due to the super-seductive and bizarre appearance of the show, which incorporates gigantic LED screens and flamboyant painted bandings. The surreal conditions revealed in her works interweave the rapidly developing urban landscape with late or state capitalism, and act as a metaphor for bureaucracy in the globalized arena. The works seem to be the absurd juxtaposition of this rapid urbanization and the increasingly restrictive political realities of China in 2018.

Not far from UCCA, Liu Wei’s solo exhibition “Shadows” at Long March Space creates a cosmos-like imagined world of time and space. The exhibition consists of large mechanical installations and two paintings with irregular edges. Among these, Period (2018) occupies the majority of the gallery space and viewers’ attention. Spheres, pyramids, and bricks in cement, wood, or metal, with simple surface colors and textures, move slowly along their respective pathways, structurally supporting each other while crisscrossing perfectly. It could be likened to a simulacrum of the materiality of a city. Airflow (2018), made of cement, resembles colored balloons hanging upside-down. A square mirror is set on the ground, echoing the light from the roof and creating a captivating combination of light and shadow. Dominating spheres oscillate slightly under the influence of gravity, rubbing against each other to create clouds of dust and residue that fall down to the mirror. Liu Wei posits a variety of symbolic significances such as vitality, mobility, and the sense of time.

Liu Wei 刘韡, Airflow《气流》, 2018
Liu Wei 刘韡,
Airflow, 2018. Courtesy Liu Wei Studio and Long March Space, Beijing.

As last year’s winner of the Hyundai Blue Prize for Creativity, Li Jia has realized her proposal in the brand-new space at Hyundai Motorstudio Beijing in 798. The exhibition, titled “The Precariousness,” showcases recent projects by eight artists and three collectives. Various mediums — videos, installations, drawings, texts, field studies, digital archives, and reading projects — are used to map multiple narratives of social mobility and migration in China. The single-channel video The Destination to Promising Land (2017), by Fang Di, who conducts research between Shenzhen and New Guinea, documents how two Guangzhou-based Africans confront and perceive issues of body, color, and borders on continuously shifting ground and within a global framework. Other projects, Between the 5th and 6th Ring Road in Beijing (2014–15) and Secret Chamber (2016–17) for instance, focus on villagers who live in Beijing’s peripheries, and those who feel dispossessed for their “low added value” to society. Within multilayered representations, the narratives of these pieces as a whole converge a diversity of social and individual forces, gauging how people interact within a constantly fragmented social landscape.

Wang Haiyang’s solo exhibition at White Space Beijing in Caochangdi — a fifteen-minute bike ride from 798 — shows his interest in human secretions, both the physical products of lust and those contingent on the human emotional spectrum. Paintings, drawings, and videos in the exhibition are linked to the artist’s subconscious thoughts of sex, feelings of lust, and attitudes toward his own body while confined to a hospital bed. In Mirror (2017), placed near the entrance, Wang uses spit as a medium to create delicate, cellular-tissue-like forms, and turns them into a stop-motion animation. This corresponds to the series “Mosquito” (2017–18) that hangs on the opposite wall, incorporating different shapes in the imaginary portrayal of a mosquito whose life revolves around the extraction of human blood. A nine-channel video piece, Linkage Mechanism (2017), displays nine mirrored faces chewing gum with their mouths linked together, as if struggling to find an exit in this occluded system. In another room, nearly a hundred skillfully dense watercolors convey the artist’s consciousness and sexual impulse. Of all his works, the drawings are the most instinctual and personal — showing his libidinous yearning and deep understanding of his own life.

