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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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Condo 2018 / London

Partial, if temporary, ownership can be a welcome invitation. It suits, then, that Condo London — an initiative that sees local galleries host international colleagues — continues to grow, with an additional ten galleries participating in its third run. The current incarnation includes seventeen citywide venues with a total of forty-six galleries either dividing space or cocurating exhibitions. Winter’s trimmings, as snowflake-smears, are foregrounded in the Condo map’s distant twinkling coordinates, a construct that now typically prioritizes quixotism over the intelligible.

Arguably, that choice can be made from the season’s actual structural efficacy, though the arrangement itself — international, self-organized space swaps — has many a precedent. Utilizing a quiet month in the art calendar, the map also gestures to a larger curatorial ambition that, loosened from the art-fair booth assembly, generates some capacity for surprise.

Carlos/Ishikawa, (of whom Vanessa Carlos is director, and founder of Condo), presented L(I)FE, a show that hosted Queer Thoughts (New York) and Schiefe Zähne (Berlin). Large terracotta-colored cardboard sheets created a rectal-like entranceway to cloistered works by Richard Sides, Issy Wood, Lukas Quietzsch, Quintessa Matranga, Mindy Rose Schwartz, and Diamond Stingily. Spatial seclusion enhanced the theme of puberty, with “L(I)FE” opening out to a low false ceiling of meticulously torn paper, with Stingily’s sculpture The Last Stage of Love (2017) occupying the floor — a marble, hand-carved set of teeth, clenched over a baseball. Rigid and awkward, the grip is reminiscent of the pain of becoming, the ball’s engraving reading: pro touch. Three large gouache-on-canvas paintings by Quietzsch populated the backspace, and most works hovered mid-gallery from long wires, including an oil-on-velvet painting of a bloated equine ornament of spheroid proportions: Untitled (Daddy’s overdraft) (2018) by Issy Wood, a gloomy piggybank.

Installation view at at Carlos/Ishikawa, London
Diamond Stingily “The Last Stage of Love” (2017), Lukas Quietzsch “Untitled, Gouache on Canvas” (2017) installation view at Carlos/Ishikawa, London. Courtesy of Queer Thoughts, New York, Schiefe Zähne, Berlin, Carlos/Ishikawa and Condo, London.

Corvi-Mora and greengrassi collectively hosted JTT (New York), Lomex (New York), and Proyectos Ultravioleta (Guatemala City). The show opened with works on paper by Tatsuo Ikeda, presented by greengrassi. Realized between 1956 and 1985, the works on show belong to a generation that endured World War II and the Cold War in Japan. Conveying contemporary realities with ideas of human consciousness and cosmology, Ikeda’s delicate execution expressed attendant postwar anxieties through monstrous faces and animal figures.

Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa (shown by Proyectos Ultravioleta) explores the entanglement of history and form following his displacement during Guatemala’s civil war, reinstating the subjective nature of historical narrative itself. His series of aquatints was inspired by a 1975 student production of Hugo Carrillo’s 1962 play Corazón de espantapájaros (Heart of the Scarecrow) — a protest of Guatemala’s repressive government, in which the satirical portrayal of juridical archetypes provoked one of the most severe censorships of the arts during the Guatemalan conflict. Across the series, bodies rearticulate themselves as they become episodically exposed. Meanwhile, Kye Christensen-Knowles (shown by Lomex) foregrounded the expressive potential of the vulnerable body. Her painting Cronus Contemplating Patricide (2017) depicts an apostolic physique, sinewy and tense, the musculature itself fashioned with pathos.

Upstairs, JTT presented two videos by Sable E. Smith, who considers how incarceration impacts individuals and their loved ones — how trauma and emotional violence can extend far beyond prison walls. Peripheries of gangster masculinities are examined in Men Who Swallow Themselves in Mirrors (2017), a film comprised of gunfire footage along with excerpts from an intimate video diary shot by the artist’s father while in prison. Contingency is clear as Smith restores a particular individual within a network of impersonal structural violence. Collectively, the works on show were momentarily clarified with flickering articulations of identity, memory, and violence, with Smith’s work a visceral endnote.

Sable Elyse Smith "Men Who Swallow Themselves in Mirrors" (2017, video still)
Sable Elyse Smith “Men Who Swallow Themselves in Mirrors” (2017, video still). Courtesy of JTT, New York and Condo, London.

