Stories and thoughts about Nothing special: Tsang Kin-Wah at M+ Pavilion, Hong Kong

M+ Pavilion’s inaugural exhibition presents an immersive, site-specific project by Hong Kong artist Tsang Kin-Wah.

Nihilism is what comes to mind when we look at Hong Kong artist Tsang Kin-Wah. This vision, empty yet full of meaning, is depicted in his latest exhibition “Nothing” at the newly opened M+ Pavilion, an expansion of “The Infinite Nothing”, the artist’s solo presentation for Hong Kong at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. Tsang questions how “nothingness” and emptiness are forces that make humans feel powerless.

Tsang Kin-Wah, '<del>Nothing</del>', 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang Kin-Wah, ‘Nothing‘, 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

“Tsang Kin-Wah: Nothing is the inaugural exhibition at M+ Pavilion, running from 9 September to 6 November 2016, the home for M+ exhibitions in the West Kowloon Cultural District in the run-up to the museum’s opening in 2019. Tsang Kin-Wah’s “The Infinite Nothing” exhibition at the 56th Venice Biennale last year, which opens with a video of a running river, was influenced by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and his proclamation, “Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?“.

The work emphasises the notion that all things reside in a state of constant change, positing life as a perpetual cycle of a self-realisation, manifestation and deconstruction, a cyclical journey that starts and ends in the same existential void.

Portrait of Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Portrait of Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang Kin-Wah was born in Shantou, China, in 1976, and now lives and works in Hong Kong. He studied Fine Arts at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and book arts at Camberwell College of Arts in London. Well known in Asia and abroad, his work is critically acclaimed for its innovative use of text and language, which he manipulates with computer technology to create immersive installations.

Tsang has exhibited extensively across the globe. Recent solo exhibitions include “30 years of CFCCA – Tsang Kin-Wah”, Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester (2016); “Ecce Homo Trilogy II”, Thurgau Art Museum, Warth, Switzerland (2015); “We Know: NOTHING”, Ark Galerie, Yogyakarta (2013); and “Ecce Homo Trilogy I”, Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong (2012). He has also presented his work in numerous group exhibitions and museums worldwide such as “Chinese Whispers” at the Kunstmuseum Bern (2016), “Global Imaginations” at the Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden (2015) and many others. His work was showcased in M+’s second public exhibition featuring Hong Kong artists “Mobile M+: Yau Ma Tei” (2012).

Tsang Kin-Wah, '<del>Nothing</del>', 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang Kin-Wah, ‘Nothing‘, 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang Kin-Wah, 'Nothing', 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang Kin-Wah, ‘Nothing‘, 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang is preparing for upcoming shows at Vancouver Art Gallery and the Guggenheim Museum. He is among a group of contemporary Chinese artists commissioned by the Guggenheim in 2016 for the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative. His work is held in a number of important private and public collections, including the Burger Collection, the Sigg Collection, the A3 Collection of the Kadist Art Foundation in San Francisco, the DSL Collection in Paris, the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, the CODA Museum in the Netherlands, the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.

Tsang Kin-Wah, '<del>Nothing</del>', 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang Kin-Wah, ‘Nothing‘, 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Nothing

Tsang’s “Nothing” exhibition combines metaphors and allegories drawn from philosophy, literature and religious concepts, with elements of film, music and other popular cultural references – ranging from the Christian Tree of Life to the Buddhist Bodhi Tree, from legendary director Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange to the music of Kurt Cobain (the lead singer and guitarist of Nirvana), and from Shakespeare’s Macbeth to Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse. The show invites viewers into the emotional ebbs and flows of the artist’s inner world and compels them to reconsider life’s bitterness and emptiness.

Tsang’s exhibition seems to perfectly echo what Hong Kongers think about their future, especially the younger generation, represented by a feeling of powerlessness in the face of a meaningless life in a city with no certain future. They might not need to draw from philosophies, religious concepts or literature like Tsang to rationalise the bitterness and suffering of life’s uncertainty.

Tsang Kin-Wah, '<del>Nothing</del>', 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang Kin-Wah, ‘Nothing‘, 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang said his exhibition is not an instant response to a certain social incident. However, he admits the turmoil of recent years in Hong Kong or the world may have affected him indirectly and unconsciously:

I put lots of personal experiences and feeling into this exhibition, such as my favourite movie or music, relatively more than the previous one ( at 56th Venice Biennale ). I didn’t intend to respond to a certain social issue. The exhibition just narrates how I feel about life.

Tsang, who was once a devout Christian, now is an atheist. Deeply influenced by Nietzsche, Tsang follows the 20th-century philosopher’s notorious pronouncement of the death of god – the infinite nothing in life. He explains to Art Radar:

The reason why the exhibition titled Nothing, because the word “nothing” is existence, I add the strikethrough on the word to emphasis the nothingness of the title.

Tsang Kin-Wah, '<del>Nothing</del>', 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang Kin-Wah, ‘Nothing‘, 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang’s current exhibition comprises an installation that is a continuation and evolution of “The Infinite Nothing”, including text, sound, projections and site-specific installation. According to Tsang, the installation in the open-air terrace of the M+ Pavilion is divided into three sections: the open sky above, the terrace itself and the curved staircase.

The sections represent, respectively, the unattainable metaphysical realm, the human world and the path of no return, covered in earth and accessible only through death. The stress that occupies the centre of the terrace struck the artist as richly symbolic. Tsang uses this symbol to suggest a sombre and philosophical matter: the destiny of mankind is like that of a tree, rooted in dust, and returning to dust. So what significance does life possess?

Tsang Kin-Wah, '<del>Nothing</del>', 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang Kin-Wah, ‘Nothing‘, 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang covered the exterior walls of the M+ Pavilion terrace with mirrors, creating a seemingly endless space in which we can see multiple “selves”. His thinking recalls Buddhist notions of impermanence and anatman (“non-self”), which posit that all things are insubstantial and that even our perceived “self” is an illusion.

Tsang tries to miniature humanity’s circle of existence in the exhibition for viewers to experience the emptiness and absurdity of life. Audiences are enticed by the written words displayed on the terrace floor that read “THIS IS THE ONLY WAY / THIS IS THE ONLY WAY”, before entering the gallery.

Tsang Kin-Wah, '<del>Nothing</del>', 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang Kin-Wah, ‘Nothing‘, 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Audiences move through the space in a circle that represents the wheel of cyclical existence. They pass through a long, narrow passage into a dark gallery and see a huge, frightening prison screen video at the end of the passage capped by the American director Stanley Kubrick’s movie A Clockwork Orange.

After they weave through a forest of metal pillars, they encounter a tree projected on a glass wall, accompanied by no sound other than one’s own breathing. A ceiling-mounted projector in the gallery casts onto the floor the hazy image of a donkey so heavily loaded that it can barely move. The donkey represents the state in which humanity is burdened by responsibilities. In these surroundings, audiences can feel the emotional entrapment akin to that of a state of imprisonment behind bars, reflecting the intense helplessness of the modern age and the feeling of an afterlife.

Tsang Kin-Wah, '<del>Nothing</del>', 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang Kin-Wah, ‘Nothing‘, 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang Kin-Wah, '<del>Nothing</del>', 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang Kin-Wah, ‘Nothing‘, 2016, video projections, sound, wood, stainless steel, soil and text installation, dimensions variable. © Tsang Kin-Wah. Image courtesy the artist.

Tsang’s favourite band Nirvana’s late lead singer and guitarist, grunge luminary Kurt Cobain who committed suicide in the 1990s, was also his inspiration in part of the exhibition. Tsang combines Ludwig van Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata with other sounds, placing it in the room
in the corner of the gallery, along with ambiguous imagery like a staged performance to create an
ambience along with different words including: “LOVE/YOUR HAPPINESS….RIGHT HERE.”: “LOVE/YOUR HAPPINESS….RIGHT HERE….” Tsang tells Art Radar:

I don’t believe in the existence of angels. So I focus on darkness in the exhibition. However, viewers can have different points of view, and they may see the impermanence of bitterness in life as well. It all depends on the interpretation of the viewers.

Grace Ko

1316

Related Topics: Hong Kong artists, installation, video, sound art, Hong Kong

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The enduring nature of stone: Malaysian-Australian sculptor Hew Chee Fong

Hew Chee Fong’s latest exhibition “Don’t Dive Shallow in Seep Water” is a culmination of more than three decades of sculptural practice.

Art Radar considers Hew’s practice, which brings out the true spirit of his natural materials.

Hew Chee Fong, 'Don't dive shallow in deep dark water' (installation detail), 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Caboolture Regional Art Gallery.

Hew Chee Fong, ‘Don’t Dive Shallow in Deep Dark Water’ (installation detail), 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Caboolture Regional Art Gallery.

Hew Chee Fong’s “Don’t Dive Shallow in Deep Dark Water” is on show at Caboolture Regional Art Gallery in Queensland, Australia until 9 November 2016.

Originally from Malaysia, Hew settled in Australia in the 1980s and is now based near the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. He is a sculptor who produces large-scale public art as well as smaller sculptures.

Hew Chee Fong, 'Tenacity and adversity are old foes', 2016, granite boulder, basalt and timber. Image courtesy the artist.