In addition, Yin Xiuzhen at Pace Beijing, Paul McCarthy at M Woods, Carsten Höller at Galleria Continua, Liu Xiaohui at ShanghART, Xie Nanxing at UCCA, Richard Deacon at Beijing Commune, and several other group shows that concentrate on emerging artists have sparked plenty of attention and discussion. It seems that Beijing — like Hong Kong and Shanghai — has finally learned how to collectively unleash the energy that it has always embodied.

by Chelsea Liu

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Lunch at the Art Fairs / New York

The publication section of The Armory Show boasted the best view of any of the three spring art fairs in New York. Installed in an arm of Pier 92 suspended over the Hudson River, visitors were greeted with floor-to-ceiling windows that provided a rare, uninterrupted panorama of the river and sky further south. The section also hosted a pop-up lunch canteen from wellness bakery chain Chloé, which is where I purchased a slice of matcha-chocolate babka.

Pier 92 was transformed into the ideal place to take my lunch by an inopportune snowfall on opening day, and I slowly pried apart the gnarled layers of the decadent, convoluted pastry while watching the heavy snowfall cascade into the water and disappear. My mouth buzzed like I had touched my tongue to a nine-volt battery: the tannic sensation of matcha laying the groundwork for a succulent jolt of chocolate. The hybrid pastry was nearly electric.

That I forgot I was sitting in the middle of a mundane trade fair was the exact outcome I had hoped for. This spectacle of art and commerce, though mysterious to outsiders and idealists, epitomizes the doldrums of endless cubicles and glazed bricks the color of diner coffee. The food really helps, and this year, my own last-ditch means of engagement found my critical attention directed toward the restaurants and catering at Armory, Independent, and NADA. Rounding out my experience at Armory was Italian fine dining establishment Il Buco. VIP ticket holders had the option to reserve a table in a private lounge, but considering that my budget consisted of what I was willing to pay out of pocket, I kept it to lunch. My take-out salami sandwich was, in fact, satisfying. The cured meat was as unctuous as the focaccia it was served on, and both were balanced out with the sour edge of goat cheese. Sadly, though, there would be no champagne to wash it down.

A kind of masochism underscored my writing enterprise, the particulars of which were only confirmed by Independent’s dismal food offerings. Like attending the fairs in the first place, eating at them was perfunctory. It was only hunger that forced down my entire twelve-ounce portion of minestrone soup. It included an entire bay leaf, the thorny flavor of which bypassed my tongue and stung straight at my throat. Independent may not be to blame. Spring Studios, which hosts the event, likely mandated their in-house catering service, Spring Place. But imagine if every misguided attempt at fanciness came off like an allergic reaction. Poppy’s, the only catering service Independent seemed to have been responsible for, offered a good gluten-free brownie near the exit.

A sensible ploughman’s lunch was available at each venue, belying an awareness of the mundane needs of small gallery entrepreneurship: it provided something to snack on to all who worked those marathon days alone. For my final stop at NADA New York, at Skylight Clarkson, I went with the stalwart vegetarian option, a wrap. Little more than a calorie delivery system, creamy feta lent weft to the watery texture of two handfuls of spinach, and four squirts of olive tapenade provided enough of a condiment to credibly call the whole concoction a sandwich. A raspberry linzer torte offered a practical dessert pairing, though refusing to get any of its powder sugar garnish anywhere near my clothes, I ate it ostentatiously craned over a low-slung standing table. My final lunch only confirmed to me that I could have gotten by at all of the fairs on a single Diet Coke each (three total on the weekend). The only beverage I purchased, in my hand it felt like an old friend. Besides, who needs the calories at an art fair?

by Sam Korman

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Transmediale “face value” / HKW Berlin

Long ago, literary and art critics observed a parallel between artistic representation and the monetary system. If naturalism conformed to the actual worth of the gold standard, the emergence of modernism would be accompanied by the adaptation of “token” signs, arbitrary in their nature. But what happens to our symbolic economies when they become governed by immaterial transactions instead of banknotes?

Under the title “face value,” the thirty-first edition of the Transmediale festival carries on this analogical reasoning through a series of talks, exhibitions, and a moving-image program. The overall project portrays the current state of global affairs as grim and lamentable: everything that used to have value has become steamrolled, disembodied, and hollowed out.