The ground floor of Hollybush Gardens, hosting Jan Mot, presented the work of Sven Augustijnen, whose work examines Belgian colonial history and the ethical quandaries inherent to documentary and archival forms. In Summer Thoughts (2012–ongoing), presented here, Augustijnen uses the form of the personal letter, in this case written to the curator Marta Kuzma from 2012 to 2016, to reflect on the politics of Hannah Ryggen’s tapestries. Pasted onto the walls, the letters consider how Ryggen responded to the Nazi occupation of Norway, and then proceed to trace the historical connections leading up to the present European crisis and the rise of fascism in the region. The letters incrementally reinforce a sense of deep historical affect through personal recollection; a selection of newspapers provides a selective cartography that reexamines media framings of past political climates. Via a personal trajectory, Augustijnen deftly magnifies the volatile flows of ideology.

Sven Augustijnen, "Summer Thoughts" (2012 - ongoing)
Sven Augustijnen, “Summer Thoughts” (2012 – ongoing). Installation view, CONDO, Hollybush Gardens, London. Courtesy of the artist and Jan Mot, Brussels BE. Photograph by Andy Keate.

Project Native Informant presented Tobias Zielony’s series “Maskirovka” (shown by KOW), a set of photographs produced during time spent within the Kyiv queer techno scene, following the aftermath of the 2014 Euromaidan uprising. The title literally translates as “masking,” a term used to describe Russian covert military strategies. Masking is also extrapolated in paintings by Ned Vena (shown by Project Native Informant), who works between the digital and the canvas in woozy recreations of his body tattoos (first captured on an iPhone and originally commissioned by others). Proposed as partial portraits, the smoked opacity of their multiple layers — paint, tattoo graphics, skin — generates a palimpsest lacking tactile integrity or slick reliability. Also on view, Shen Xin’s three-channel film installation Forerunners (2016) presents a dialogue between a manager of a DNA testing service and her Buddhist mentor. Originally presented live, here performers are transposed to motion-captured animations dancing across an empty stage. The dialogue exposes the revival of eugenics via DNA testing platforms that epitomize the neoliberal logic of the subject as perpetual consumer and optimized producer.

As a building or complex of buildings containing individually owned property, the term “condominium” instantiates a shared interest in the whole. Understandably, it is this “togetherness” that can slip into triviality — collectivity becoming merely a fawning sycophancy. Yet the Condo project speaks to a necessary presence of the neighborhood, however outstretched; with Condo we may see this sensibility as a useful strategy for collective safeguarding, if not a means of outlasting the lone wolf.

by Alex Bennett

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Outside ART021 and West Bund / Shanghai Art Week

Throughout the week of Art021 and West Bund (the two fairs trumpeting Shanghai’s unofficial art week), I found myself guiding people while remarking on gallery relocations, the rise and fall of different art districts and the spooky past of West Bund as the largest execution ground during the Cultural Revolution. And then there were moments when I was surprised to find a brand new institution about which I had no clue, leaving me embarrassed and seeking help from the internet. Wandering the streets of Shanghai during art week feels like navigating a sprawling infrastructure of imploding newness. Almost every space smells newly renovated, and every exhibition is an artist’s first solo on the mainland.

Most young institutions along the Bund safely exhibit solo shows of well-established, non-Chinese artists. While one might view this trend as the new normcore in Shanghai’s art scene, it enables the third Hugo Boss Asia Art exhibition at Rockbund Art Museum to stand out as an absolute highlight of the season. For the first time, Rockbund has addressed its spatial constraints and reduced the number of exhibition finalists from six to four — Li Ming, Tao Hui, Yu Ji and Robert Zhao — giving each a separate floor to present new and old works. The result is an exceptional presentation. Here, each participating artist is a master of their practice: Yu Ji’s psycho-geographical study of the urban environment, which subtly bleeds into her adept play with rich sculptural materials; Tao Hui’s longstanding investigation into melodramatic form and the possibilities for universalized experience via networked visual culture; Zhao Renhui’s artistic appropriation of the language and conventions of science in order to investigate how history — both natural and social — can be constructed by existing systems; and Li Ming’s daring multidisciplinary restructuring of how the exhibition space affects the spectator’s perception of place and time. The latter was named winner of the Hugo Boss Asia Art Award by a jury panel of six artists and curators.