Hew Chee Fong, ‘Tenacity and Adversity Are Old Foes’, 2016, granite boulder, basalt and timber. Image courtesy the artist.

Hew obtained a Bachelor of Arts (Visual Art) in Sculpture in 1983 and a Post Graduate Diploma in Sculpture in 1984 from the Newcastle College of Advanced Education, New South Wales, Australia. He has received over 25 public commissions and has exhibited widely in Australia and the United States since the 1980s. He has received many awards and his work can be found in Brisbane Port Authority, Noosa Botanic Gardens, University of Northern Illinois Sculpture Park, the Queensland Art Gallery and Newcastle Region Art Gallery. In 2011 he was the commissioned Artist Assistant to international environmental sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, Great Walks of Queensland Public Art ’Strangler Cairn’.

Hew Chee Fong, 'Island' (installation detail), 2015, petrified wood, granite and hardwood. Image courtesy the artist and Caboolture Regional Art Gallery.

Hew Chee Fong, ‘Island’ (installation detail), 2015, petrified wood, granite and hardwood. Image courtesy the artist and Caboolture Regional Art Gallery.

Creating a moment of quiet contemplation

“Don’t Dive Shallow in Deep Dark Water” conveys a sense of calm and tranquillity, a space that encourages a still moment of reflection. The exhibition draws from many of Hew’s ongoing themes, such as notions of labour, time, intuition, connection to materials, and often arduous processes.

Hew Chee Fong, 'Calm before the storm' (detail), 2016, granite. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Oliver Hew.

Hew Chee Fong, ‘Calm Before the Storm’ (detail), 2016, granite. Photo: Oliver Hew. Image courtesy the artist.

As stated in the introduction to the exhibition:

Hew’s works shy away from explicitly defining, naming or categorising. They evoke rather than represent, elicit rather than designate. We are left to our private reveries and contemplations.

This ability to let the work speak for itself could be linked to Hew’s intuitive approach. The concept of Tao is present in his work, with an emphasis on living in harmony with the natural flow of the universe. This approach leaves the viewer to interpret the works in their own way, with limited guidance. Hew lets the material reach out directly.

Hew Chee Fong, 'Falling Rock', 2000, Thursday Plantation Sculpture Park Collection Ballina NSW. Image courtesy the artist.

Hew Chee Fong, ‘Falling Rock’ (installation), 2000, Thursday Plantation Sculpture Park Collection Ballina NSW. Image courtesy the artist.

Shaping the material

Hew works in stone – granites, basalt and recently marble – as well as petrified timber. In an interview with the Hinterland Times, Hew explained his choice of medium:

I know that stone is my passion. I love the medium and I have always worked with stone. It must be saying something to me. I suppose I would describe myself as an intuitive sculptor because I don’t always start out with a clear-cut concept.

Hew Chee Fong, 'Incredible nothing that penetrates all reality', University of Northern Illinois Sculpture Park, 3m X 91cm x 1.5m. Image courtesy the artist.

Hew Chee Fong, ‘Incredible Nothing That Penetrates All Reality’, University of Northern Illinois Sculpture Park. 300 cm x 91 cm x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Rather than having a plan for his work, Hew allows the shapes to emerge under his hands, enjoying the physical work of the making process. Fong goes on to explain in the interview that

stone elicits such strong emotional responses…and implies all things of an enduring nature – stability, dependability, both timelessness and the passage of time.

In creating his works Hew tries to keep true to the original stone, revealing the character of it rather than converting it into something new. In an interview with the Sunshine Coast, he called it “tweaking” the stone. Purposefully maintaining the essence of the original materials is a core part of Hew’s practice. He believes that leaving “at least some of materials’ natural (original) surface is a sign of respect for its history and character-to which [he’s] just adding with the lightest possible touch”. This light touch is present in his work, which evokes the natural world from where the stone was drawn.

Hew Chee Fong, 'Lotus', granite, graphite, pigmented sand and sea washed coal. Image courtesy the artist.

Hew Chee Fong, ‘Lotus’, granite, graphite, pigmented sand and sea washed coal. Image courtesy the artist.

Merging public art and intimate works

Fong’s larger public artworks are created as part of a collaboration with artist L. M. Noonan. They design and create site-specific public art for the built environment and natural settings. The number of works created through this collaboration is extensive, and include works found throughout Queensland and Australia, as well as China and Canada.

Hew Chee Fong and L. M. Noonan, 'Ripple Effect' (installation photo), 2011. Image courtesy the artists.

Hew Chee Fong and L. M. Noonan, ‘Ripple Effect’ (installation photo), 2011. Image courtesy the artists.

The works are very connected to the sites, bringing a moment of stillness to public spaces. Ripple Effect is one such example. It is a tactile installation that encourages interaction through its circular design. The explanation of the work emphasises the tranquil nature of the piece:

The centre of the main installation is a form generated by a giganticised water drop. It and the ensuing ripple function as both a zen-like focal point and as a non-political statement that all larger actions are composed of many smaller actions. A drop of rain will not only make its mark but create ripples and a flow on effect as can every member of a community large or small affect and direct the course of a desired outcome.

Here Hew and L.M. Noonan create a still point in the turning world where people can return to nature.

Hew Chee Fong, '#5 spirit box: gompa', 280 x 230 x 200mm. Image courtesy the artist.

Hew Chee Fong, ‘#5 spirit box: gompa’, 280 x 230 x 200mm. Image courtesy the artist.

Although Hew has made a name for himself through his public artworks, he has also worked on smaller pieces. In the series “Spirit Boxes” Fong made five works that explore the spirituality of stone. He likens the process to “coming up to take a breath of fresh air” after his years of intensive large-scale collaborative works.

Hew Chee Fong, '#1 spirit box: opuntia', 240 x 180 x 170mm, granite. Image courtesy the artist.

Hew Chee Fong, ‘#1 spirit box: opuntia’, 240 x 180 x 170mm, granite. Image courtesy the artist.

By working on a smaller scale Hew was able to create works in a shorter time frame, which also allowed him to experiment with new ideas. He comments on his blog that

A radical change in scale from the monumental to the very small is liberating. Each work is in effect a self contained novella as opposed to a novel, they are conceived and executed in a relatively short period of time, and are acts of pure indulgence. The only constraints that I set myself are that they must originate from a ‘natural’ boulder and allude to the functional.

These constraints have resulted in self-contained and sometimes whimsical works that are seeking the spirituality of the material.

Claire Wilson

1304

Related topics: Malaysian artists, Australian artists, sculpture, stone, feature, gallery show, environment

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Opiate of the Masses: “The Kids Want Communism” at MoBY – Museums of Bat Yam, Israel

Marking the 99 years since the October Revolution, “The Kids Want Communism” explores communism’s history as a radical repudiation of oppressive regimes constructed on disharmony and subjugation.

Consisting of a number of public and private events across multiple sites in Europe, “The Kids Want Communism” waxes poetic about the multiple iterations of communism swallowed up by the black hole that was the fall of the Soviet Union, and has invited a diverse group of artists and artist collectives to explore the possibilities of living the black hole from the inside out.

"The Kids Want Communism" (2016), MoBY - Museum of Bat Yam. Image courtesy MoBY.

“The Kids Want Communism” (2016), MoBY – Museum of Bat Yam. Image courtesy MoBY.

The valence of the word ‘communism’, much like the extent of the ideology, depends heavily on context. For those in America who came to age during its encroachment in the mid-twentieth century, communism is the ultimate dirty word, conjuring up the paranoia that pervaded congressional offices and suburban households alike.

Elsewhere, in the economies of countries from Eastern Europe to Southeast Asia, communism signified a new beginning for many – an answer to the struggles that had long plagued them during decades of poverty and destruction. The history and spread of communism, and the shifts and pressures that shaped it into a global model – or threat, depending on whom you ask – influenced the cultural production of its societies and elicited numerous artistic responses.

Detail from 'Year One', installation view from second installment of "The Kids Want Communism" (2016), curated by Joshua Simon at MoBY. Photo: Gal Deren. Image courtesy MoBY.

Detail from ‘Year One’, installation view from second installment of “The Kids Want Communism” (2016), curated by Joshua Simon at MoBY. Photo: Gal Deren. Image courtesy MoBY.

New Barbizon, 'Back in the USSR - You Don't Know ho lucky you are', installation view at MoBY. Image courtesy MoBY.

New Barbizon, ‘Back in the USSR – You Don’t Know ho lucky you are’, installation view at MoBY. Image courtesy MoBY.

Today’s globalised network of economies and cultures must contend with communism’s spectre as they look to the future. The task of looking forward is undertaken by “The Kids Want Communism”, a collection of installations, screenings, publications and exhibitions by a transnational network of artists, curators and writers.

In a fitting gesture of contemporary neoliberalism, the project spans a large geographic range of host sites, including the contemporary arts network Tranzit, based in Prague, the gallery State of Concept in Athens, the Free/Slow University of Warsaw, Skuc Gallery in Ljubljana and the MoBY – Museums of Bat Yam in Israel, which has made “The Kids Want Communism” the guiding theme of its 2016 exhibitions – 99 years after the first blasts of the Bolshevik Revolution.