This “flat ontology” of the present is heightened in the film and video program curated by Florian Wüst, in which the central theme — “face value” — is treated as literally as possible. Instead of plunging into perceptual illusions of three-dimensional space, the spectator is constantly confronted with the materiality of the projected images: full-frame surfaces of overprints, analog photos, or paper money overlapped with the surface of the screen. This guiding motif of the exterior continues through the allegory of water in Inga Seidler’s exhibition “Territories of Complicity,” in which free ports, these paradoxical “non-sites” of financial capitalism, are used as reference points in the display of small, boxed-in artist installations, as if ready for maritime transportation.

"Territories of Complicity," installation view
“Territories of Complicity,” installation view, transmediale 2018 face value. Festival edition: 2018. Photo: Luca Girardini, transmediale, CC BY NC-SA 4.0

Bodies of water have never been neutral territory, but they play a major role in the construction of the “racial capitalocene” (the world ecology that is historically based on slavery and colonialism), as was stressed in Françoise Vergès’s keynote speech. Collaborative studio CAMP’s reflective display, Country of the Sea (2009–15), gives this same maritime imperialism a special visual representation with their “view from the boat,” while Femke Herregraven’s interactive digital installation Sprawling Swamps (2016–2018) addresses the politicization of the seas through fictional infrastructures, which viewers can precariously navigate via interface on swamp surfaces, waves, ice sheets, and shifting shorelines.

Lisa Rave’s essayistic documentary Europium (2014) also departs from the surface and sinks down to the seabed, where the chemical element Europium is extracted. Given its use in the production of computer monitors, one might think that reduction of reality into two-dimensional images would in fact become dependent on a deeper penetration of the Earth’s crust. This may lead to the question: Are classical distinctions, such as the noumenal and phenomenal or ontical and ontological, still relevant in the post-digital age? Faisal Devji and Sybille Krämer, participants of “The Weaponization of Language” panel, answer this question by proposing the politics of superficiality. In their two-denominational worlds in which everything is visible and affirmatively taken at face value, the depths of criticism, which supposedly reveals hidden depths (interests, desires, biases), become redundant. But is this enthusiastic embrace of mere appearances not just a subterranean drive of the postcritical? Such revitalizations seem cynical in relation to the festival theme.

"Europium" by Lisa Rave
“Europium” by Lisa Rave. Festival edition: 2018. Photo: Luca Girardini, transmediale, CC BY NC-SA 4.0

Nevertheless, these claims may seem serendipitous regarding the aforementioned analogy. The symbolic economy of trading no longer conforms to the arbitrariness of sign ruled by linguistic conventions. The signifier is not merely split from the signified, as poststructuralism taught us. It is just signifiers floating on a surface and mixing with each other. “Fluidity,” as Ana Teixeira Pinto argued elsewhere, “is the aesthetic ideology of finance. Anything metamorphic can be seen as an analogue of currency.” Indeed, today one can witness unprecedented mutations of long-standing cultural values and the flattening of political hierarchies. Racism without race, feminism without women, and fascism without fascists. Moreover, and according to Pinto’s  presentation (and referenced in texts by Angela Nagle), the tactics and tools formerly associated with progressive forces, such as queerness, transgression, leaderlessness, or appropriation are themselves appropriated by the rightist sensibility.

In reaction against rising multiple fascisms and their affiliation with new technological regimes, Transmediale functions as a minority in adopting the “popular front” opinion — as in the 1930s, when united forces of different political spectrums would work against a common enemy. While some speakers expressed defeatism, like Ewa Majewska, who claimed that the “elite” has handed power to fascists, others tried to map out alternative techno-utopian political imaginaries and forms of coalition. Over the three-day conference component to the festival, assembled by Daphne Dragona, attendees would be told that VR glasses can help us feel empathetic toward alterity, cryptocurrencies are facilitating communism, feminist troll farms are overcoming the patriarchy, and wiki-activism can stop gentrification. It is no coincidence that Audre Lorde’s famous maxim, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” was quoted so many times throughout the program that it became the festival’s unofficial motto.

