Chinese Pavilion at 57th Venice Biennale announces artists

Tradition and innovation will mark works in the Chinese Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale.

Curated by artist and curator Qiu Zhijie, the Chinese Pavilion’s exhibition will be entitled “Continuum – Generation by Generation”, featuring four artists.

Qiu Zhijie. Image courtesy Phoenix Art media.

Qiu Zhijie. Image courtesy Phoenix Art media.

The China Pavilion at this year’s edition of the Venice Biennale, running from 13 May to 26 November 2017, will be curated by artist and curator Qiu Zhijie (b.1969), Dean of the School of Experimental Art at China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts. The theme of this year’s exhibition will be “Continuum – Generation by Generation” and will include the works of four artists namely Tang Nannan, Wu Jian’an, Wang Tianwen and Yao Huifen.

In an interview with Phoenix Art media’s Wang Fu, Qiu explained that to him the theme of the Pavilion is not about the work of a single Chinese artist but a collective creative process that has lasted over 5000 years. Qiu revealed that he plans to organise a comprehensive cross-cooperation among the four artists for the Chinese Pavilion. Each of the four participating artists will cooperate with the other three artists. They will also work together on a large multimedia show. He says they plan to set up a special area to show the interconnectedness of all these artists and their teachers that influenced them and their teachers in turn.

In answer to Wang Fu’s question as to how he understands this year’s them “Viva Arte Viva”, Qiu responded that the title can easily be misconstrued as emphasising the idea of individual artist’s ability. He believes, that this is not the case and that Christine Macel not only emphasises the artist’s working capabilities but that she also stresses that the art circle is not closed. That the artist acts as a link and an intermediary.

Tang Nanan. Image courtesy Artron.

Tang Nanan. Image courtesy Artron.

Tang Nannan’s (b. 1969, Fujian Province) core theme revolves around nostalgia in modern urban settings. His works also touch upon time and memory, myths and poetry, as well as nostalgia around the themes of life and death. He is also concerned with contemporary life and his own life experiences and incorporates these in his practice, which encompasses ink painting, installation, photography and multi-screen video projection. His ink works range from figurative to landscape to abstracted scenes.

He obtained a PhD from the School of Inter-Media Art of the China Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou where he now works as an associate professor. He also teaches at the Art College of Jimei University.

Artist Wu Jian’an. Image courtesy Chambers Fine Art.

Artist Wu Jian’an. Image courtesy Chambers Fine Art.

Wu Jian’an (b. 1980, Beijing) combines traditional Chinese folk art with contemporary sensibilities. His gallery Chambers Fine Art (Beijing and New York) describes his oeuvre in these terms:

Wu Jian‘an has established himself as a unique figure in contemporary Chinese art. Having chosen paper-cut as his primary means of expression in his early work, he has continued to use this technique in increasingly complex multilayered compositions and installations that frequently utilize thousands of components. Simultaneously, the range of references embodied in his works has grown enormously, embracing a multitude of mytho-logical, esoteric and contemporary references.

Wu is currently an associate professor and a graduate student supervisor in the Department of Experimental Art at the China Academy of Fine Art. He is also a member of the Experimental Art Committee of China Artists Association. Moreover, Wu works as a researcher at the Chinese Traditional Techniques Research and Preservation Center, at Prince Kung’s Palace Museum, under the Ministry of Culture in China.

Fan Dian, President of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), says of Wu:

Wu has…endowed the ancient culture and traditions with a new vitality, which makes him an outstanding representative in the field of contemporary art, with a focus on the transformation and innovation of traditional resources.

Arts and Crafts Master of shadow puppet carving Wang Tianwen. Image courtesy greatseed.com.

Arts and Crafts Master of shadow puppet carving Wang Tianwen. Image courtesy greatseed.com.

Wang Tianwen was born in Shaanxi Province and is a state-level Arts and Crafts Master of China of shadow puppets. The craft of shadow puppet carving is on the National Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Wang is said to have a deep understanding of the process of puppet carving and is considered well versed in the history of shadow play in Shaanxi. He is a key figure who inherited the “Carving with Moving Leather” technique, as well as being known for his innovation in this field. He also devotes time to collecting and reproducing lost puppet designs, as well as identifying and repairing old puppets.

Senior Research Fellow and craftsman of Su embroidery Yao Huifen. Image courtesy greatseed.com.

Senior Research Fellow and craftsman of Su embroidery Yao Huifen. Image courtesy greatseed.com.

Yao Huifen (b. 1967) is Senior Research Fellow and craftsman of China’s famous Su embroidery and a National Intangible Cultural Heritage successor. Born in Jiangsu Province in 1967, she is the fourth generation descendent of the “Needle God” Shou Shen. Yao has practiced the art of embroidery for more than thirty years. She is said to be proficient in a variety of embroidery techniques, specializing in portraits and Chinese freehand ink painting embroidery. Some of the collections where her work can be found include the British Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, University of London.

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Other Chinese artists that will be part of its main exhibition entitled “Viva Arte Viva” and curated by Christine Macel will comprise of Geng Jianyi (b. 1962), Guan Xiao (b. 1983), Hao Liang (b. 1983), Liu Jianhua (b. 1962), Liu Ye (b. 1964) and Zhou Tao (b. 1976).

Nooshfar Afnan

1578

Related Topics: Chinese artists, biennales, news, events in Venice, 57th Venice Biennale

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Love, spirituality and surveillance: Chinese artist Shen Xin at Lychee One, London

Chinese artist Shen Xin’s solo exhibition “Strongholds” runs at Lychee One until 5 March 2017.

The exhibition features Shen Xin’s video works that explore notions of love, spirituality and surveillance, by examining the intersection between Buddhist philosophy and everyday life.

Shen Xin, 'Strongholds' (video still), 2016, DV 71 min. Image courtesy the artist and Lychee One.

Shen Xin, ‘Strongholds’ (video still), 2016, DV 71 min. Image courtesy the artist and Lychee One.

Chengdu-born artist Shen Xin, who now lives and works in London, has featured in several recent group shows in China, such as “Dragon Liver Phoenix Brain” at Shanghai OCAT (2016), “Extravagant Imagination, The Wonder of Idleness” at MadeIn Gallery in Shanghai (2016) and “The Ballad of Generation Y”, also at Shanghai OCAT (2015). In these contexts, a self-consciously contemporary and kaleidoscopic interpretation of modern life has been the context for her work. In “Strongholds” at Lychee One in London, Shen Xin’s works are experienced in an austere setting, with just two projections on the adjacent walls of a cell-like space. Fine acting and cinematography make the works dignified and economical.

Following the UK solo show in 2016 “Originally Inclusive” at Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester and the online commission “Forms Escape: Prologue” at London’s Chisenhale Gallery, Lychee One presents new video works connected by an examination of the intersection of Buddhist spirituality and everyday life.

Shen Xin, 'Strongholds' (video still), 2016, DV 71 min. Image courtesy the artist and Lychee One.

Shen Xin, ‘Strongholds’ (video still), 2016, DV 71 min. Image courtesy the artist and Lychee One.

A Love Triangle

The titular 71-minute video Strongholds (2016) is a disjointed narrative about two Dutch women, Emma and Margriet, preparing for a dance performance at Kagyu Samyé Ling, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Scotland. Founded in the mid-1960s, Samyé Ling was the largest Buddhist temple in Western Europe until the inauguration of The Benalmádena Stupa in Spain in 2003. Beyond the narrative, told in flashback, the video is an unusual love triangle between the two Dutch women and a surveillance drone. As well as doing much of the filming, the insistent buzz of the drone’s motors, its shadow and reflection make its presence ubiquitous. In other scenes, it appears propped on a chair in the cottage where the two women are staying and is seen lying beside them as they rest on the bank of a river in the deserted rural landscape around the temple.