At MoBY, the exhibition takes place in two parts, from 25 February to 25 June 2016 and 28 July to 12 November 2016. Art Radar profiles five of the 37 artists in the exhibition.

"The Kids Want Communism" (2016), MoBY - Museum of Bat Yam. Image courtesy MoBY.

“The Kids Want Communism” (2016), MoBY – Museum of Bat Yam. Image courtesy MoBY.

Jakob Kösten. Image courtesy the artist and MoBY.

Jakob Kösten. Image courtesy the artist and MoBY.

Noa Yafe, 'The Red Star', 2016. Image courtesy MoBY.

Noa Yafe, ‘The Red Star’, 2016. Image courtesy MoBY.

1. Noa Yafe

In its first installment of “The Kids Want Communism”, held from February to June, MoBY juxtaposes communism’s Soviet history with contemporary video art vis-a-vis a selection of 20th century Soviet science-fiction films. Aelita, Queen of Mars (1924) and New Moscow (1938), both from the USSR, imagine the future of communism beyond its geographic border into the interstellar, and O-Bi O-Ba: The End of Civilization (1985) from the People’s Polish Republic extends the fantasy into fatalism.

Noa Yafe, 'The Red Star', 2016. Image courtesy the artist and MoBY.

Noa Yafe, ‘The Red Star’, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and MoBY.

Noa Yafe’s Red Planet complements the Soviet fascination with the interstellar through immersive, technology-driven measures to create an interactive diorama. Using images from the Curiosity rover that photographs Mars’ surface, Yafe establishes a three-dimensional experience for the viewer by adding mirrors and light, provoking the viewer into imagining life on the distant planet. These themes tie directly to the imperialist undertones of Aelita: Queen of Mars as we consider how the Soviet desire to expand into the heavens was motivated largely by dreams of establishing Soviet dominance through colonisation.

Yafe is a Tel Aviv-based artist born in 1978. She studied photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York and completed her BFA and postgraduate studies from HaMidrasha School of Art in 2006 and 2012, respectively. Yafe’s photography has been exhibited at Minshar Gallery, Tel Aviv, Paint Bos Gallery in New York and the Bat Yam Museum.

"The Kids Want Communism" (2016), MoBY Museum of Bat Yam, Israel. Image courtesy MoBY.

“The Kids Want Communism” (2016), New Barbizon’s paintings at MoBY Museum of Bat Yam, Israel. Image courtesy MoBY.

2. New Barbizon

The New Barbizon group is a collective of five painters born and educated in the former USSR, who have worked together in their current home of Israel since 2011. Drawing on the movement towards individualism and realism pioneered by the Barbizon School in the late 19th century, the artists are inspired by the traditions of the fine art academy – learning the techniques of portraiture, line, outdoor painting – but take these traditions to new possibilities. The New Barbizon artists insist upon a collectivist spirit in their artistic practice and a socialist approach to painting, recruiting models via social networks and eschewing the normative interpretations of individual artistic genius.

Zoya Cherkassky, 'Back in the USSR - You Don't Know', markers on paper. Image courtesy the artist and MoBY.

Zoya Cherkassky, ‘Back in the USSR – You Don’t Know ho lucky you are’, markers on paper. Image courtesy the artist and MoBY.

Given these political leanings, and the large percentage of the Israeli population that is of Ashkenazi and Russian descent, the paintings of the New Barbizon group displayed at MoBY take on a new meaning. In the first installment of “The Kids Want Communism”, four of the group members – Zoya Cherkassky, Olga Kundina, Asya Lukin, and Natalia Zourabova – displayed original paintings they made as children growing up in the Soviet Union alongside new works.

Entitled Back in the Soviet Union, You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are, the new paintings rely on memories of life in the USSR and quotidian scenes such as dancing on the bed and listening to rebellious music. In the second installment, Anna Lukashevsky responds to her peers’ paintings with Soviet Haifa, a series of paintings that depict elderly Russians living in Israel – highlighting the geographic and temporal disparity of home between the past and present.

Ohad Meromi, 'Structure for Rest', 2016. Image courtesy MoBY.

Ohad Meromi, ‘Structure for Rest’, 2016. Image courtesy MoBY.

3. Ohad Meromi

Ohad Meromi’s Structure for Rest is an expansive and inviting installation composed of a series of modular daybeds connected by ladders, resembling a playground structure. Viewers are encouraged to climb, sit, lie down and rest on the beds. As its title indicates, the installation is functional, but its possibilities go beyond simply providing respite, but allowing for the possibility of futures as visitors sit and daydream. In the first iteration of “The Kids Want Communism”, the installation sat at the very heart of the ground floor of the museum, but in its second installment, is ensconced near Noa Yafe’s Red Planet. Here, visitors can envision alternate realities beyond both space and time, all within the museum walls.

Meromi was born in Kibbutz Misra, Israel and is currently based in New York. He was educated at Bezalel Academy of Art and received his MFA from Columbia University, and has exhibited at MoMA PS1, Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin, and the 2nd Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art.

Micah Hesse, 'Types of Stereo', 2016, HD stereoscopic video animation, 5 min, silent. Images courtesy the artist and MoBY-Museums of Bat Yam.

Micah Hesse, ‘Types of Stereo’, 2016, HD stereoscopic video animation, 5 min, silent. Images courtesy the artist and MoBY-Museums of Bat Yam.

4. Micah Hesse

Born in New Mexico and educated at the Cooper Union School of Art, Micah Hesse has exhibited in the group shows “Factory Fetish” at West Space in Melbourne, and “Telepathy or Esperanto” at Futura Center for Contemporary Art in Prague. For the second installment of “The Kids Want Communism”, Hesse explores the tenuous relationships between image and text, perceptual and cognitive, two- and three-dimensional in his video animation Types of Stereo. Blue and red are used as visual signifiers for cognitive depth, but also as cultural indicators with political and social heft.

In the context of the exhibition, the colour red, synonymous with the communist party and its ideological goal to liberate those under capitalism, shifts and takes on new meaning. Originally used to evoke the blood of factory working proletariat, in Hesse’s stereoscopic video installation, the colour becomes both base and superstructure, foreground and background – prompting discussion of how we might consider the power of our symbols.

Micah Hesse, 'Types of Stereo', 2016, HD stereoscopic video animation, 5 min, silent. Installation view at MoBY-Museums of Bat Yam. Photo: Gal Deren. Image courtesy MoBY.

Micah Hesse, ‘Types of Stereo’, 2016, HD stereoscopic video animation, 5 min, silent. Installation view at MoBY-Museums of Bat Yam. Photo: Gal Deren. Image courtesy MoBY.

Raanan Harlap, 'Public House', 2016. Image courtesy MoBY.

Raanan Harlap, ‘Public House’, 2016. Image courtesy MoBY.

5. Raanan Harlap

Raanan Harlap was born in Jerusalem and educated at the Bezalel Academy of Art, where he received his BFA in 1986. He has exhibited at numerous Tel Aviv galleries including 64 Cube, Minshar Gallery and Scarfolding.

Public House, continuing from the first installment, transports the viewer to the interiors of a tenement house. However, the production of this work belies its presentation; the exterior walls of the building were used to make the relief, now displayed indoors inside the museum.

Raanan Harlap, 'Public House', 2016. Image courtesy MoBY.

Raanan Harlap, ‘Public House’, 2016. Image courtesy MoBY.

With its muted grey and beige colours, weathered wood and assemblage of window shutters along the walls, the installation creates the atmosphere of quiet desperation and poverty that so plagued the many citizens subject to Soviet life in the 1980s and 1990s. By creating an immersive interior, Harlap allows the viewer to step back and look outward to consider the reality of life under communist rule.

Tausif Noor

1311

Related Topics: Israeli artists, political art, installation, identity art, painting 

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“SHE”: international women artists at Shanghai Long Museum West Bund

The Shanghai exhibition features select work by international women artists from the Long Museum collection and important loans.

Launched at the end of July 2016, “SHE: International Women Artists Exhibition” at Shanghai Long Museum West Bund presents a collection of works by female artists that are, according to curator Wang Wei, “gathered together not only by their gender, but also by the true creativity”.

Jiang Jie, 'Ready Go', 2009, installation view at the Long Museum West Bung, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Jiang Jie, ‘Ready Go’, 2009, installation view at the Long Museum West Bung, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Exhibitions of women’s art have been hesitant to define women’s art as ‘Other’ and yet seek to produce a unity of concerns or sensibilities that are of women’s experience. Key exhibitions of the last 10 years such as “WACK: Art and the Feminist Revolution” (2007) at Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, “elles@centrepompidou” (2009) at Centre Pompidou in Paris or “GOOD GIRLS: memory, desire, power” (2013) at National Museum of Contemporary Art, Bucharest have been thematic rather than chorological.

Jiang Jie, 'Ready Go', 2009, installation view at the Long Museum West Bung, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Jiang Jie, ‘Ready Go’, 2009, installation view at the Long Museum West Bung, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

The new exhibition “SHE: International Women Artists Exhibition”, at the Long Museum West Bund until 30 October 2016, is also not a survey but a compilation with much of the work, by 105 artists from 13 countries spanning over 10 centuries, being drawn form the depths of the existing Long Museum collection. This amazing resource is augmented by some cleverly conceived loans. For curator Wang Wei it is a courageous and subtle statement, forging a new trajectory for the women’s art exhibition, away from gendered politics and activism towards involvement and purpose.