After a considerable number of galleries moved to West Bund, Antenna Space, which advocates a strong selection of local and international artists, including Guan Xiao and Nancy Lupo, is now generally regarded as the placeholder of the M50 creative district. Its fall exhibition, “Wu Tsang: Sustained Glass,” upholds that reputation. (At first, I felt a bit ethically uneasy including it in this report due to my involvement in producing the exhibition as Tsang’s research assistant, but it really stood out to me and most people I’ve talked to, so here’s a note to clarify.) The exhibition consists of a new two-channel video work titled We hold where study (2017), which Tsang developed in collaboration with poet and longstanding collaborator Fred Moten, along with a series of stained-glass and lightbox works. The exhibition’s critical intent is fuelled by references to the precarious condition of marginalized cultures in today’s sociopolitical crisis — particularly that of African American culture, as addressed in a video piece that clearly references the recent shooting death of Michael Brown. The exhibition marks China’s increasing interest in black cultural appropriation; the ongoing discrimination among Han-dominated peoples against black immigrants and religious minorities (such as the Muslim Hui) in cities like Shanghai make the discussion all the more urgent. Yet, instead of falling into didacticism, Tsang uses glass — a metaphorically rich material that connotes queer trauma in the Chinese language as well as imagination and communion in Western literature — to convey these concerns in an open and evocative spatial installation. The pain, rage and hope that’s left unspoken is palpable.

Over the past year, a mini art hub has been growing in the center of Shanghai’s former French Concession, with the inauguration of Capsule Gallery, the relocation of BANK Gallery and, now, the new gallery VACANCY located a one-minute walk away from Closing Ceremony, a unique photography bookstore open only on weekends and run by Shanghai-based self-publishing studio Same Paper.

Sociality as a central concern extends beyond Tsang’s exhibition at Antenna Space. Wang Xu and Cici Wu, founders of the New York gallery PRACTICE, make their curatorial debut at Capsule Gallery with “Scraggly Beard Grandpa,” which was being hyped by my close friends even before its opening, most of whom either knew the curators from their time in New York or who have spent time studying and living abroad and thus can relate to the always-ambivalent feeling of communion and displacement. Xu and Wu, who are also artists themselves, invited twelve artists (and alumni of their residency program in New York) to present new works, asking audiences to trace the marks that a memory of a bygone space has left on each artist’s practice. In certain instances, like the sculptural dialogue between Irini Miga’s fragile, hole-in-the-wall installation Landscape for a Thought (2017) and João Vasco Paiva’s The Last Kauai Oo Bird I and II (2017), a sense of communicability is particularly strong. Whereas other works, like Zheng Yuan’s exhaustive video essay, Game (2017), on evolving perspectives in video games, and Xinyi Cheng’s quiet paintings, feel somewhat unaffected by the curatorial premise. An unspoken naiveté may underlie PRACTICE’s celebration of friendship, but in our greatly accelerated, teleological time, there is perhaps much to gain from this sense of purposelessness.

Over at West Bund, in the six-month-old space of Edward Malingue’s Shanghai branch, sandwiched between MadeIn Gallery and Don Gallery, Taiwanese artist Chou Yu-Cheng has sworn to fill the gallery with the purest air in town. With a title that plays with today’s hashtag keyword economy while referencing The System of Objects by Jean Baudrillard, “Refresh, Sacrifice, New Hygiene, Infection, Clean, Robot, Air, Housekeeping, www.ayibang.com, Cigarette, Dyson, Modern People” brings together paintings, sculptures, performances, brand sponsorship, robots and an app operating system to probe the aesthetics of “hygiene” — a set of practices that has grown in tandem with the diseases of modernity. The gallery space is divided into three sections by a sky-blue platform in the middle, on top of which rests a pile of oversized dining utensils and a cleaning bucket. The left side of the platform recalls a typical gallery setting, with a series of sculpted objects reminiscent of home-furnishing accessories mounted onto the wall; to the right side of the platform, a dozen Dyson Pure purifying fans, capable of capturing 99.95% of particles as small as .3 microns, and a team of robot vacuum cleaners tirelessly guard the space. The exhibition is further accompanied by a weekly performance at an undisclosed hour, when a cleaning lady, hired through the popular mobile app “ayibang,” cleans the art objects on view. Over the last two weeks of the exhibition, the artist will remove all the sculptures, leaving behind an empty gallery space with only the cleaning equipment and the display for the cleaning service app. By highlighting typically unseen processes related to the display of artworks in a contemporary gallery — the conditioning of air and other measurable aspects of its pedicured environment — Chou’s exhibition is a performative deconstruction of the gallery space that furthers his longstanding engagement with the social dimension of aesthetics.