Shen Xin, 'Strongholds' (video still), 2016, DV 71 min. Image courtesy the artist and Lychee One.

Shen Xin, ‘Strongholds’ (video still), 2016, DV 71 min. Image courtesy the artist and Lychee One.

The two women rehearse their dance routine outdoors and the drone, also, moves around them. The dance itself, in keeping with the title, involves holding and trust, interaction and letting go. These themes of actual physical contact become confused with emotional and spiritual concerns. Buddhist ideas of harmonious unity provide the framework for the women’s desire for a balance between autonomy and dependence in their relationship.

Chat taking place on a Dharma (in Buddhism, states of ethical consciousness) website are sometimes flashed up as text on the screen and disassociated with the main action, they reflect on the interface of ordinary life and spiritual devotion. These add a layer of mysticism to the apparently ‘fly-on the-wall’ report of the introspective activities of the women. In the film, the dancers as actors portray themselves with poise and conviction.

Shen Xin, 'Strongholds' (video still), 2016, DV 71 min. Image courtesy the artist and Lychee One.

Shen Xin, ‘Strongholds’ (video still), 2016, DV 71 min. Image courtesy the artist and Lychee One.

Ultimately the need for closeness in the women’s relationship suggests a universal desire for integrity. The drone is a benevolent mediator suggesting that technology can provide reflective distance and impartiality to aid self-discovery.

In the last scene, the drone adopts an unflinching distance while the two women engage in a struggle. Or is it a play fight? Finally, they break free. They run off separately but in the same direction to the refrain of blind Chinese folk singer Zhou Yunpeng’s Elegy to April (2014): “No one should dream of finding her again […]. There won’t be any news anymore.”

Shen Xin, "Strongholds", 28 January - 5 March 2017, Lychee One, London, installation view with (left) 'Provocation of the Nightingale #1', 2017, and (right) 'Strongholds', 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Lychee One.

Shen Xin, “Strongholds”, 28 January – 5 March 2017, Lychee One, London, installation view with (left) ‘Provocation of the Nightingale #1’, 2017, and (right) ‘Strongholds’, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Lychee One.

Intimacy

The other work at Lychee One, Provocation of the Nightingale #1 (2017), also explores the interface of Buddhism and utilitarian concerns. It is an intimate encounter between two women, the manager of a DNA testing facility and her meditation teacher. The physical attraction of the couple is taught. They struggle to keep focused on their conversation as their bodies draw one to the other.

The work seems closely related to Forerunners (2016), a three-channel video installation, the residue of a performance included in the recent exhibition at Shanghai OCAT. Both works record the dialogue between the same characters. In the earlier work, the conversation is more pragmatic, even argumentative. The screens show a deserted theatre space and the voices of the scripted performers are present on the screens as graphic animations, keeping the issues discussed in the abstract realm.

 Shen Xin, 'Provocation of the Nightingale #1' (video still), 2017 DV 22 min. Image courtesy the artist and Lychee One.

Shen Xin, ‘Provocation of the Nightingale #1’ (video still), 2017 DV 22 min. Image courtesy the artist and Lychee One.

In the current work, the two figures sit close together on the floor of a darkened space, similar to the theatre seen before. The dialogue is flirtatious. The two women endeavour to please one another, attempting to accommodate and integrate each other’s perspective. Occasionally the encounter changes, although the dialogue continues their lips do not move. Their communication appears to be telepathic and is sublimated by intimate touch and gesture. At such moments the camera also abandons its objectivity and is drawn to linger on the women’s bodies and clothing, expressing sensuality.

The work is compelling largely due to the touching conviction brought to the acting. The women’s attraction is palpable making it believable that their different world views are actively becoming integrated as the video plays.

Shen Xin, "Strongholds", 28 January - 5 March 2017, Lychee One, London, installation view with (left) 'Provocation of the Nightingale #1', 2017, and (right) 'Strongholds', 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Lychee One.

Shen Xin, “Strongholds”, 28 January – 5 March 2017, Lychee One, London, installation view with (left) ‘Provocation of the Nightingale #1’, 2017, and (right) ‘Strongholds’, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Lychee One.

Accelerationism

The surface of Shen’s works address personal attractions and affections, and these also serve to evoke political questions and particularly Accelerationist theory. A branch of these theoretical ideas foreground the disjuncture between the rhythm of bodily desire and the automated rhythms of contemporary capitalism, seeing in this rupture the possibility of capitalist disintegration, allowing people to revert to simpler living and to closer spiritual networks. To the UK audience, many of the Buddhist references are esoteric, such as references to the five Aggregates (matter, sensation, perception, volition and consciousness). These are principles that are familiar to some Asian audiences, such as those brought up with Confucius’ five virtues that underpin the principles of education in China.

 Shen Xin, 'Provocation of the Nightingale #1' (video still), 2017 DV 22 min. Image courtesy the artist and Lychee One.

Shen Xin, ‘Provocation of the Nightingale #1’ (video still), 2017 DV 22 min. Image courtesy the artist and Lychee One.

Answers

Shen’s previous works, such as Shoulders of Giants (2015) and Forms Escape: Prologue (2016), were acted out in the format of seminars. In the current works, Shen puts her protagonists outside the circuit of the actual. Their communication is oblique, such as in theatre and dance, and disconnected from utilitarian life. The characters’ loving interaction is radical. In love, they grapple with being together despite mental separation.

In the videos, love is as an unerring bond. In all manifestations of separation, it holds people together. For all their ethereal content these videos grapple with the possibilities of practical solutions to universal contemporary concerns, proposing ways to close the territorial, political, environmental and sectarian detachments of today.

Andrew Stooke

1563

Related Topics: Chinese, gallery shows, video, spirituality, London events

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“Voice of the Thunder Dragon”: Bhutanese contemporary art in New York City

A pop-up show of Bhutanese contemporary art is on display at 263 Bowery in New York City until 28 February 2017.

Featuring three pioneering artists from Bhutan and curated by American filmmaker, art collector and entrepreneur Maxwell S. Joseph, “Voice of the Thunder Dragon” offers a unique insight into the Himalayan kingdom’s burgeoning contemporary art scene. 

Asha Kama, 'Presence 2', 2017. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

Asha Kama, ‘Presence 2’, 2017. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

“Voice of the Thunder Dragon”, a pop-up show of 25 paintings on display in New York City presents contemporary Bhutanese art by Kama Wangdi (Asha Kama), Pema Tshering (Tintin) and Gyempo Wanchuk, all affiliated with arts non-profit VAST (Volunteer Artists’ Studio Thimphu), based in Bhutan. The exhibition is on display at 263 Bowery in New York 11 to 28 February 2017, and is curated by filmmaker, art collector and entrepreneur Maxwell S. Joseph.

A tiny Himalayan kingdom the size of Switzerland, Bhutan with a population of around 600,000 has a rich cultural tradition over 2,000 years old. In 1972, King Jigme Singye Wangchunk first introduced the phrase “Gross National Happiness”, and until recently Bhutan actually did issue a Gross National Happiness Index instead of the more standard Gross National Product (GNP). However, newer administrations are downplaying Gross National Happiness in favour of dealing with the country’s more pragmatic problems, such as their growing national debt and high unemployment rate.