"She: International Women Artists Exhibition" (2016), Long Museum West Bund, Shanghai, with, Nagasawa Ikumi, 'Released Birds', 2007 (left). Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

“She: International Women Artists Exhibition” (2016), Long Museum West Bund, Shanghai, with, Nagasawa Ikumi, ‘Released Birds’, 2007 (left). Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

For this reason perhaps Wang eschews many of the established figures who have come to stand for feminist practice. There is no Martha Rosler, Mary Kelly, Carolee Schneemann, and despite the historic sweep no Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven or Claude Cahun. Wang produces a reading of women’s art aligned to parity of form, subject and attitude with art in general. Not different, not clamouring, but suggesting simply, as Wang states, “how much a society concerns about women’s living and mental conditions symbolizes the level of civilization.”

Writing for Blouin Artinfo about the show Claire Bouchara says:

Chinese female artists are commonly underrepresented in the country’s art scene, overshadowed by their male counterparts. According to Wang Wei, this is partly due to the pressure women face regarding family duties and other social challenges.

b.jpg Mona Hatoum, 'Suspended', 2011, Installation view at Long Museum West Bund, Shanghai, 2016. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Mona Hatoum, ‘Suspended’, 2011, Installation view at Long Museum West Bund, Shanghai, 2016. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

“SHE” divides the show into four themes that reflect the spirit of Simone de Beauvoir’s words, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” The sections are “The Annihilation of Self”, “The Liberation of Self”, “The Introspection of Self” and “The Expression of Self”. They imply not separate states of being but a journey of self-affirmation and empowerment. In keeping with this reading the themes are not marked in the show so that transition between them is fluid.

"She: International Women Artists Exhibition", (2016) Long Museum West Bund, Shanghai, ground floor gallery with Louise Bourgeois, 'Crouching Spider', 2003. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

“She: International Women Artists Exhibition”, (2016) Long Museum West Bund, Shanghai, ground floor gallery with Louise Bourgeois, ‘Crouching Spider’, 2003. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

The scene is set by three elegantly poised sculptures, arranged in an oblique triangle against the nave-like orientation of the galleries. A smooth concrete wall hides the works from one another, averting visual conflict, but retaining a sense of spatial continuity between them. The first impression is Louise BourgeoisCrouching Spider (2003), hunkering lower than some versions of this emblematic Bourgeois motif. The form commands the huge space making it a secure, albeit not very homely, refuge with a protector who means business.

Yoko Ono, 'To See The Sky', 2015, with in the foreground, Xiang Jing 'Otherworld — Will Things Ever get Better', 2011. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Yoko Ono, ‘To See The Sky’, 2015, with in the foreground, Xiang Jing ‘Otherworld — Will Things Ever get Better’, 2011. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Hugging the wall with her back to the spider, but gently turning to give it a steady look is Otherworld — Will Things Ever get Better (2011), a sculpture by Xiang Jing of a rose grey horse. Classical, but with a cute tousled main and a synthetic sheen, the sculpture conveys an uneasy balance between aloof irony and nature. Yoko Ono’s To See The Sky (2015) provides a different means of rising above the world. The work is a simple free-standing spiral staircase, painted bright blue – leading nowhere but upwards. Visitors are invited to climb the stairs one person at a time. Maybe Ono’s presence in this exhibition, in this particular place, is the most stridently gendered statement of the show as it is a reworking of Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912).

The transatlantic hit of the New York Armory Show I of 1913, where Duchamp’s painting pivots on the dismantled figure of a naked woman, reduced to abstract forms, Ono’s sculpture reverses many of the tenets of Duchamp’s painting, notably the colour and the direction of movement. But, it is the displacement of the work itself that is beguiling. Duchamp’s work travelled from Europe to the United States. Ono, an Asian artist, resident in the United States, initiates a transpacific movement, suggesting new structures and blue-sky thinking.

Adjustment is required after the drama of these commanding works to appreciate the numerous subtle paintings hung close by, particularly a brave collection of works on paper, including the earliest work in the show, a measured set of Chinese characters from the 13th century Song dynasty. Empress Yang Meizi’s Quatrain on spring’s radiance is an inscription on an oval fan connecting the Empress’ personal reflections on mortality to an image that was once on the reverse.

Three luminous abstract works, from left to right, Beatriz Milhazes, 'Queimadinho', 2014, Bridget Riley, 'Coda', 2016 and Joan Mitchell, 'Afternoon', 1969-70. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Three luminous abstract works, from left to right, Beatriz Milhazes, ‘Queimadinho’, 2014, Bridget Riley, ‘Coda’, 2016 and Joan Mitchell, ‘Afternoon’, 1969-70. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Wang has a way of pinpointing commonalities between diverse works, such as in the particular raw coloration of three different abstract paintings by Brazilian Beatriz Milhazes, Bridget Riley from the United Kingdom, and US artist Joan Mitchell. Both modernism and socialist realism are strongly felt too, suggesting not a feminine alternative but thoughtful participation with common concerns. Tracy DiTolla suggests:

Feminist artists often embraced alternative media, incorporating fabric, fiber, performance, and video as these materials did not have the same historically male-dominated precedent that painting and sculpture carried.

"She: International Women Artists Exhibition" (2016), Long Museum West Bund, Shanghai, with foreground, Shirin Neshat, 'Untitled' (from "Women of Allah Series"), 1994-2015 and background, Xiao Lu, 'Dialogue', 1989. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

“She: International Women Artists Exhibition” (2016), Long Museum West Bund, Shanghai, with foreground, Shirin Neshat, ‘Untitled’ (from “Women of Allah Series”), 1994-2015 and background, Xiao Lu, ‘Dialogue’, 1989. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Wang, however, refuses to allow the work to suggest feminine tropes or idioms. For example, where Yayoi Kusama’s twin chromatic figurines Chii-Chan & Chin (2004) suggest lightness or sweetness, Wang sets the work against Xiao Lu’s two telephone kiosks, Dialogue (1989), a work that became highly charged when the artist shot at it in an impromptu action that caused the immediate temporary closure of the “China Avant-garde Exhibition” in Beijing. The damage from the bullets completes the work.

Wang suggests that the artists are “gathered together not only by their gender, but also by the true creativity”. This agenda softens other juxtapositions and their rationale is not always easy to follow. Sometimes the exhibition can seem like a succession of discontinuous materials and subjects, such as the hanging of Yin Xiuzhen’s livid cerise Pink Rainbow (2009), a hexagonal work stitched together from discarded clothing, opposite two figurative paintings, Xia Junna’s 1997 The Edge of the City and Duan Jianyu’s Sister No. 10 (2007) – the former set in a ripe wheat field overlooked by industry, the latter an episode with a bear in a snowy forest.

Xia Junna, 'The Edge of the City', 1997 (left) and Duan Jianyu, 'Sister No. 10', 2007 (right). Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Xia Junna, ‘The Edge of the City’, 1997 (left) and Duan Jianyu, ‘Sister No. 10’, 2007 (right). Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

These works are found at the point where the stairs to the lower gallery turn back on themselves leading to Tracy Emin’s neon inscription The Last Great Adventure is You (2014) and an extensive crimson rose coloured carpet Protruding Patterns (2014) by Lin Tianmiao. Both works evoke and redirect Betty Friedan’s edict in The Feminine Mystique,

The only way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own.

Tracy Emin, 'The Last Great Adventure is You', 2014 and Lin Tianmiao, 'Protruding Patterns', 2014 in the lower galleries of the exhibition at Long Museum West Bund, Shanghai, 2016. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Tracy Emin, ‘The Last Great Adventure is You’, 2014 and Lin Tianmiao, ‘Protruding Patterns’, 2014 in the lower galleries of the exhibition at Long Museum West Bund, Shanghai, 2016. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

This exhibition as a whole succeeds by demonstrating how the view of creative work has been repositioned since 1963 when Friedman was writing. Now personal creative integrity is seen to be enacted in concord and on global, social and political platforms. Yoko Ono says:

We wanted to fly, and invented aeroplanes. We wanted to see the other side of the moon, and we have. This time, we want to heal our planet, and bring peace to this world. We will.

“SHE: International Women Artists Exhibition” is empowering. Without being explicitly feminist the show indicates what it means to act together, to act creatively, to be true to oneself.

Andrew Stooke

1309

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Asian art highlights from NordArt 2016, Germany

The annual art exhibition in Büdelsdorf, northern Germany, highlights Israel, Mongolia and China in its 2016 edition.

The 18th edition of NordArt once again brings a major exhibition of works by international artists from all over the world during the summer until 9 October 2016. This year’s iteration puts the spotlight on Israel, with a dedicated national pavilion, and offers an insightful exhibition of Mongolian artists as well as Chinese Liu Ruowang as the first Focus Artist of the event.