Upstairs from Edward Malingue, Don Gallery’s tenth anniversary exhibition, “Shanghai Dandy,” proposes dandyism as the creative spark driving a thriving generation of Shanghai-based artists. While the link to the urban flaneur is more obscure in some works than others, here we finally have an exhibition, from one of the oldest contemporary art galleries in the city, that takes a stab at a homegrown aesthetic. One block away at Yuz Museum is “Shanghai Galaxy II,” another exhibition that takes Shanghai as its muse. The exhibition is certainly cosmological in its scope, gathering an extended list of artists whose connection to Shanghai ranges from the unequivocal to the nearly nonexistent. But Ming Wong’s spectacular Next Year / L’Année Prochaine / 明年 (2016) is enough to provoke a poetic reflection on Shanghai’s past and present. Loosely based on Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Alain Renais’s avant-garde classic in which notions of place and time remain obscure throughout, Wong’s work restages several excerpts from the film in a Shanghai café named Marienbad and several other locations in the city bearing Western architectural influences. Wong performs both female and male protagonists and employs meticulous editing to continuously juxtapose his/her face and the surrounding mise-en-scène with those in the original film. In Shanghai, a hybrid metropolis where colonial architecture shoulders postmodern skyscrapers and youths with techno fever can leave a club to grab a local breakfast at sunrise, the destabilized perceptions of space and time Wong so evocatively captures are all too familiar.

Sergei and Stefan Tcherepnin’s sound performance at Ming Contemporary Art Museum delivered a spooky yet serendipitous end to an overloaded week. Titled “Ten Tones: Inside and Outside the Major-Minor,” the project was developed over the span of a year and marked the last act of “Proposals to Surrender,” an exhibition curated by Biljana Ciric that reflected on the place of performativity in an institutional context. Having set out to research the history of their grandmother Lee Hsien Ming, who was the first woman pianist to graduate from the Shanghai Music Conservatory in the 1930s, the Tcherepnin brothers were disappointed with the materials they found, which all spoke of her in relation to their grandfather, the famous composer Alexander Tcherepnin. In response, they developed a project that conjured the spirit of Ming, both as a central figure in their own family history and as someone who historically provided a musical bridge between China and the West. The story unfolded over two nights in an empty villa, where audiences were invited to piece together their own impressions of Ming through photos and sonic fragments that the Tcherepnin brothers arranged in makeshift installations throughout the building. Amid wayward, crisscrossing sound cues that irregularly played, lingered and abruptly vanished, multiple worlds seemed to converge, taking participants out of the vacant villa — a generic instantiation of vampiric real estate development — and into Shanghai’s modernist past. By playing a personal note in a minor key, the Tcherepnin brothers managed to conjure a community of ghosts, distilling romance from hauntology.

Perhaps it was the ghostly aura inside the empty house, or the fact that the Tcherepnin brothers’ grandmother and Ming Wong share the same first name, or perhaps a bit of both; but on my way home from Ming Contemporary Art Museum I was haunted by the yellowed photo of Lee Hsien Ming, and the face of Wong dissolving into that of Delphine Seyrig, the female protagonist of Last Year at Marienbad. Living through this city’s increasing acceleration, where multiple worlds densely converge, time feels truly out of joint. In her column for Kaleidoscope on the evolution of visual culture in Asia, Venus Lau, who also currently resides in Shanghai, speculates on a (re)turn to the underworld in our dystopian imaginations. At this moment, her chilling thought experiment feels particularly apt.

Alvin Jiahuan Li is a writer based in Shanghai, China, and a contributing editor for frieze and Ran Dian. From 2016 to 2017, Li worked as English editor for the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, where he co-curated the exhibition “The New Normal: China, Art, and 2017.”