Gyempo Wangchuk, 'Spirit of Suffering', 2016, detail of wine glass and cup. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

Gyempo Wangchuk, ‘Spirit of Suffering’, 2016, detail of wine glass and cup. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

There is a small but visually sophisticated contingent of artists from Bhutan who use traditional and non-traditional forms to explore painting as an innovative art form within their unique cultural context, and not just as an aid in the pursuit of enlightenment. These paintings focus on the slow deconstruction of traditional iconography, mostly through metaphor, but also invoke strikingly poignant personal themes like sexuality and alcoholism. They tackle tensions endemic to a culture jettisoning itself into modernism, which, in the case of Bhutan, only introduced broadcasting television as late as 1999.

Although foreign forms of modern painting were known within Bhutan, the founding of VAST (Volunteer Artists’ Studio Thimphu) in 1998 came through the efforts of artists Karma Wangdi, Phurba Thinley Sherpa, Jigme Iotey, Pema Dorji and Rajesh Gurung. VAST provided a new type of education outside the classroom for Bhutanese culture and contemporary practices, and has encouraged more than 6000 Bhutanese youth to contribute to community service through summer art camps. VAST also holds weekend workshops in specific genres like oil painting, watercolour, basic drawing and even computer aided design.

Pema Tshering (Tintin), 'Spiritual Beings 1 3', 2015. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

Pema Tshering (Tintin), ‘Spiritual Beings 1 3’, 2015. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

Art, if it is taught at all to young monks, is understood to be part of their religious education. VAST encourages artists outside of traditional and commercial conduits, an important distinction, as there is still a subtle stigma attached to radical experimentation and disruption, notions at the core of contemporary global art trends. In the past ten years, there has also been an increase in the number of commercial art galleries in Bhutan, like Kelly Dorji’s Terton Gallery, Alaya Gallery and Water Dragon Gallery. Some artists also yearn for an actual modern institute of art, or at least special student scholarships to study contemporary art.

Gyempo Wangchuk, 'Lives of the Phalluses', 2016, detail. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

Gyempo Wangchuk, ‘Lives of the Phalluses’, 2016, detail. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

Although art of the Himalayan region, with its question of exploring national identity in a shifting global landscape, has been exhibited in the greater New York area before, Bhutanese artist Phurba Namgay was the first to exhibit his paintings as part of “Anonymous: Contemporary Tibetan Art” in 2013 at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art in New Paltz, New York. Other related genres of Himalayan art include the Gendun Choepal School of Lhasa, Tibet, first birthed from an artist residency at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and the Henry Street Settlement in New York in 2002, sparking the school’s formation in Lhasa in 2003.There are also contemporary art movements out of Ulan Bator, originating from the Blue Sun Group and supported by commercial galleries like Xanadu Gallery, various art galleries and the Mongolian Arts Council that have made their way in one form or another to New York. However, so far there seems to be no concerted effort to bring together a group of contemporary artists from Bhutan.

Kama Wangdi, 'Presence 4, 5, 6', 2017. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

Kama Wangdi, ‘Presence 4, 5, 6’, 2017. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

Kama Wangdi, affectionately known as Asha (maternal uncle) Kama, refers to himself as the “torch-bearer” of contemporary art in Bhutan. He trained at the National Fine Arts Centre of Bhutan in traditional thangka painting, and at the National Handicrafts Design Center in Thimpu, Bhutan in the thirteen crafts of Bhutan referred to as Zorg Chusum. These include painting furniture, wood carving, statue-making, calligraphy, gold and silversmith work, bamboo weaving, blacksmithing, incense stick making and embroidery, among others. In 1991 Kama won a scholarship from Great Britain to study graphic design at the Kent Institute of Art and Design. Returning to Bhutan he worked for the Royal Government, but in 1997 when the design field became more computerised he opted for an early retirement. Through discussions with other local artists, they realised that during the 1980s and 1990s art had been cut from the curriculum of schools, both locally and globally. To address that void they founded VAST, with Kama credited as having introduced contemporary design schemes and ideas into Bhutanese art.

His work presents an amalgam of styles combining the traditional Tibetan thangka painting grid system, or tig-say of the Buddha’s head against a partial impasto abstract background and the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” riding across the canvas. This juxtaposition reveals his fondness for texture, an unused factor in traditional painting, which is usually made from mineral-based gouaches. His paintings, often laced with gold and Tibetan sacred syllables, are a mashup of tempera and acrylic, hovering between the unknown vastness of abstraction and the known rigidity of the grid structure. They deal with the tension of sacredness in opposition to the deconstruction of the sacred image, where the struggle between structure and form disassemble when measured against the onslaught of new semiotic meanings of speed, materialism, consumerism and ecological crisis.

Pema Tshering (Tintin), 'Spiritual Beings II 2', 2015. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

Pema Tshering (Tintin), ‘Spiritual Beings II 2’, 2015. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

Pema Tshering (Tintin) began training at VAST at the age of 13, choosing to work in acrylic, a material at odds with more traditional ground minerals and earth-based pigments. In his series “Spiritual Beings” he examines representations of monks, deities and warriors, and their function within greater Bhutanese society. Gang signs become coded mudras or holy hand gestures. Deities who appear aggressive have hidden meanings as aspects of peacefulness, and monks, assumed to be spiritual, can harbour hidden aggression. He represents masks both traditional and those more in the line of the bandanas of robbers, and shows subjects with tattooed arms.

When asked why he shows what appears to be symbols of resistance and guns to represent the art of an overwhelmingly peaceful country, he explains that resistance, or implied violence, is only referring to the demons one harbours inside oneself. This puts his work on a par with Tibetan painter Norbu Tsering, or Nortse, a Tibetan artist who also uses a plain background, a centralised human male figure, and tight framing or cropping of the body. Tintin, however, focuses more on the ‘visual cues” of gesture, script and deity masks framed by the colour of traditional yellow Bhutanese cloth, or sometimes a more voracious red background.

Pema Tshering (Tintin), 'Protectors of the Dharma 3', 2016. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

Pema Tshering (Tintin), ‘Protectors of the Dharma 3’, 2016. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

It is dubious that guns are a typical object of choice in Bhutanese traditional paintings. Tintin states he wants to “liberate the Bhutanese-Buddhist eye” or what could be called the gaze, as well as the traditional field of perception. Looking at a wrathful deity holding a gun does not mean gazing upon terror or political instability, but only reflecting upon one’s own internal upheavals and instabilities.

Gyempo Wangchuk, 'Spirit of Suffering', 2016, detail of bottle top and rabbit moon. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

Gyempo Wangchuk, ‘Spirit of Suffering’, 2016, detail of bottle top and rabbit moon. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

The most psychologically complex artist is Gyempo Wanchuk. A graduate of the Zorig Chusum Institute, or National Handicrafts Design Center, he pours his personal grief from his father’s untimely death from alcoholism into his work. Alcoholism is a topic not traditionally depicted in such a realistic and autobiographical way within in the canons of Himalayan art.  Using techniques from traditional thangka painting, he depicts himself as a rabbit, his birth sign, locked inside a moon watching tragedy unfold. He also compares the use of alcohol to the three root causes of suffering. Human heads surround the cap of the bottle, depicting the fact that most people cannot be easily cleansed from addiction. A half-filled wine glass and wooden cup, oozing with blood, are also symbolic of alcohol, and there are ongoing prayers in the picture to aid his deceased father reach the heavenly realm.