Michal Gabriel, Czech Republik, 'Player 1 - 13', 2011, bronze, height 171 - 191 cm. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

Michal Gabriel, Czech Republik, ‘Player 1 – 13’, 2011, bronze, height 171 – 191 cm. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

NordArt is now in its 18th edition, and has since 1999 established itself as one of the largest international art exhibitions in Europe. Taking place during the summer every year, NordArt is located in the town of Büdelsdorf, in the middle of Schleswig Holstein in northern Germany, and uses the former 22,000-square-metre Carlshütte foundry (opened in 1827 and closed in 1997), the 400-square-metre ACO Wagenremise as well as the 80,000-square-metre historical park and public places of the town of Büdelsdorf.

NordArt is organised by Kunstwerk Carlshütte, the non-profit cultural initiative of the internationally active ACO Group and the towns of Büdelsdorf and Rendsburg. The Chief Curator of the exhibition is Wolfgang Gramm.

Viktor Freso, Slovakia, 'Birth of the Niemand', 2014, epox, height 95 cm. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

Viktor Freso, Slovakia, ‘Birth of the Niemand’, 2014, epox, height 95 cm. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

Talking about the reach of NordArt, with its 250 participating artists from 50 countries, Gramm says, as quoted in the press release (PDF download):

The NordArt is alive. It sees itself as a refuge and source of inspiration for artists from all over the world – this holds true for internationally renowned artists as well as for newcomers. The NordArt has dedicated itself to the task of enhancing mutual understanding through the language of art. Every year, the audience marvels at foreign narrative traditions, but is also amazed by how many common experiences people share, even though they live thousands of kilometres apart.
Paintings from Stav Yosha, Israel, 2015, oil on canvas, in the Israeli Pavilion at NordArt 2016. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

Paintings from Stav Yosha, Israel, 2015, oil on canvas, in the Israeli Pavilion at NordArt 2016. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

NordArt 2016 Focus Country: Israel

Since a few years back, NordArt has been focusing on one particular country for each edition, with a national pavilion. After China (2012), Russia (2013), the Baltic States (2014) and Mongolia (2015), the 2016 pavilion is dedicated to Israel, with the title “The Circle of Life”.

It is about the role of the artist in society, multiculturalism, private versus collective identity, history and future, anxieties and hopes, beauty, ugliness and death, and the exalted aspiration to create. They are 28 different presences that add up to a paradoxical, contradictory, rich and complex whole. The contrasts are a statement, a cultural and political stance that allows the artists to hold the story that carries private and national memories, and create the secret that makes up the work of art.

Among the highlights of the pavilion is Tel Aviv-based Stav Yosha (b. 1985), whose work engages with the cycle of life of symbols – the mechanism by which symbols become allegorical implements, die and are reborn with new meanings and different forms. Yosha’s paintings imagine how our history can be understood by future people and how we would look at history in the future.

Objects from Avinoam Sternheim and paintings from Ruthi Helbitz Cohen in the Israeli Pavilion at NordArt 2016. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

Objects from Avinoam Sternheim and paintings from Ruthi Helbitz Cohen in the Israeli Pavilion at NordArt 2016. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

Avinoam Sternheim (b. 1983) is a Tel Aviv artist and musician, who works with industrial leftovers and other discarded objects to which he attaches new form and meaning. His sculptural work addresses the notion of how fantasy creates reality and viceversa, while the use of real, found objects serves as an “anchor” to root the work in everyday life.

Ruthi Helbitz Cohen (b. 1969) has held solo museum and gallery exhibitions around the world, and works with Umtrieb Gallery, Kiel, Germany; Gordon Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel; Helga Hofman Gallery, The Netherlands. Recurrent themes in her work are horror, suffering and shame, and women are the focus of her figurative oeuvre. She portrays her figures as hairless, with dark faces and generalised features, often with undefined clothing, making them appear as Jungian archetypes, such as the great mother or goddess, the trickster, or animus, the male in the woman.

 Liu Ruowang, 'Wolves Coming', 2008-2010, steel casting, 110 parts. Liu Ruowang, 'Original Sin', 2011 - 2013, 36 parts, copper, height 350 cm. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

Liu Ruowang, ‘Wolves Coming’, 2008-2010, steel casting, 110 parts. Liu Ruowang, ‘Original Sin’, 2011 – 2013, 36 parts, copper, height 350 cm. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

NordArt 2016 Focus Artist: Liu Ruowang

For the first time in its history, NordArt presents a Focus Artist. Liu Ruowang (b. 1977, Sichuan, China) graduated from China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in 2005, and his work has been on show at the National Museum of China, China National Art Museum and other museums throughout China, as well as in international institutions and collections around the world.

His works, which include sculptures and paintings, are deeply rooted in Chinese cultural and historical context. One of his sculptural installations, Wolves Coming, was located at Beijing’s 798 Art District, and was regarded as the landmark of the art district until, acquired as part of Sir Michael Hill’s private collection, the installation was moved in 2012 to Queenstown, New Zealand, where the movie The Lord of the Rings was filmed.

Liu Ruowang, 'Original Sin', 2011 - 2013, 36 parts, copper, height 350 cm. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

Liu Ruowang, ‘Original Sin’, 2011 – 2013, 36 parts, copper, height 350 cm. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

Original Sin (2011-2013) is a group of sculptures of apes standing on two legs and looking up at the sky. Liu says about the work, as quoted in his NordArt profile (PDF download):

Ape-man looking up into the sky symbolizes the springing up of ancient civilization; today, high civilization brings advanced material culture, yet the nature we live in is being damaged unceasingly. The perplexed eyesight and innocent face of ape-man reveal the desire to correct all of this and to step towards a bright future. The title of Original Sin originated from my sense of social reality. I express my upset towards the deviated part in the ocean of civilization we are living in with this series of works, and appeal for more attention to beautiful things.
"Tradition and Modernity", installation view of the Mongolian artists exhibition at NordArt 2016. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

“Tradition and Modern Age”, installation view of the Mongolian artists exhibition at NordArt 2016. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

Mongolia’s Art

Following the success of the 2015 national pavilion dedicated to Mongolia, NordArt has brought another exhibition of Mongolian art to its 2016 edition. With the title “Tradition and Modern Age”, the show is curated by Berlin/Ulaanbaatar-based Oyuntuya Oyunjargal and includes 17 artists working in painting, sculpture and photography, with evident influences from animistic rock art, Buddhist iconography and traditional Mongolian painting, socialist realism and western abstraction.

In her curatorial statement (PDF download), Ounjargal writes:

Tradition, turmoil, return – all this is reflected in the Mongolian art. The checkered and eventful history and the cultural tradition of closeness to nature and the preserved nomadic culture of the Mongolians, who were united by Chinggis Khaan in the 13th century and put their religious roots in Shamanism and Buddhism, are reflected in the works of the Mongolian artists.

Jang Yongsun, 'Dark Matter', 2014, scorched stainless steel. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

Jang Yongsun, ‘Dark Matter’, 2014, scorched stainless steel. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

NordArt Prize

The NordArt Prize is sponsored since 2010 by husband and wife entrepreneurs Hans-Julius and Johanna Ahlmann and awards a prize of EUR10,000 to the winner. In addition to the top awardee, there are three further Public Choice Awards of EUR1,000, and all awardees are invited to participate in the following year’s NordArt exhibition.

In 2016, NordArt is showcasing new works by 2015 winner Liu Yonggang from China and 2014 winners, Russian art group AES+F. Additionally, the 2015 Public Choice Award winners – Jang Yongsun (South Korea), Lv Shun (China) and Ochirbold Ayurzana (Mongolia) – also present new works.

Liu Yonggang, 'Standing Characters - Embrace of Love series', 2011-2016, painted steel, height 380 cm. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

Liu Yonggang, ‘Standing Characters – Embrace of Love series’, 2011-2016, painted steel, height 380 cm. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

Liu Yonggang (b. 1964, Genhe, Inner Mongolia, China) was trained in China and Germany. His works display the interrelation between Chinese humanistic tradition, classical art and contemporary practices. Liu created alternative characters that merge Chinese and Mongolian scripts to represent the multiculturalism of his country. His work Standing Charcters at NordArt is a sculptural work that displays a painterly, calligraphic character that infuses the written language with new power and meaning. He says, as quoted in his NordArt profile (PDF download):

A ‘line’, representing the spirit of the Chinese nation, has run through time from
ancient times to the present without ever breaking. And now, with the country’s
continuous prosperity and national power, this ‘line’ extends and connects to a
‘blood line’, showing the nation’s tenaciousness and its pride. So, I tried to change
the line into a three-dimensional line so that it can have a new phenomenon in
the three-dimensional space, such as in The Standing Character – Embrace of
Love.

AES+F, 'First Rider', 2009, fibreglass, steel, polymer, paint, height 650 cm. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

AES+F, ‘First Rider’, 2009, fibreglass, steel, polymer, paint, height 650 cm. Image courtesy NordArt | www.nordart.de

AES+F was formed in 1987 by conceptual architects Tatiana Arzamasova and Lev Evzovich and multi-disciplinary designer Evgeny Svyatsky, and expanded with photographer Vladimir Fridkes in 1995. Their work positions itself at the intersection of photography, video and digital technologies, nurtured by interest in more traditional media, especially sculpture, but also painting, drawing and architecture. Their narratives explore the values, vices and conflicts of contemporary culture in the global sphere.