But maybe instead of policing origins and ownership of technologies, one should question one’s own position. In the context of a festival on digital culture, every personal prophecy of a struggle to come is reminiscent of presentations of start-ups and innovations for potential investors. If there is no technological answer to social problems, as Francis Hunger mentioned during the “Biased Futures” panel, should we look to old-fashioned social theories as suggested by Nina Power, or do we instead insist on the aesthetization of aesthetics and, separately, the politicization of politics put forward by Lioudmila Voropai? The famous Marxian appeal to expropriate the expropriators did not bother to question the purity of technologies — they are capitalist per se. Rather, it emphasized the fact that we were dispossessed long before the development of these technologies.

Andrey Shental is an art critic, artist and curator based in Moscow.

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IFFR International Film Festival Rotterdam 2018

The past decade has seen a significant rise in the appetite for artist films on the European film festival circuit. Exemplary of this trend is the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) in the Netherlands. Although some artists have been reluctant to screen their work in a cinema space, many now seek to let their audio-visual work live a life beyond the context of a traditional exhibition.

This is reaffirmed by past winners of the Tiger Award for Short Film, one of the cornerstones of the festival: Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Yto Barrada, Salla Tykkä, Erik van Lieshout, Duncan Campbell, and Mark Leckey. Leckey, who won the prize in 2016 with Dream English Kid 1964–1999 AD (2015), even went as far as to state that he felt like an intruder who stole the prize.

This year’s program also features many visual artists. One of the standout pieces from the competition, The Worldly Cave (2018) by Zhou Tao, was first presented as an installation at last year’s Venice Biennale. Monumental and otherworldly images of the Incheon Sea, the Balearic island of Menorca, and the Sonoran Desert are combined into a homogenous and disorienting dystopian landscape wherein human existence appears futile. The somber Painting with History in a Room Filled with People with Funny Names 4 (2018) by Korakrit Arunanondchai is built up around a mesmerizing performance by frequent collaborator Boychild and a loving portrait of his grandmother.

 

 

Both Diego Marcon’s Monelle (2018) and Katja Mater’s As Much Time as Space (2018) take a specific architectural site as a subject for visual research, albeit with very distinct approaches. Mater alternates images of her drawings with details of the renowned Theo van Doesburg studio house in Meudon shot on 16-mm film. By letting the print run through two projectors — both set up in a different way and with an eight-second interval — she creates a fascinating interplay between the past and the present; her drawings moving from one image to another as if entangled in an uneven dance. In staccato flashes, Macron illuminates eerie figures in the dark rooms of Giuseppe Terragni’s Casa del Fascio in Como — images that resonate with its burdened political history. By using contrasting technologies — 35mm and CGI animation — Macron represents two opposing attitudes in film: structural cinema and horror. The rigid formal structure of the film is undercut by the disquieting actions of the protagonists: a man jumping off a balcony, the fearful glance of a child looking into the lens.

IFFR also saw two radical approaches to the refugee crisis, both of which were previously displayed at Documenta 14. Artur Żmijewski’s provocative Glimpse (2018) shows the deplorable conditions refugees in Europe are forced to endure, and meanwhile questions the ambiguous position of artists who choose to tackle this subject. Żmijewski is also being honored with a focus program at the film festival, which includes a retrospective of his work to date, and a display of his latest video installation, Realism (2017). In View From Above (2018) by Hiwa K, a camera hovers over a scale model of a bombed-out postwar Kassel. A voice-over recounts an asylum seeker’s carefully constructed story, told in order to prove their origin from unsafe territories.

Photographer Tobias Zielony delivers a captivating work with Maskirovka (2018), the title stemming from a Russian term for “covert warfare.” Two disparate series of photographs, one depicting scenes from the Maidan uprising, the other portraying the Kyiv underground queer and techno scene, find their formal opposition in a flickering stop-motion animation.