Gyempo Wangchuk, 'Lives of the Phalluses', 2016, detail. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

Gyempo Wangchuk, ‘Lives of the Phalluses’, 2016, detail. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

Wanchuk unabashedly tackles the pithy subjects of sex and desire. Although his inspiration derives from the teachings of the Divine Madman, the 15th-century monk Drukpa Kunley, he has drawn upon sources as diverse as Indian miniature erotica, and even hints of Japanese shun-ga, or ‘spring’ pictures. He literally chops the picture plane into 36 miniature inserts to concoct a jumble of images pouring out their tightly condensed spaces.

Pema Tshering (Tintin), 'Spiritual Beings 1 3', 2015. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman. Pema Tshering (Tintin), 'Spiritual Beings 1 3', 2015. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

Gyempo Wangchuk, ‘Lives of the Phalluses’, 2016, detail. Image courtesy Ellen Pearlman.

These three artists show that despite its small size and recent arrival in the global market, they are willing to break with convention to find a voice unique to their predicaments expanding the genre of contemporary art of the Himalayas.

Ellen Pearlman

1577

Related Topics: Bhutanese, sexuality, spirituality, paintinggallery shows, New York events

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“Survival Sex”: exploring the plight of homeless youth with Nigerian-American filmmaker Ukachi Arinzeh – in conversation

Nigerian-born American filmmaker Ukachi Arinzeh speaks of universal feelings of compassion and the struggle to survive in our times.

After a life changing experience, Ukachi Arinzeh has planned a project that encourages us to stop and acknowledge the plight of those less fortunate, who often go unnoticed and are avoided in our urban fast-paced, global realities. The artist speaks about his personal drive to create something meaningful, his new project and how his multicultural life inspires his work.

Ukachi Arinzeh. Image courtesy the artist.

Ukachi Arinzeh. Image courtesy the artist.

Working for a long time between Shanghai and New York City, and engaging with both a personal creative practice and a commercial job, Ukachi Arinzeh has embraced film and video to create a view of contemporary reality that aims to shake us out of our torpor and indifference.

After a trying experience with a serious illness, Arinzeh realised how fortunate most of us are while there are a great number of people everywhere, in cities like New York, but also in other parts of the world, that everyday have to suffer debilitating ways of life in order to survive.

Recently, the artist became aware of and took up an interest in exploring and understanding the plight of homeless teenagers in New York City, who amount to about 5,000 in a city where there are only 500 beds available for the homeless per night. Studies also show that around 50 percent of homeless youth have been rejected by their families for their sexual orientation, putting at risk a great part of the young LGBT community in the United States.

Arinzeh’s upcoming project, aptly entitled Survival Sex, explores the story of a homeless teenager in New York struggling for survival on the mean streets of the city. In order to be able to create this meaningful story and bring it to the screens, the artist has set up a GoFundMe campaign, which will end on 28 February 2017.

Click here to watch Ukachi Arinzeh’s ‘Survival Sex’ campaign video on YouTube

Art Radar speaks with Ukachi Arinzeh about the meaning of being a successful filmmaker, his multicultural experience and inspiration, and what his new project is about.

You have been working with video for a long time now, both on personal filmmaking projects as well as in the commercial sphere. How would you say your perspective and your goals as a filmmaker have developed over the years and at what stage are you now? What would be now the biggest achievement and success for you in terms of your creative practice?

This is a great question and it actually speaks to the heart or the inspiration to make Survival Sex. I truly love the craft of filmmaking, but like most people it can be difficult trying to strike the right balance between art and commerce. Sometimes life has a way of intruding and forces you to make decisions you’ve been avoiding. At some point in time I think we all ask ourselves about our life, our direction, and what we want to achieve or who we want to be. I realised I really wanted to be a filmmaker and not just a commercial director. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy working with brands to tell their story but I fell in love with films. So now my biggest achievement and success in terms of my creative practice is overcoming my fears and putting myself and my own work out there. I shouldn’t say overcoming my fear, putting myself out there despite my fear would be more accurate.

You have lived for a long time in Shanghai, and have experienced life at varying levels both in the West, and especially in New York City where you are from, and the East. How would you say this duality has shaped the way you think creatively?

I’m a firm believer that the greatest education is travelilng, or at least growing up with other cultures. Growing up in the States as a Nigerian, I was aware of culture. I knew the difference between American culture and Nigerian culture. In Nigerian culture I couldn’t take things from adults with my left hand, Nigerian culture smells different, it tastes different. One wasn’t better than the other, they were just different. I think we often assume what we know is how things are or should be, but when you travel you understand what you know or believe is only what you know or believe, it’s not the law. It’s just one way of doing things. So creatively I attempt to look at things without judgment, I attempt to approach things aware of perspective so that I can see things for what they really are and not just what I want it to be.

Ukachi Arinzeh shooting a commercial project in Shanghai, China. Image courtesy the artist.

Ukachi Arinzeh shooting a commercial project in Shanghai, China. Image courtesy the artist.

You have chosen to turn your lens onto more profound, perhaps even spiritual concerns, through an exploration of specific realities that can represent universal views of what people have to face and endure to survive. Can you tell us more about what your project for Survival Sex is about, and how for you it can resonate not only in its immediate surroundings like New York City and the reality of the United States, but also in other parts of the world?

I think what the movie is about and how I hope it resonates with the audience are two different things. I hope that the film inspires people to have greater empathy for their fellow man. That it causes people to take a moment to be aware of someone else’s suffering or plight. Like most of us, I previously would ignore homeless people when asked for money. Since I started this process I now always respond. I try to make eye contact and with a smile say, “Sorry bro, I can’t today”.  Acknowledging their presence is what I have to give. Maybe I can do more, maybe this film is my way of doing more. I do believe a simple act of kindness on the streets of New York or the slums of Lagos goes a long way. Not just for them but for myself as well.

Watch an interview about ‘Survival Sex’ with Ukachi Arinzeh by Nigerian musician Nneka, Founder of Rope Foundation

Finally, you have mentioned before in a conversation we had, that perhaps your way of relating to particular struggles for survival could derive from the fact that you have witnessed and partly lived similar realities of hardship in Nigeria, the country you were born in and you are linked to inextricably by blood. Could you expand a little on this notion and tell me how your experience of life in Nigeria make you more receptive towards suffering individuals, how this has perhaps helped you build a heightened level of compassion and how it might also propel and become a catalyst for your creative process?

As a kid I can remember the first time going back to Nigeria. I left when I was very young so I didn’t have any memory of it. I must have been around 11 or 12 when I first went back for a visit. I remember thinking how lucky our family was. My parents didn’t come from affluent backgrounds. My dad was the oldest of 9 kids and from what I hear very bright. In order for the village to prosper they decided it was best that everyone chipped in to raise money to send him to college in America. With the idea being he would become a success then return home to assist those behind him. It was truly an example of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. I think with the help of my mother he has far surpassed his part of the bargain. Thankfully, I’ve never known poverty, but its close proximity on those early trips back home fostered an appreciation for the blessings we were given, as well as an awareness for those less fortunate. I think that has influenced the type of stories I would like to tell, the characters I’m drawn to, and the type of filmmaker I aspire to be.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

1569

Related Topics: Nigerian artists, American artists, film, video art, art about society, art about the urban environment, New York City

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Photo Gallery: “An Atlas of Mirrors”, Singapore Biennale 2016

As the Singapore Biennale 2016 is soon coming to a close, Art Radar gives you the opportunity to see some of the work on show until 26 February 2017.