At NordArt 2016, alongside their acclaimed video work Inverso Mundus (2015), the collective presents First Rider (2009), a fibreglass sculpture that reinterprets the image of the Virgin on the Beast from the Apocalypse. The woman, or girl, astride a tyrannosaurus rex reflects the blurring of differences between angels and demons – or sacred and profane, good and bad. The apocalyptic parade which this figure is part of doesn’t usher in the end of the old world, but rather the beginning of a new one.

C. A. Xuân Mai Ardia

1317

Related Topics: Israeli artists, Chinese artists, Mongolian artists, Russian artists, sculpture, installation, painting, festivals, events in Germany

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Ateneo Art Awards 2016 announce winners

Out of a shortlist of 12, the Ateneo Art Awards identify leading young artists from the Philippines.

The winners of the Ateneo Art Awards 2016 draw on ethnographic approaches in order to explore social and environmental issues.

Martha Atienza, 'Study in Reality No. 3' (installation), 2015. Image courtesy Silverlens and the artist.

Martha Atienza, ‘Study in Reality No. 3’ (installation), 2015. Image courtesy Silverlens and the artist.

The Ateneo Art Awards have been identifying up and coming Filipino visual artists since 2004. Awarded to artists under the age of 36, the prize recognises outstanding work presented in an exhibition held between 2 May of the previous year to 1 May of the current year.

The works of the shortlisted artists and the winners were on show at the Grand Atrium of Shangri-La Mall until 19 September 2016, and will be exhibited at the Ateneo Art Gallery from 10 October to 3 December.

There are two categories to the award, the Fernando Zóbel Prizes for Visual Art and the Purita Kalaw-Ledesma Prize for Art Criticism. The visual art award was named after Fernando Zóbel de Ayala (1924 – 1984), a great supporter of emerging Filipino visual artists and also an important figure in developing art history in the country.

The award for art criticism was established by the Ateneo de Manila University, in partnership with the Kalaw-Ledesma Foundation and The Philippine Star and joined by recent partner ArtAsiaPacific, who offers winners the opportunity to be contributors to the magazine for one year. It honours Purita Kalaw Ledesma, art patron and Founder of the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP), who fostered Philippine art of the post war period.

Nathalie Dagmang, “Dito sa may Ilog ng Tumana: A Sensory Investigation on the Contradictory Relationship of Barangay Tumana with the Marikina River” (installation), 2015. Image courtesy the artist.

Nathalie Dagmang, “Dito sa may Ilog ng Tumana: A Sensory Investigation on the Contradictory Relationship of Barangay Tumana with the Marikina River” (installation), 2015. Image courtesy the artist.

Last year’s winners of the visual art award were Pio Abad, Frank Callaghan and Ryan Villamael. Throughout the history of the award the selected works are varied, ranging from paintings and photos to installation and video.

Announced on 15 September, the three 2016 visual art winners, selected out of a competitive shortlist of 12 artists, are Martha Atienza, Rocky Cajigan and Nathalie Dagmang. The winners of the Purita Kalaw-Ledesma Prize for Art Criticism, selected from a shortlist of six, were writers Pristine de Leon and Dominic Zinampan. de Leon won The Philippine Star award with her piece “Owning the Image: Exploring Lopez Museum’s political cartoons and the pleasures of resistance”, and is given a regular column to be published twice a month, or 24 articles a year, in the Arts and Culture section of the newspaper. Zinampan won the ArtAsiaPacific prize for his entry “Chambers of Reflection: A Critique of Mark Giustiniani’s ‘Reverb'”, and will be contributing a total of six articles to the magazine for one year.

Martha Atienza, 'Study in Reality No. 3' (detail), 2015. Image courtesy Silverlens and the artist.

Martha Atienza, ‘Study in Reality No. 3’ (detail), 2015. Image courtesy Silverlens and the artist.

The Ateneo Art Award 2016 Visual Art Winners

Martha Atienza

Atienza (who also won the award in 2012) was recognised for her installation “Study in Reality No. 3” at Silverlens Galleries (7 May to 6 June 2015). In 2016, Atienza also wins the La Trobe University Visual Arts Centre residency grant. Atienza is an experimental video artist who explores her Dutch-Filipino cultural background as well as themes of environmental sustainability. She often works with communities, such as fishing communities in the Philippines where she worked on bio-intensive farming and marine preservation. This social engagement feeds into her creative work.

Martha Atienza, 'Study in Reality No. 3' (detail), 2015. Image courtesy Silverlens and the artist.

Martha Atienza, ‘Study in Reality No. 3’ (detail), 2015. Image courtesy Silverlens and the artist.

Study in Reality No. 3 draws from Atienza’s filmed experience of the 2014 Typhoon Hagupit, transposed into seven-foot-long of stainless steel slices. In addition there are three motorised trees that move with a soundtrack of the storm.

In an interview with Artsy, Atienza explains the motivation behind her artwork:

I wanted to have some control over how things really are and how we try to manipulate them […] that is what I have been doing with my ongoing projects on the island. I have a vision of how we are going to do things, but in the Philippines things just work out differently. Real life situations are part of it. This is a study of dealing with the reality.

Rocky Cajigan, 'Museumified' (installation), 2015. Image courtesy Blanc Gallery.

Rocky Cajigan, “Museumified” (installation), 2015. Image courtesy Blanc Gallery.

Rocky Cajigan

Cajigan’s winning exhibition “Museumified”, shown at Blanc Gallery from 10 to 31 October 2015, consisted of 22 found objects and sculptures that critique ideas of individual and collective life. The shadow boxes contain artefacts such as reptile skin, white baby dolls, monkey skulls, heirloom beads and Christian icons that refer to Philippine cultural memory.

Rocky Cajigan, 'Educated' in "Museumified", 2015. Image courtesy Blanc Gallery.

Rocky Cajigan, ‘Educated’ in “Museumified”, 2015. Image courtesy Blanc Gallery.

Cajigan looks into themes of decolonialisation, paying particular attention to multicultural identities and experiences. In a statement in the Philippine Star, Cajigan explained the influences behind his work:

Growing up in Central Bontoc, Mountain Province, in an ethnolinguistic community along the Chico River is the aesthetic and theoretical backbone on my work.

His leaving to study at university prompted him to question concepts of home and what it means to be Filipino. Cajigan draws on ethnographic practices to interrogate these themes in his creative practice.

Rocky Cajigan, 'American Goathanger' in "Museumified", 2015. Image courtesy Blanc Gallery.

Rocky Cajigan, ‘American Goathanger’ in “Museumified”, 2015. Image courtesy Blanc Gallery.

Nathalie Dagmang, “Dito sa may Ilog ng Tumana: A Sensory Investigation on the Contradictory Relationship of Barangay Tumana with the Marikina River” (installation), 2015. Image courtesy of the artist.

Nathalie Dagmang, “Dito sa may Ilog ng Tumana: A Sensory Investigation on the Contradictory Relationship of Barangay Tumana with the Marikina River” (installation), 2015. Image courtesy the artist.

Nathalie Dagmang

The final winning exhibition is Nathalie Dagmang’s “Dito sa may Ilog ng Tumana: A Sensory Investigation on the Contradictory Relationship of Barangay Tumana with the Marikina River”, the artist’s thesis show at the College of Fine Arts in UP Diliman. Dagmang also wins both the Liverpool Hope University – Creative Campus and the Artesan Gallery + Studio residency grants.

Nathalie Dagmang, ‘Things Washed Away (After the floods of Typhoon Mario)’ in “Dito sa may Ilog ng Tumana: A Sensory Investigation on the Contradictory Relationship of Barangay Tumana with the Marikina River” (installation), 2015. Image courtesy the artist.

Nathalie Dagmang, ‘Things Washed Away (After the floods of Typhoon Mario)’ in “Dito sa may Ilog ng Tumana: A Sensory Investigation on the Contradictory Relationship of Barangay Tumana with the Marikina River” (installation), 2015. Image courtesy the artist.

The work looks into the recurring flooding of the Marikina River and how the residents of the surrounding communities interact and react to the environmental changes. The resulting installation includes videos and found objects. It conveys the impact of the floodwaters through the detritus of things left behind, which are covered in silt.

Dagmang also incorporated ethnographic methods into her art-making process in order to better understand the community as she states that

the field of ethnography can provide the visual arts alternative routes in examining and portraying landscapes and communities.

Claire Wilson

1305

Related topics: Emerging artists, Filipino artists, awards, news, new media, installation

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“The Colony”: Vietnamese artist Dinh Q. Lê at Artangel, London

Din Q. Lê explores colonial exploitation of resources in 19th century Pacific.

Dinh Q. Lê is known for his subtle and poetic revisions of colonial history, linked to his birth country, Vietnam. In his latest video installation, he explores the exploitation of resources off the coast of Peru, which in the 19th century provoked conflictual relationships between various countries and caused a great deal of human suffering, much in a similar guise as what is happening today closer to the artist’s home, in the South China Sea.

Infirmary on Chincha Norte Island. Production shot of "The Colony", Dinh Q. Lê, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Image courtesy Dinh Q. Lê.

Infirmary on Chincha Norte Island. Production shot of “The Colony”, Dinh Q. Lê, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Image courtesy Dinh Q. Lê.