With Comfort Stations (2018), Anja Dornieden and Juan David Gonzalez Monroy present a collection of found images and sounds accompanied by an instructional text. As in their previous work, they pair craftsman-like control over 16-mm film with contemporary sensibilities, questioning the authenticity of the image.

The festival also offers a wide array of master classes, artist talks, exhibitions, workshops, and panel discussions contextualizing the program. “After Uniqueness,” a panel discussion preluded by a keynote presentation by Erika Balsom, author of After Uniqueness: A History of Film and Video Art in Circulation (2017), resulted in an interesting debate on film distribution that juxtaposed reproducibility and authenticity, or, mundanely put, BitTorrent versus the edition. In her artist talk, Laure Prouvost inadvertently addresses the subject with a projection of OWT (2007), in which curator Michael Conner professes: How can any film be an artwork, and how can any film not be an artwork? (Which gets mis-subtitled in Prouvost’s idiosyncratic way as “How may feeling a cow can always be in? Why he never felt like that when he kissed Madonna, even at work?”)

by Vincent Stroep

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Art Stage Singapore 2018

Art Stage Singapore, which espoused the lofty goal of representing a regional identity with its 2017 slogan “We are Asia,” returned this year with a more consolidated fair: a foray into luxury consumerism vis-à-vis an art-design showcase titled “Art Meets Design: Cultural Trend or Fashionable Lifestyle?” and a special feature on the Thai art scene.

With the latter, Art Stage 2018 served up some challenging works by established Thai artists. Sakarin Krue-On’s Tale Bearer’s Tale: The Last Deer was particularly noteworthy. The work uses the now-extinct Schomburgk’s deer, a species once unique to Thailand, as a foil for considering the socio-historical landscape of Thai society. The work’s video element, presented alongside a beautiful but jarring severed head of a supposed Schomburgk’s deer on a desk, features local cultural workers and members of the Thai working class discussing the mythical deer, occasionally interjecting commentary on economic and social developments in Thailand. Another significant offering was Nova Contemporary’s installation of Tada Hengsapkul’s The Shards Would Shatter at Touch (2017), a piece that was to be presented at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok in 2017 before being censored by Thai military personnel. The Shards Would Shatter at Touch is a performative work in that the set of forty-nine thermochromic printed cloths are meant to be pressed against the viewer’s body to reveal an image and number. The number corresponds to a story within a set of documents attached to the wall, each dedicated to a human rights activist or political exile persecuted by the Thai military. Such presentations confirm the continued relevance of regional platforms as well as the fair’s agency and value in promoting challenging political work.

This year’s Art Stage Singapore 2018 was perhaps more transparent in its value-creation mechanisms. For example, the fair presented an exhibition from the Tiroche DeLeon Collection, based on works acquired between 2011 to 2016 at previous editions of Art Stage Singapore. The art fund invests in artworks from developing markets through acquisitions, but also lends its works to prominent museums, exhibitions, biennales, art fairs, etc. — presumably an intelligent strategy for developing cultural capital and, by extension, the monetary value of its holdings. The exhibition exemplifies the role of the fair in creating value and enabling exchange for its customers.

Similarly, the notion of the collector as a key figure and benefactor of the art fair was on display in “Calder on Paper,” which presented a number of mobiles and works on paper from the private collection of Micky Tiroche. Another highlight of the fair was organized by the Southeast Asia Art Forum, who exhibited a design collection by The Artling, an art advisory and online gallery run by a prominent collector in Singapore, whose collection was featured at the fair in previous editions.

With Art Stage’s expansion to other cities such as Jakarta, the fair’s consolidated focus on its existing network could be limiting in terms of understanding the Southeast Asian art market as a cohesive whole. This is especially the case for a regional market diffused across multiple centers, which inherently forces a commercial enterprise to chase capital, moving from one center to another. Coupled with comparatively higher costs for manpower and space in Singapore relative to other countries in the region, it is no surprise that Art Stage is venturing forth to other national markets. Thus, instead of a regional market being defined by the brick and mortar of a singular marketplace, we may come to define the “regional” through the structured flows of capital and art. At least one thing is clear: Art Stage 2018 encourages us to reconsider how we think about a “regional market.”

by Kathleen Ditzig

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Verbier Art Summit 2018

Just as Las Vegas seeks to rebrand itself by investing in gourmet dining and smart clubbing instead of musty gambling halls, so apparently do premier Swiss alpine regions (old-world charm Engadine, exclusive Gstaad, and, since 2017, the Valais skiing resort of Verbier) seek new audiences by identifying as the latest temporary Shangri-Las of contemporary art and edutainment.