“An Atlas of Mirrors” features more than 60 artists and artist collectives from East, South and Southeast Asia, presenting a “constellation” of artistic perspectives on the world and our shared histories.

David Chan, 'The Great East Indiaman', 2016, wood, welded steel and concrete, 2400 x 500 x 1800 cm. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at National Museum Singapore. Image courtesy Singapore Biennale.

David Chan, ‘The Great East Indiaman’, 2016, wood, welded steel and concrete, 2400 x 500 x 1800 cm. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at National Museum Singapore. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Chia Chuyia, 'Knitting the Future', 2015, 2016, performance with knitting needles and leeks, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. At SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Biennale.

Chia Chuyia, ‘Knitting the Future’, 2015, 2016, performance with knitting needles and leeks, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. At SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Debbie Ding, 'Shelter', 2016, replica of household shelter: plaster on cement-fibre board, plywood, steel, ceiling light fixture and paper, 240 x 290 x 170 cm. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at National Museum of Singapore. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Debbie Ding, ‘Shelter’, 2016, replica of household shelter: plaster on cement-fibre board, plywood, steel, ceiling light fixture and paper, 240 x 290 x 170 cm. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at National Museum of Singapore. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Do Ho Suh, 'Gate', 2003, silk and stainless steel tubes, Artist Proof 1 of 1, 326.5 x 211.5 x 100 cm. Private collection. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Do Ho Suh, ‘Gate’, 2003, silk and stainless steel tubes, Artist Proof 1 of 1, 326.5 x 211.5 x 100 cm. Private collection. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Eddy Susanto, 'The Journey of Panji', 2016, ink on canvas, acrylic and wood, 300 x 500 x 300 cm. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Eddy Susanto, ‘The Journey of Panji’, 2016, ink on canvas, acrylic and wood, 300 x 500 x 300 cm. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Faizal Hamdan, 'Dollah Jawa', 2016, two-channel video projection, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Faizal Hamdan, ‘Dollah Jawa’, 2016, two-channel video projection, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Han Sai Por, 'Black Forest', 2016, wood and charcoal, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Han Sai Por, ‘Black Forest’, 2016, wood and charcoal, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Jack Tan, 'Hearings', 2016, textile hangings with audio recordings (set of 8) (27 to 29 Oct 2016, 2pm) and ‘live’ performances (29 Oct 2016, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm) at Chamber, The Arts House; bound manuscripts, music stands and speakers with audio recordings (set of 8) at SAM at 8Q (30 Oct 2016 to 26 Feb 2017); Hangings 150 x 120 cm each; manuscripts, 25 x 17.6/25 cm x various widths (closed/opened dimensions, each); recordings various durations 1:04–3:59 mins; ‘live’ performances total duration approx. 17:00 mins (each). Collection of the Artist. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Jack Tan, ‘Hearings’, 2016, textile hangings with audio recordings (set of 8) (27 to 29 Oct 2016, 2pm) and ‘live’ performances (29 Oct 2016, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm) at Chamber, The Arts House; bound manuscripts, music stands and speakers with audio recordings (set of 8) at SAM at 8Q (30 Oct 2016 to 26 Feb 2017); Hangings 150 x 120 cm each; manuscripts, 25 x 17.6/25 cm x various widths (closed/opened dimensions, each); recordings various durations 1:04–3:59 mins; ‘live’ performances total duration approx. 17:00 mins (each). Collection of the Artist. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Jiao Xingtao, 'The Unity of N Monuments', 2016, cypress wood and copper (100 pieces), 45 x 34 x 34 cm (each). Collection of the Artist. Installation view at Asian Civilisations Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Jiao Xingtao, ‘The Unity of N Monuments’, 2016, cypress wood and copper (100 pieces), 45 x 34 x 34 cm (each). Collection of the Artist. Installation view at Asian Civilisations Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Made Djirna, 'Melampaui Batas (Beyond Boundaries)', 2016, antique boat, terracotta and found materials, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Made Djirna, ‘Melampaui Batas (Beyond Boundaries)’, 2016, antique boat, terracotta and found materials, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

MAP Office, 'Desert Islands', 2009, 2016, engraved mirrors, cardboard, aquarium and media player with sound, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artists. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

MAP Office, ‘Desert Islands’, 2009, 2016, engraved mirrors, cardboard, aquarium and media player with sound, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artists. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Marine Ky, 'Setting Off', 2016, ink transfer prints on fabric and paper, copper, wood and ceramic. Site-specific installation, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Peranakan Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Marine Ky, ‘Setting Off’, 2016, ink transfer prints on fabric and paper, copper, wood and ceramic. Site-specific installation, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Peranakan Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Azizan Paiman, 'Putar Alam Café', 2016, mild steel structure, zinc plate, ventilator, exhaust fan, fridge, transistor radio, TV monitor, mugs, kettle, tyre, microwave, wheel and interactive performance, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Azizan Paiman, ‘Putar Alam Café’, 2016, mild steel structure, zinc plate, ventilator, exhaust fan, fridge, transistor radio, TV monitor, mugs, kettle, tyre, microwave, wheel and interactive performance, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Nobuaki Takekawa, 'Sugoroku – Anxiety of Falling from History', 2016, Sugoroku table, glass rocket sculpture, woodblock prints, acrylic on canvas, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Nobuaki Takekawa, ‘Sugoroku – Anxiety of Falling from History’, 2016, Sugoroku table, glass rocket sculpture, woodblock prints, acrylic on canvas, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Phuong Linh Nguyen, 'Memory of the Blind Elephant', 2016, single-channel video, rubber latex, soil drawings on paper and metal stands, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Phuong Linh Nguyen, ‘Memory of the Blind Elephant’, 2016, single-channel video, rubber latex, soil drawings on paper and metal stands, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Sharmiza Abu Hassan, 'The Covenant', 2016, treated aluminium sheets, strips, rivets & wire cable, Jawi text, stainless steel wire mesh and nylon thread, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Sharmiza Abu Hassan, ‘The Covenant’, 2016, treated aluminium sheets, strips, rivets & wire cable, Jawi text, stainless steel wire mesh and nylon thread, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Sakarin Krue-On, 'Kra-Tua Taeng Seua (A Tiger Hunt)', 2016, video installation with black-and-white film, original soundtrack, video documentation and artefacts, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Smu - The Suantio Gallery. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Sakarin Krue-On, ‘Kra-Tua Taeng Seua (A Tiger Hunt)’, 2016, video installation with black-and-white film, original soundtrack, video documentation and artefacts, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SMU – The Suantio Gallery. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Suboh Gupta, 'Cooking the World', 2016, found aluminium utensils, monofilament line and steel600 cm (diameter). Collection of the Artist. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Suboh Gupta, ‘Cooking the World’, 2016, found aluminium utensils, monofilament line and steel600 cm (diameter). Collection of the Artist. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Tan Zi Hao, ;The Skeleton of Makara (The Myth of a Myth)', 2016, fibreglass and metal, 220 x 425 x 115 cm. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Tan Zi Hao, ;The Skeleton of Makara (The Myth of a Myth)’, 2016, fibreglass and metal, 220 x 425 x 115 cm. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, 'Jaonua: The Nothingness (King of Meat: The Nothingness)', 2016, five-channel video installation, duration 35:00 min. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, ‘Jaonua: The Nothingness (King of Meat: The Nothingness)’, 2016, five-channel video installation, duration 35:00 min. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Rathin Barman, 'Home, and a Home', 2016, welded mild steel bars with rust-preventive transparent coating, cast concrete and weathered steel, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Rathin Barman, ‘Home, and a Home’, 2016, welded mild steel bars with rust-preventive transparent coating, cast concrete and weathered steel, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Tun Win Aung & Wah Nu, 'The Name', 2008–ongoing, video projection, books and musical score, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artists. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Tun Win Aung & Wah Nu, ‘The Name’, 2008–ongoing, video projection, books and musical score, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artists. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Ade Darmawan, 'Singapore Human Resources Institute', 2016, installation with paintings, prints, photographs, found objects and furniture, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Ade Darmawan, ‘Singapore Human Resources Institute’, 2016, installation with paintings, prints, photographs, found objects and furniture, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Ryan Villamael, 'Locus Amoenus', 2016, paper (replica maps) and felt, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Ryan Villamael, ‘Locus Amoenus’, 2016, paper (replica maps) and felt, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Perception3, 'There are those who stay / There are those who go', 2016, installation with text on aluminium composite panels (set of 2), 240 x 420 x 60 cm (each). Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Stamford Green. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Perception3, ‘There are those who stay / There are those who go’, 2016, installation with text on aluminium composite panels (set of 2), 240 x 420 x 60 cm (each). Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Stamford Green. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