Mountains of guano cover a group of uninhabited islands off the coast of Peru in the Pacific Ocean, deposited there by sea birds such as the Peruvian pelican, booby and Guanay cormorant that feed on the plentiful, richly nutritious fish of the area. The Chincha Islands were once, in the 19th century, a strong point of contention between countries that already had a presence in the region – nearby Peru and Chile, Spain and the United States. Meanwhile, British merchants and middlemen sent large contingents of bonded Chinese labourers to harvest the manure to take back to Britain and trade.

The United States responded to disputes by passing the Guano Act in 1856, which allowed the imperial power to seize uninhabited islands, reefs and atolls anywhere in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. As the history of imperialism unfolded, the Guano Wars of 1864-1866 broke out to gain control of the islands, home to a rich agricultural resource abundantly gifted by nature, during a period that is recorded in history as the Great Guano Rush.

Guanape Island. Production shot of "The Colony", Dinh Q. Lê, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Image courtesy Dinh Q. Lê.

Guanape Island. Production shot of “The Colony”, Dinh Q. Lê, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Image courtesy Dinh Q. Lê.

Reader in Environmental Humanities at the University of Birmingham, Frank Ueköttor gives a detailed account of that period of time and the history of Peruvian guano in his essay “War, Peace and Guano” published in Dinh Q. Lê’s “The Colony” exhibition catalogue. He writes that

The Chincha Islands were not destined to make world history. They were small, they did not have a permanent human presence, and they were at a distance from the main trade routes. They had no strategic value and little in the way of scenery. But commodities have an ability to catapult remote places onto the stage of global history. The story of eruvian guano echoes the stories of Saudi Arabian oil, Californian gold, or bananas from Central American republics. These commodities are more than just stuff from a place. They are the stuff that makes a place.

Pescadora Island. Production shot of "The Colony", Dinh Q. Lê, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Image courtesy Dinh Q. Lê.

Pescadora Island. Production shot of “The Colony”, Dinh Q. Lê, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Image courtesy Dinh Q. Lê.

Guano is essentially birds’ droppings and was extensively used as a precious and potent fertiliser, rich in nitrogen, phosphate and potassium, before chemical ones were invented and commercialised. A natural resource that caused such extensive territorial disputes in the Pacific Ocean, guano is the focus of Dinh Q. Lê’s lens in his new video installation “The Colony”, now on show at Artangel in London until 9 October 2016.

The videos feature newly shot film in the Chincha Islands as well as found footage from the Internet. Alongside the videos, the exhibition also features a number of 19th century maps and photographs of the Chincha Islands, taken in 1865 
by the renowned American Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner, and a selection of Illustrated London News bulletins on the islands and guano trade.

Dinh Q. Lê, "The Colony", 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Photo: Marcus J. Leith.

Dinh Q. Lê, “The Colony”, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Photo: Marcus J. Leith.

“The Colony” is part of The Artangel Collection, an initiative to bring outstanding film and video works to the United Kingdom, developed in partnership with Tate, supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Foyle Foundation and using public funding from Arts Council England. “The Colony” was commissioned by Artangel, Ikon Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima, with support by Shoshana Wayne Gallery. The exhibition toured the UK, from Ikon in Birmingham in early 2016, to Derry Void in Northern Ireland until 2 July, and finally Artangel in London.

Click here to watch an excerpt from “The Colony” by Dinh Q. Lê on YouTube

“The Colony” makes a powerful connection between what happened off the coast of South America more than a hundred years ago and what has been the focus of contention in the South China Sea, where China lays claim to the majority of islands that apparently hide rich natural oil and gas resources, as well as the sea itself, with its abundant fish. Various countries in the region, including Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam are in continuous abrasion with the giant of the East. Dinh Q. Lê seems to suggest that, as the saying goes, History repeats itself.

As James Lingwood, Co-Director of Artangel, and Jonathan Watkins, Director of Ikon, write in the foreword to the exhibition catalogue,

The islands afford an extraordinary location for Lê’s new work, but they are not its only subject. The world’s powers continue to wrestle for control over actual and potential natural resrouces in the Middle East, the Arctic and the Antartic and, significantly for an artist now living back in Vietnam, in the South China Seas where competing claims over tiny islands mark a new period of colonial conflict.

Dinh Q. Lê, "The Colony", 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Photo: Marcus J. Leith.

Dinh Q. Lê, “The Colony”, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Photo: Marcus J. Leith.

When in the 20th century the harvesting of Guano abruptly stopped, birds reclaimed the islands, left again uninhabited, deserted. Today, even though on a much smaller scale, the harvesting of the natural fertiliser has resumed on occasion, and Lê landed on the islands to document their present state. Through different perspectives, the artist records the still gruelling manual labour of workers intent in collecting, transporting and loading bags full of guano onto boats, “echoing the burden of their predecessors”, as Artangel writes in the exhibition pamphlet.

Dinh Q. Lê, "The Colony", 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Photo: Marcus J. Leith.

Dinh Q. Lê, “The Colony”, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Photo: Marcus J. Leith.

Lê follows the conceptual ideas of his previous works to shed light on the plight of nameless individuals, ‘victims’ of imperialist thirsts for power and control and human desire, through an exploration of colonial history. Silhouettes of animated figures representing the 19th century Chinese workers appear on screen, while other scenes in the video show the interior of an abandoned building, once dormitories built for the guano workers in the 20th century. The spaces are dotted with pornographic photographs, left there by the workers, confined in solitude far away from home and from their wives and families.

Dinh Q. Lê, "The Colony", 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Photo: Marcus J. Leith.

Dinh Q. Lê, “The Colony”, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Photo: Marcus J. Leith.

Dormitory and worker kitchen on Chincha Norte Island. Production shot of "The Colony", Dinh Q. Lê, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Image courtesy Dinh Q. Lê.

Dormitory and worker kitchen on Chincha Norte Island. Production shot of “The Colony”, Dinh Q. Lê, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Image courtesy Dinh Q. Lê.

In a conversation with Zoe Butt, Executive Director and Curator of Ho Chi Minh City-based art space Sàn Art, published in the catalogue, Lê reveals that the installation’s title “The Colony” was inspired by Kafka’s In The Penal Colony, the stark landscapes of which were a constant reminder to Lê during filming. The confinement, the solitude and the suffering of forced labour are concepts that permeate these images of a run down, deserted building, as Lê says:

[…] it must have been much worse for the indentured Chinese servants in the 1850s enduring constant hard labour and physical abuse, confined to islands you cannot easily escape. It must have been a kind of prison, for they were essentially slaves to the British companies who brought them there to harvest guano. To me these dormitories are also a visual reminder of the human cost of desire.

Guanape Island. Production shot of "The Colony", Dinh Q. Lê, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Image courtesy Dinh Q. Lê.

Guanape Island. Production shot of “The Colony”, Dinh Q. Lê, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Image courtesy Dinh Q. Lê.

In a continuation of the traditional presence of helicopters in Lê’s work, a symbol of technological and military superiority, “The Colony” was partly shot using a drone, one of today’s deadliest war machines and espionage tools on the market. Talking with Butt about the role of the drone in the work, Lê reveals the flying machine as “an aggressor”,

a kind of alien of the future, but at the same time it is utterly a machine we live with today. It is as if the drone is saying “the future is here”. The drone to me has the visual power to suggest a form of knowledge that invades.

Dinh Q. Lê, "The Colony", 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Photo: Marcus J. Leith.

Dinh Q. Lê, “The Colony”, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Photo: Marcus J. Leith.

The five-screen video installation is accompanied by an apocalyptic soundtrack by Daniel Wohl, and includes footage shot on the Chincha Islands, as well as found footage taken from the Internet of what is taking place in the South China Sea. Apart from the music, the sounds of birds and the sea, of labourers and of radio exchanges in the air zones above the ocean in Asia can be heard in a cacophony that reminds of conflict and tension. In the conversation with Butt, Lê talks about the power of mediated imagery taken during surveillance operations, such as those included in his work, shot by the American military over the South China Sea:

Some of the footage I include documents the American military flying over the South China Sea. These are surveillance videos that I found online. They are extremely beautiful but when you hear the Chinese radio warning “You are violating our territory” and the American respond with “This is international waters,” the tension is palpable. The point of this American military surveillance over the South China Sea was to make clear that America does not recognise China’s claim of these unpopulated waters, so in a way my sending in the drone to these inaccessible, similarly unpopulated Guano Islands is also a kind of surveillance, of saying that this history, which is a way is being repeated, shall not remain hidden.

Dinh Q. Lê, "The Colony", 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Photo: Marcus J. Leith.

Dinh Q. Lê, “The Colony”, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Photo: Marcus J. Leith.

Chincha Norte Island. Production shot of "The Colony", Dinh Q. Lê, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Image courtesy Dinh Q. Lê.

Chincha Norte Island. Production shot of “The Colony”, Dinh Q. Lê, 2016. Commissioned by Artangel, Ikon, Birmingham, Han Nefkens H+F Collection and Proyecto Amil, Lima. Image courtesy Dinh Q. Lê.