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Jiwa / Jakarta Bienniale 2017

Jiwa (soul) is the conceptual framework behind the latest Jakarta Biennale, which proposes to place performance at center stage. Led by artistic director and performer Melati Suryodarmo, this edition is joined by curators Hendro Wiyanto, Annissa Gultom, Philippe Pirotte, and Vít Havránek, and much of the exhibition is comprised of new commissions. The team has established a clear curatorial premise, highlighting their interest in durational art and a wish to survey works from the archipelago that look beyond Javacentrism while pointing at regime-defying practices that deserve deepened art-historical research.

These concerns were carefully researched, leading to a renewed consideration of activist positions against the totalizing regime of Suharto, and the representation of syncretic forms of religion that were previously erased by the time of the Pancasila. Such is the case of the Bissu community, made up of the Buginese people of South Sulawesi, who have unique spiritual and societal beliefs with complex gender systems. Bissu members performed on the opening night, which included a screening of The Last Puang Matoa (2017), a film that addresses the murder of their last leader and looks at ongoing struggles of indigenous communities in the archipelago.

The diversity of the performance program was particularly notable, including various traditions and conceptual registers that informed the installations on display. Marintan Sirait restaged Butoh-inspired pieces from the 1990s, in which clay-covered bodies interacted with an installation of soil pyramids topped with yellow pigment. In the room next door, Ewa Kot’áková’s sculpture of a tree was activated by two performers who interpreted memories of becoming birds, expanding our understanding of Jiwa to that of pathological phenomenology and the social construct of illnesses.

On the previous evening, Darlane Litaay reinterpreted Papuan rites of fecundity by shivering to the sound of hypnotic synth drones. Before that, David Gheron Tretiakoff’s feedback trance ritual was performed over looped excerpts of Jean Rouch’s Les Maîtres Fous (1995), nearby the ghostly shadow of Luc Tuyman’s painting of a televised hologram, Twenty Seventeen (2017). As well as gestural narratives, storytelling was presented as a main form of local cultural expression. Audience favorite “Jiwa Laut” was interpreted and performed by Sumatran artist PM Toh, who improvised a sung narrative about a fisherman in a DIY cardboard scenario made with domestic utensils and stop-motion video projections.

The ceremonial quality of the works extended way beyond the mediumistic constraints of the performative realm. For example, Dineo Seshee Bopape’s fired clay and shell altar echoed voodoo trappings, and I Made Djirna’s labyrinthine installation of faces carved into lava rock, a brut gesture by this Balinese artist, was mirrored by the mesmerizing puppet silhouettes of Ni Tanjung, which resemble naive shadow theater figures.

Central to the Gudang Sarinah Ekosistem venue was a section dedicated to five artists focusing on installations and publications dedicated to activist Semsar Siahaan. This included paintings and excerpts from his latest graphic diaries; audio installations by experimental musician I Wayan Sadra, who challenged the melodic use of gamelan; Hendrawan Riyanto’s ritualized ceramics; and installations by Dolorosa Sinaga and Siti Adiyati. While highlighting radical figures in the country’s art scene, this section also acknowledged the need for further in-depth research on contemporary art history and the urgency of institutional action in a context of precarious museology.

At the Jakarta History Museum, a haunting critique of museology comes through in the film Sector IX B, Sleeping Sickness Prophylaxis (2015) by Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc, in which an anthropologist’s observations on archival objects are compromised by hallucinations due to the effects of a tropical sleep disease. In this venue, located in the main square of Jakarta, the echo of colonialism resonated through several installations, as seventeenth-century garbed Nikhil Chopra developed an enthralling clay and rice mural painting of an ocean horizon, and Em’kal Eyongakpa presented a site-specific sound installation of the overlapping heartbeats of independence leaders in the prison space of the building. Next door, at the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics, Darwin-based aboriginal film collective Karabing captivated with the decolonizing power of their film WUTHARR: Saltwater Dreams (2016), which addresses land expropriation and resource sharing. Their work was also a focus of discussion throughout the Jiwa symposium on indigenous beliefs, spiritual life and the role of bodies as a part of change.

And despite the improvisational quality of some installations, which are slightly undermined by their materiality, the impact of this year’s edition of the Biennale is more challenging than ever, placing the visitor amid durational experiences while restoring the urge for spirited gestures. Here, the formless contour of the political body — or Jiwa — is in pure potency, coming to life through the shared medium of storytelling and the common passage of time. 

Margarida Mendes is a curator and activist based in Lisbon.

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