 

The Singapore Biennale 2016 “An Atlas of Mirrors” runs from 27 October 2016 to 26 February 2017, organised by the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and commissioned by the National Arts Council Singapore.

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“Something for the Touts, the Nuns, the Grocery Clerks and You”: Iranian artist Farhad Ahrarnia at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai

Iranian-born artist Farhad Ahrarnia explores urban spaces and the effects of modernisation in his recent solo exhibition at Lawrie Shabibi in Dubai.

Art Radar had a quick chat with the artist about the themes of materiality in his work.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of "Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of “Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

From 8 February to 2 March 2017 Dubai-based gallery Lawrie Shabibi presents “Something for the Touts, the Nuns, the Grocery Clerks and You”, a solo exhibition by Farhad Ahrarnia. Ahrarnia was born in Shiraz, Iran and now lives between Shiraz and Sheffield in the United Kingdom. His work explores aspects of national identity and intercultural exchange through a diverse range of meticulously crafted works.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of "Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of “Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Iranian architecture and western modernism

Farhad Ahrarnia’s practice is simultaneously influenced by his hometown, particularly the mix of modern and historic architecture found there, and western modernism. A major influence in his work is Kazimir Malevich, an artist of Suprematism, a movement that focused on basic geometric forms. In an essay for the Tate, Ahrarnia explains how the complex structures of Shiraz were built organically among ruins of ancient architecture and were influenced by modernism. He explained how this town of his youth, during the 1970s and 1980s, along with discovering Malevich’s artwork, fed into his practice:

As I perceive Shiraz through a Malevichian lens, I see the intermingling of these spatially and temporally varied spaces functioning as a prism, with the effect of creating a fractured, punctuated, yet dynamic and animated twentieth-century city. In parts this is reminiscent of Malevich’s architectural models, where protruding cubic shapes flow outwardly with different rhythms and in opposite, irregular directions.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of "Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of “Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Ahrarnia adopts craft-making techniques such as embroidery, engraving and marquetry into his practice, exploring the nexus between art and engineering. As he developed an interest in Malevich’s work, he began to look at this practice as an act of construction, producing, in his words, “a kinetic impact on a static surface”. He goes on to explain in the Tate essay:

Malevich creates movement most effectively through his compositions, choice of colours and forms. I therefore continuously refer to his work as a blueprint for my embroideries and marquetry to suggest displacement, movement and collision.

Farhad Ahrarnia. "Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Farhad Ahrarnia. “Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Materiality of urban spaces

Ahrarnia has taken the title of this exhibition from a poem by German-born American poet, novelist and short story writer Charles Bukowski. Bukowski was well known for writing about his surroundings as well as about the impact of industrialisation on the working classes. In the exhibition Ahrarnia uses this title as a starting point to explore the urban spaces of Shiraz, Esfahan and Tehran through compositions involving discarded packaging boxes that he found. He uses these works to explore manufacturing and consumption in the Iranian context and the legacy of modern mass-production.

Farhad Ahrarnia. "Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Farhad Ahrarnia. “Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Ahrarnia explains to Art Radar that he has long been interested in the materiality of cardboard boxes:

Perhaps my interest in cardboard, specifically in the shape of a box, goes way back to my early childhood days living in Shiraz, where I would be spending hours exploring and playing in my grandmothers house. A grand old house which was partially disused, with abandoned rooms turned into storage, filled with cardboard boxes containing objects belonging to different members of my extended family accumulated over various decades. I was amused and fascinated by what these boxes might contain. Their appearance spoke of an indefinable potentiality for containment of certain desires in form of objects. Resembling second skins, these boxes hid what rested beneath. As such, the box would function as a fetish, referring to a missing or perhaps indefinable or unclear object of desire, simply remaining open ended! Waiting to appease or otherwise!

As I learnt to read the surface of these boxes, each one would turn into a testimony of it’s own making and history, communicating a trajectory and possibilities for consumption and subscription to various necessities, sensibilities or life styles! Eventually I was hooked on the signifying power and the understated aura of cardboard boxes in general.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of "Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of “Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Ahrarnia deliberately selected boxes marked with “Made in Iran” texts, symbols and fonts that have their origin in 20th century advertising graphics and Russian avant-garde influences. He also selected them for their prior contents, such as kerosene lamps and hair spray, calling back to a past era. Though the boxes are taken apart, they retain the residue of these past uses.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of "Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of “Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Ahrarnia then incorporates these boxes into formal and cubic compositions reflecting his Modernism and Constructivism influences. In this stage he alters the material through adding decorative concentric patterns that are traditionally applied on important devotional texts. Through this process Ahrarnia is changing the tone and import of the discarded, everyday material. In the exhibition text he explains that

By collecting and appropriating the modern cubic structure of these boxes and their worn-out surfaces I intend to raise their significance and cultural value, turning them into critical and self referential art.

Farhad Ahrarnia, 'The Tomb of Charles Baudelaire [After Max Bill]', 2016, Khatam (Persian micro-mosaic), 40 x 40 x 2.4 cm. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi and the artist.

Farhad Ahrarnia, ‘The Tomb of Charles Baudelaire [After Max Bill]’, 2016, Khatam (Persian micro-mosaic), 40 x 40 x 2.4 cm. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi and the artist.

Seeing objects from a new perspective

Ahrarnia often uses ancient techniques in his work while exploring contemporary realities, mixing the traditional with the modern. In some of the pieces he uses an Iranian micro-mosaic technique dating back 600 years, which was used to decorate everyday objects. On the one hand he utilises high art ornamentation and on the other he challenges the status of mundane objects like a cardboard box through decoration. His interest in materiality and process lie at the heart of this combined practice.

Talking to Art Radar, Ahrarnia expanded on his thoughts about materiality, emphasising the possibility of everyday objects through manipulation and transformation:

For me the materiality of any given object or entity conveys and embodies a set of possibilities and histories which can be explored and manipulated in order to create an alternative set of contexts for new readings and alternative considerations. I’m interested in playing with codes and conventions which are already attached to a particular medium or entity. There are qualities of strength and resilience but also the contradictory factors of vulnerability and impermanence. All the above qualities simultaneously carry their own poetics and metaphysical connotation, I’m interested in all the above when it comes to considering the materiality of any given entity that I select to explore, dissect, reassemble or treat.