The Chincha Islands video ends with an aerial shot of the film crew, in an unexpected move that gives “humanity back the control”, as Butt comments. The cameraman extends his arms to receive the drone descending from a day’s shoot, as if the author (the artist) wanted to recede, in order to challenge the pervasive view that ‘others’ are always responsible, while in fact the responsibility of catastrophe is often in the hands of the collective conscious, as he tells Butt:

[In revealing the existence and identity of the film crew] I’m saying that we, the viewer are in control, that you as viewers are also authors in a way. Today we are accustomed to justifying that someone else is directing the toll of human suffering, but in the end I’m saying it is our responsibility to remember it, to understand it and thus endure that our collective actions matter, our memory matters. When you realise you are looking directly at the cameraman who controls the drone you suddenly realise perhaps that you haven’t asked who is controlling the camera and why.

C. A. Xuân Mai Ardia

1306

Related Topics: Vietnamese artists, video, installation, archive, environment, trauma, political art, war, gallery shows, events in London

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‘barrangal dyara’: Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones revives forgotten history of Sydney’s Botanic Gardens

barrangal dyara is the most ambitious artwork presented by Kaldor Art Projects to date.

A major installation in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens by Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones revives its forgotten history. Presented by Kaldor Art Projects, the work will be on show until 3 October 2016.

Jonathan Jones, 'barrangal dyara', 2016, installation in Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens. Image courtesy Peter Grieg.

Jonathan Jones, ‘barrangal dyara’, 2016, installation in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Image courtesy Peter Grieg.

For 48 years, since 1969, Kaldor Art Projects has had a significant influence on contemporary art in Australia, and has presented groundbreaking contemporary art to the country by influential international artists such as Gilbert and George, Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik, Tatzu Nishi and Sol LeWitt. Until now, the most ambitious of all was the inaugural project in 1969 when Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped Little Bay in Sydney’s southern suburbs. At the time, Christo assured Kaldor that “a project is successful when it’s larger than every[one] imagined.”

Christo, Little Bay. Image couresty Kaldor Public Art Projects.

Christo, Little Bay. Image couresty Kaldor Public Art Projects.

However, Kaldor Public Art Project 32, Jonathan Jones’ barrangal dyara (skin and bones) in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens from 17 September to 3 October 2016, has pushed the boundaries of this ambition beyond perceived limits. Taking two years to develop, the work is monumental in scale and scope.

Jonathan Jones is based in Sydney. He works across a range of media to create site-specific installations that use light, shadow and repetition to explore Aboriginal practices, relationships and ideas. He has worked on several major public commissions, including the Commonwealth Parliament Offices in Sydney, and has exhibited nationally and internationally.

Jones is a member of the Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi nations of south-east Australia. Twenty years ago, as an art student, he began to explore his cultural heritage through his art. Struck by the absence of historic Aboriginal cultural material in Sydney’s museums, he learnt that countless objects collected by the colonisers were destroyed. In the catalogue essay, curator Emma Pike quotes the artist as saying:

I first went looking for cultural material from where my family is from and found out that much of this material was lost in the Garden Palace fire. Ever since, I’ve been struck with the loss of our cultural material, what that loss means for our communities and how you can move forward as a culture when you can’t point to your cultural heritage.

Jonathan Jones, 'barrangal dyara', 2016, section view. Image courtesy Peter Grieg.

Jonathan Jones, ‘barrangal dyara’, 2016, section view. Image courtesy Peter Grieg.

The name barrangal dyara is taken from the local Sydney language, and translates as ‘skin’ and ‘bones’.  Jones envisions the project as peeling back the ‘skin’ of the site to reveal the ‘bones’ of the building:

barrangal dyara is a response to the immense loss felt throughout Australia due to the destruction of countless culturally significant Aboriginal objects … It represents an effort to commence a healing process and a celebration of the survival of the world’s oldest living culture despite this traumatic event.

The installation is made up of three formal components. 15,000 white shields made from gypsum outline the Garden Palace’s footprint. The shields traverse the city’s highest ridge and extend across to an island in a major expressway. Reminiscent of scattered bones in the landscape, or masses of rubble left by fire, the shields are based on four shapes that refer to the many Aboriginal nations of Australia’s South East. Unlike the originals, which would have carried markings that refer to connections with country and family, these shields are devoid of markings. Mens’ shields, used for both ceremony and war, were a popular souvenir of the colonisers. Captain Cook was notably the first to obtain one after firing gunshots at the local people upon first landing in Sydney’s Botany Bay.

Jonathon Jones in Kangaroo Grass Meadow. Image courtesy Belinda Piggott.

Jonathon Jones in Kangaroo Grass Meadow. Image courtesy Belinda Piggott.

In the heart of the installation, where the massive dome once stood, Jones planted a native kangaroo grass meadow. The wild planting disrupts the European style formality of the Royal Botanic Gardens, as well as the commonly held belief that, prior to colonisation, Aboriginal people did not practice agriculture. Across southeastern Australia, grasslands were widely cultivated and harvested.

To manage food supply in the vast landscape, fire was used to clear the land and promote growth of preferred plant species, some of which actually require fire to regenerate or release seeds. Extensive grasslands were a food source in themselves, seeds of grasses such as kangaroo grass were ground to make the flour. The recent discovery of a 30,000 year old grinding stone is evidence Aboriginal Australians were in fact the world’s first bread-makers. These cultivated grasslands also attracted wildlife such as kangaroos, simplifying the hunting process.

The final component of barrangal dyara is composed by the soundscapes that infuse the space once occupied by the Garden Palace. Voices speaking and singing in eight Aboriginal languages recall not only the objects lost in the Garden Palace fire, but the material excluded from the colonial collections – those used in agriculture and by women and children.

At one time there were 250 language groups across the country. Today, as a result of the punishments metred out to Aboriginal people for speaking languages other than English, it is rare to hear any words uttered. As a result, many languages have almost disappeared. In the last few years, however, there has been a passionate revival of language across the country, offering communities a precious connection with their culture in the absence of historic objects. To make the eight soundscapes, Jones travelled throughout the country and collaborated with people from the various language groups – the Sydney Language, Gamilaraay, Gumbaynggirr, Gunditjmara, Ngarrindjeri, Paakantji, Wiradjuri and Woiwurrung.

Exterior, the Garden Palace, Sydney, c. 1879. Collection: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney.

Exterior, the Garden Palace, Sydney, c. 1879. Collection: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney.

Themes of loss and memory are not only relevant to Aboriginal people. Prior to Kaldor Art Projects 32, the Garden Palace itself had been forgotten by all but a handful of people. In his presentation during a symposium leading up to the opening of barrangal dyara Jones said:

How surprising it is that a building measuring 250m long and 150m wide, so almost two football fields in size, an enormous building, a huge undertaking of the colony, and a building that really stands for a way of understanding Australia’s coming of age story … How is it possible that we can miss that building? … If we imagine that we have the ability to blindside this enormous building, this enormous moment of our history, what else have we forgotten?

The Garden Palace was purpose built in 1879 to host the International Exhibition, Sydney’s response to London’s Crystal Palace and the Palais du Trocadero in Paris. At the time the colony was optimistic and energetic – the population had tripled in the 20 years since the Gold Rush in the early 1850s. A sense of independence and national identity was developing. The Exhibition was the opportunity for the convict colony to present itself to the world showcasing wealth and success with exhibits of wool, wheat and gold. Not surprisingly, the national identity excluded Australia’s original inhabitants, their representation was limited to the dedicated Ethnological Court. Cultural objects and ancestral remains were presented in a way that supported discourse at the time – the mission to “civilise” the natives, and popular theories such as Social Darwinism.

Lithograph, Burning of the Garden Palace, Sydney, Gibbs Shallard and Company, Sydney, 1882. Collection: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney.

Lithograph, ‘Burning of the Garden Palace’, Sydney, Gibbs Shallard and Company, Sydney, 1882. Collection: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney.

The subsequent fire that destroyed the Garden Palace just three years after it was built, along with the vast collection of Aboriginal cultural objects, could be considered a disaster. However, Oliver Costello, a Bundjulung man and Co-founder of Firesticks, offers an alternative perspective:

Fire creates change. The Garden Palace fire cleansed the site and created meaning. All those artefacts, taken out of country, were used to misrepresent our identity … The Garden Palace symbolised the colonisation of Australia and attempted to say our culture was over. The fire provided the opportunity to cleanse that negative energy and t step back from the colonial framework and ask ‘where are we?’ … The artefacts were already lost and the fire has given us a chance to find them.

Bangarra Dance Company and Jonathan Jones. Image courtesy Kaldor Art Projects.

Bangarra Dance Company and Jonathan Jones. Image courtesy Kaldor Art Projects.

There are a variety of ways to interact with barrangal dyara. Each day of the exhibition there is a talk by Jonathan Jones on site. Aboriginal elders, curators, artists and theorists are also involved in daily talks; on the anniversary of when the Garden Palace burnt down, 22 September, Bangarra Dance Company presented an on-site performance. To guide viewers around the installation, onsite invigilators will share stories about the work, reminiscent of the way oral history has transferred Aboriginal culture across the millennia. The Project 32 App activates on site to stream insights and conversations. Podcasts of the three Spitfire symposia held in the lead up to the opening are available online.

Belinda Piggott

1307

Related Topics: Australian artists, public art, historical art, identity art, performance, events in Sydney

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