In textbook Marxist fashion, capital proper got there first and continues to call the shots. The Jackson Hole Economic Symposium in distant Wyoming first took place in 1981, while closer to home, literally, the inaugural edition of what has since become known as the World Economic Forum was already held a decade earlier in the winter sport hub of Davos. In fact, this second edition of the Verbier Art Summit, themed “More than Real: Art in the Digital Age,” took a key chapter from its underwriters’ playbook with its concept of trickle-down discourse, as closed sessions produced sound bites for the subsequent public program. (For example, novelist, artist, and designer Douglas Coupland’s ruminations on a “pre-internet brain.”) There’s nothing surprising or particularly “wrong” about holding these casual yet nonetheless tiered networking mixers in the kinds of destinations already frequented by energized patrons, both actual and potential, and their managerial-cognitarian entourages. Granted, the prospect of debating transformational shifts in VR and algorithmic technology as it affects the conception, production, and experience of art within neoliberal consumer societies in some drab suburban venture-capital non-place seems pretty uninviting; but considering the summit’s fuzzy if occasionally amusing contemplations and hypotheses, any engagement with this vast topic may benefit from cultivating more proximity and exchange with the concrete sites and people that develop and market virtuality, for the sake of whatever reciprocative insights and projects that may whence ensue. Put differently, and to recap Olafur Eliasson’s keynote talk concluding the summit, there seems to be some ambiguity over the intent and reach of such post-institutional endeavors beyond presenting an arguably stimulating company outing.

That ambiguity colored some of the more defined presentations by mostly art-world regulars, ranging from Anicka Yi to Ed Atkins and Michelle Kuo. While the latter introduced her art-historical research into the pioneering yet eventually faltering 1960s group E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) by revisiting the collective’s exuberant techno-architecture pavilion funded by Pepsi-Cola, Ed Atkins performed a dense text on the current image industry’s edict of “losslessness” and its subversion at the hands of art, proposing a Freudian scenario of melancholic perversion updated for the age of 3ds Max period dramas. His was more riveting, in my view, than the likewise dense and heavily detailed presentation by the neuro- and bioengineering researcher Paul Verschure, who in the past has realized multimedia environments, including audio-visually experimental imagings of a concentration camp. In direct opposition to Atkins’s recursion to a vector-based Freudian yet noninterpretative phantasmagoria of mourning, Verschure’s artistic projects aspire toward previously unrealized, educative sensorial experiences, overwhelmed by charts, graphs, and newfangledness. The Stedelijk’s new media curator Karen Archey’s brief art-historical primer on the dichotomy of 1990s net art and its disappearance vis-à-vis marketable and alluring post-internet art cropping up in the mid-aughts seemed applicable to the notable difference in style and intent of these two respective positions deploying the digitally produced virtual. But furthermore, the presentations also exemplified the often uneasy dialogue — or lack thereof — between the worlds of “rationally” guided scientistic projects and protocols seeking “creative” cross-pollination and the chatty and entitled while equally dismissed and ridiculed rhetoric favored by the art sphere. As to the humanist crisis stemming from art’s impotence in the face of the fast-developing expanded cinema of VR and its spectacularly violent or erotic or otherwise engrossing dreamworlds that summit curator Daniel Birnbaum halfheartedly voiced, Coupland merely retorted that the “real” world was a “dump” to begin with. True that — if easily forgotten in a winter wonderland.

Daniel Horn is an art historian based in Zurich and Berlin.

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