Farhad Ahrarnia, 'Album Leaf [After Max Bill]', 2016, Khatam (Persian micro-mosaic), 37.5 x 37.5 x 2.7 cm. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi and the artist.

Farhad Ahrarnia, ‘Album Leaf [After Max Bill]’, 2016, Khatam (Persian micro-mosaic), 37.5 x 37.5 x 2.7 cm. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi and the artist.

As consumers of culture and goods we can all decide to reconsider the significance of objects and experiences, which we are surrounded by, through a certain amount of shift in our perception, or in our collective and individually applied value systems in operation.

A chipped teapot or vase can gain kudos if we chose to lend it that extra set of significance, as some Japanese do! An aesthetic sensibility for appreciation of damaged surfaces called ‘wabi saabi’. A simple gathering of friends over afternoon tea can be reconsidered as a ‘happening’ and be read as a cultural commentary on the value of time spent on simple human interactions as opposed to time spent on individual activities which are motivated by self-orientated gains and benefits.

Claire Wilson

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Related Topics: Iranian artists, mosaic art, classic/contemporary, gallery shows, events in Dubai

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“Ether is all that is”: G R Iranna at Gallery Espace, New Delhi – in pictures

G R Iranna ponders the meaning of life in his recent solo exhibition at Gallery Espace in New Delhi.

“This great Being is endless and without any limit. It is a mass of consciousness only”. Taken from the ancient Indian scripture Chandogya Upanishad (VIII. 3. 4), the verse encapsulates the nature of existence and introduces G R Iranna’s solo exhibition “Ether is all that is”, on view at Gallery Espace, New Delhi until 8 March 2017.

G R Iranna, "Ether is all that is", 21 January - 9 March 2017, Gallery Espace, New Delhi. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, “Ether is all that is”, 21 January – 9 March 2017, Gallery Espace, New Delhi. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

Unfolding at three levels – through material, form and time, the exhibition “Ether is all that is” at Gallery Espace in New Delhi traces G R Iranna’s exploration into the realms of the unknown, beyond the abstract form and its motivating thought, into a formless, eternal state. Being careful not to limit the visual and conceptual experience of his show, he carefully chose a title that resonated the deep resolve of his practice.

G R Iranna, 'Lofty Tree', 2016, acrylic on tarpaulin 54 x 104 in. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, ‘Lofty Tree’, 2016, acrylic on tarpaulin, 54 x 104 in. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

The smell of sandalwood wafts through the gallery space and is the first encounter of experience. In a small, dimly lit room of the gallery is the long console, its top embedded with a meshing over which is laid out the burning words “Idaṃ mahadbhūtamanantamapāraṃ vijñānaghana eva.” Sandalwood powder or chandana is known for its medicinal properties and to spiritual seekers is considered a metaphorical link between the earth and the sky, between the finite and the eternal. The continuous burning of the sandalwood powdered words leaves a trace of ash, and in doing so defines the moment material form becomes immaterial. The words and all that they reveal return to ‘ash’ – the medium that the artist chooses to draw with, coat onto or burn off.

G R Iranna, 'इदं महद्भूतमनन्तमपारं विज्ञानघन एव । (Idaṃ mahadbhūtamanantamapāraṃ vijñānaghana eva.)' Translation in English: "This great Being is endless and without any limit. It is a mass of consciousness only." – Chandogya Upanishad (VIII. 3. 4). Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, ‘इदं महद्भूतमनन्तमपारं विज्ञानघन एव । (Idaṃ mahadbhūtamanantamapāraṃ vijñānaghana eva.)’ Translation in English: “This Great Being is Endless and Without Any Limit. It is a Mass of Consciousness Only.” – Chandogya Upanishad (VIII. 3. 4). Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

While speaking with Art Radar, G R Iranna elucidates the material context of his show by saying, “We treasure diamonds, but to nature they are but rocks.” With the understanding that everything is to return to dust, Iranna began to think of how to visually communicate the transient. He began using charcoal a few years ago and evolved to employing holy ash as a way to punctuate human mortality more vividly. Known in the Hindu tradition as vibhuti when smeared on one’s forehead, it signifies the eternal consciousness within us while also serving as a constant reminder of our eventual consummation.

G R Iranna, "Ether is all that is", 21 January - 9 March 2017, Gallery Espace, New Delhi. Installation view with 'Psychic Sound', 2016, acrylic on tarpaulin, 66 x 120 in (Left) and 'Beautiful Burning Tree', 2016, silver foil on paper 60 x 80 (Right). Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, “Ether is all that is”, 21 January – 9 March 2017, Gallery Espace, New Delhi. Installation view with ‘Psychic Sound’, 2016, acrylic on tarpaulin, 66 x 120 in (Left) and ‘Beautiful Burning Tree’, 2016, silver foil on paper 60 x 80 (Right). Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

While in Mexico, Iranna came upon a tree that was 3,500 years old and standing beside its massive trunk, looking upward towards the network of branches it supported, the artist marvelled at this silent witness of times gone by. Filled with a sense of wonder and humility, he explains the tree’s repetition in his work as a metaphorical reminder to us existing as observers, playing out our part within the larger, cosmic scheme of things. Of the many relationships we sow through our lives, some get charred, few smolder and still others continually take root. Iranna plays off these as he paints the branches of his trees with ash in a series of works entitled Ethereal Tree, Beautiful Burning Tree, Lofty Tree, Heaven on Water, all executed in 2016.

G R Iranna, 'Untitled', 2016, acrylic on canvas 60 x 66 in. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, ‘Untitled’, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 66 in. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, 'Ethereal Beauty', 2016, acrylic paint on ash blocks, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, ‘Ethereal Beauty’, 2016, acrylic paint on ash blocks, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

Also part of his repertoire of forms is that of the carpet – laid out as a decorative floor covering or a mat for prayer. The carpet wears away like the memories of those whose feet have walked over it, until the day it too is threadbare and returns to dust. Made of brightly painted ash bricks, a rich patterned floor work Ethereal Beauty (2016) puts the point across quite lucidly.

In a corner of the gallery is placed a full length standing mirror, except the mirror’s surface itself is replaced with cubes of ash. Iranna’s belief is that self-reflection explains the relationship between the ego and the body and in this work entitled Loved Ash (2016), the self image is in fact, ash itself.

G R Iranna, 'Loved Ash', 2016, ash blocks, wooden mirror, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, ‘Loved Ash’, 2016, ash blocks, wooden mirror, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, 'The Tree Disappeared into Ether', 2016, acrylic on tarpaulin 54 x 132 in. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, ‘The Tree Disappeared into Ether’, 2016, acrylic on tarpaulin
54 x 132 in. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

Iranna has been working on this body of work for the last two years. The first work to be publicly presented was Garbh, an egg shaped larger than life form, supported by Gallery Espace’s Founding Director, Renu Modi for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016. Iranna shares his intent to sculpt a form that was solid and strong but also fragile. Built in a small room, with a narrow opening, Garbh consumes the space it occupies and by the end of each day sheds a circle of ash around itself.

G R Iranna, 'Ethereal Tree, 2016, acrylic on tarpaulin, 60 x 132 in. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, ‘Ethereal Tree’, 2016, acrylic on tarpaulin, 60 x 132 in. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

The work will need to be destroyed at the end of the Biennale in March and with it, the work will be complete – its birth from and end into the formless, while leaving a daily trace of residue as a memory of its existence. Coming full circle to the first piece of his gallery solo, Iranna successfully imparts a multi-sensorial experience through a predominantly visual language that takes the viewer through life’s journeying in a rather simple, yet purposeful way.

Kanika Anand

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Related Topics: Indian artists, installation, painting, gallery shows, events in New Delhi

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“Destination: Still Unknown”: Thai photographer Pramuan Burusphat’s retrospective at BACC – in pictures

Thai photographer Pramuan Burusphat holds retrospective show at BACC.

New Zealand-based Thai photographer Pramuan Burusphat enjoys a retrospective survey at Bangkok Art and Cultural Center until 26 February 2017. Art Radar takes a look at the exhibition and talks to Pramuan Burusphat about the roots of conceptual photography in Thailand.

(On right): Pramuan Burusphat, 'Photo-Reconstruction Series', 1978. Hand-painted Gelatin Silver Prints. Installation view "Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective" at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Photo-Reconstruction Series’, 1978, hand-painted gelatin silver prints. Installation view at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

In Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre‘s fourth floor studio room is an exhibition of New Zealand-based Thai photographer Pramuan Burusphat’s work. Since Pramuan Burusphat’s first solo exhibition in 1982 at British Council Gallery, Bangkok, the photographer has been making work at the borders of documentary, conceptual art and photography. The current exhibition at BACC entitled “Destination: Still Unknown” presents a retrospective survey of the photographer’s work, with the aim of highlighting some of the threads in his artistic practice as well as Pramuan Burusphat’s impact on Thai contemporary art.

(On right): Pramuan Burusphat, 'Ideal Symmetrical System Series', 1978. Gelatin Silver Prints. Installation view "Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective" at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Ideal Symmetrical System Series’, 1978, gelatin silver prints. Image courtesy the artist.

Autobiographical Images Series #1, 1978. Vintage Kwik-Print

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Autobiographical Images Series #1’, 1978, vintage kwik-print. Image courtesy the artist.

(On right): Pramuan Burusphat, 'Interior Project, Bangkok', 1979-80. Gelatin Silver Prints (made from 1979-80’s negatives in 2016). Installation view "Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective" at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Interior Project, Bangkok’, 1979-80, gelatin silver prints (made from 1979-80’s negatives in 2016). Image courtesy the artist.

Art photography in Thailand began with Burusphat, asserts Manit Sriwanichpoom, one of Thailand’s leading photographers and co-curators with Zhuang Wubin of the exhibition at BAAC. The first section of the exhibition is dedicated to Burusphat’s early work. Many of his images, such as Interior Project (Self-Portrait), are the results of his experiments with long exposure. While this may be a tired departure point for experimental photography work in 2017, the images were relatively innovative at the time and place of inception: the early 1970s in Thailand.

(On right): Pramuan Burusphat, 'Flash 3', 1979. Vintage Hand-painted Gelatin Silver Prints. Installation view "Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective" at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Flash 3’, 1979, vintage hand-painted gelatin silver prints. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, 'Recycled Images Series, 1997/2001. Hand-painted gelatine silver print. Installation view "Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective" at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Recycled Images Series’, 1997/2001, hand-painted gelatine silver print. Image courtesy the artist.

Walking (1977) is a series that captures the artist’s foot movement, a work inspired by a lecture by US conceptual photographer Duane Michals. Landscape Project (1979) also comprises a series of photographs put together as a gesture towards a narrative. The experimentation with the “series” and thus the fragmentation of the “single shot” was untrodden territory at the time.  Recycled Images (1997-2002) reflects on Burusphat’s more recent explorations into the role of the artist in waste production and consumption cycles. In the images he mixes layers of drawings, paintings and found objects.

Pramuan Burusphat, 'Photo-Reconstruction #1', 1978. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Photo-Reconstruction #1’, 1978. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, 'Photo-Reconstruction #1', 1978. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Photo-Reconstruction #4’, 1978. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, 'Photo-Reconstruction #1', 1978. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Photo-Reconstruction #1’, 1978. Image courtesy the artist.

Speaking to Art Radar about the processes that lie behind his 1978 work Photo-reconstruction Series, Pramuan Burusphat stated:

the series is about recording and expressing something else which lay beneath the surface of the so-called reality.  In my traditional darkroom I would print in a straight forward manner first, then I would flip the negative and made a reversed prints. I then proceeded to mount 2 or 4 prints together on a matte board.  In the final stage of the production of each work I would selectively apply Marshall Photo-Oils on to the mounted prints.

Pramuan Burusphat, 'Autobiographical Images' #11, 1978. Kwik-Print © 1997 by Pramuan Burusphat. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Autobiographical Images’ #11, 1978, kwik-print.
© 1997 by Pramuan Burusphat. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, 'Autobiographical Images #10', 1978. Kwik-Print. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Autobiographical Images #10’, 1978, kwik-print.
Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, 'Autobiographical Images #10', 1978. Kwik-Print. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Autobiographical Images #30’, 1978, kwik-print.
Image courtesy the artist.

For the curators, the shift from Pramuan Burusphat as photographer to Pramuan Burusphat as artist occurs with the work Autobiographical Images Series, in which the artist presents a series of experimental self-portraits using a collage method that permits the inclusion of other material: letters, images and writing. The colours of these works have been achieved with different experiments with chemicals added to the images in development. Speaking to Art Radar about the production process behind this series, Pramuan Buruspat states:

Autobiographical Images Series was created by using an alternative photographic process called Kwik-Print (sold by Light Impressions Inc., NY in the late 70s).  For each of these Kwik-Print works, I had to made from 3 to 4 – 8×10” or 11×14” high contrast negative/positive films for printing each colour layer of the work on to a piece of receptive polyester sheet of the same size as the film.  At the final stage of production I also painted, scratched and wrote something on the work.

Curator Zhuang Wubin writes in the exhibition catalogue of this work:

In other words, his identity as an artist surfaced experientially through the making of the Autobiographical Images Series. Pramuan uses his art-making to probe the unknown.

Pramuan Burusphat, 'Bangkok Chronicle', 2000. Hand-painted gelatine silver print. Installation view "Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective" at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Bangkok Chronicle’, 2000, hand-painted gelatine silver print. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, "Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective" at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, “Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective” at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

(On right): Pramuan Burusphat, 'Autobiographical Images Series', 1978. Vintage Kwik-Prints. Installation view "Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective" at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

(On right): Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Autobiographical Images Series’, 1978, vintage kwik-prints. Image courtesy the artist.

The exhibition, showing works made as early as the 1970s, offers one of the possible origin stories of conceptual photography in Thailand. Speaking to Art Radar about the exhibition and the status of photography in Thailand, the artist stated:

Nearly forty years on, I see these images as a reflection of the path that I’ve taken from Bangkok to Texas, from Texas back to Bangkok, and later from Bangkok to Auckland, New Zealand.  Hopefully, they say or convey something positive about my passion about art and life.  Photography itself has changed a lot and recently it has become very popular hobby in Thailand.  Unfortunately, the status of the medium as an art form has remained the same as it was forty years ago.  Photography still has no place in major national art competitions in Thailand.

Rebecca Close

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Related Topics: Thai artistsfilmvideo artinstallationphotographymuseum showsgallery shows, events in Bangkok

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