EXPERIMENTAL ART CHINA
By Chris Moore
OV Gallery in Shanghai is displaying considerable chutzpah with its current exhibition, ‘Carry-on Items’.
In the wake of the financial crisis many galleries in Shanghai have retreated into more conservative and smaller shows. OV decided instead to run a series of highly experimental shows. Following on its earlier ‘Space Disoriented’ light-installations by Li Jing, the new show does something quite radical, converting the viewer’s experience into the art.
Walk into the exhibition and you will be confronted by a wall in the middle of the room, installed just for the exhibition. Upon it are displayed a table of numbers, 3 x 11 digits. And nothing else. What is going on here?
If you live in China then eventually it will dawn upon you that perhaps they are phone numbers. Call them and you will find yourself speaking to a part of the exhibition, one of three ‘beauties’ who attended the opening night vernissage. Then everything looks utterly different.
For the opening night the artists decorated the gallery with a series of ambiguous clues. The first was the photographic and rather anodyne portrait of a young boy which appeared on the invitation but is also displayed as a huge poster covering the gallery’s shop-window. This remains. The second was a large potted orange tree with a neon ‘OV’ sign plonked precariously in its branches. The third was a measuring tape on a wall, possibly referring to other important works of Chinese contemporary art such as Xu Zhen’s 8848 – 1.86 (2005) and Wang Tiande’s recent ‘One Metre Seventy-Three’ exhibition at Contrasts gallery. The fourth was a half-crumpled disposable cup on a plinth. The fifth was a squawk-box (Doorbell) – you press the button and an obtuse announcement is made. All these things are in the first-half of the divided gallery.
Now, from behind the wall comes a juddering, frightening din, the sound of an aircraft taking off. So you take a peek and you see a film of an empty tarmac. The squeal of the engines begins to build, louder and louder, sending your heart racing and shredding your nerves until it is literally disorientating.
For an instant a person flashes by, launching into the sky. There is a moment’s respite but soon the engine whine begins again and another person takes off. These are post-Nietchean and supersonic versions of Bill Viola’s Five Angels.
And all the while a photographer is snapping away at everyone and everything in the gallery. But some people more than others: the three ‘beauties’, women representing success, youth, vigour, modernity, and China, but also superficiality, consumerism, anti-art and – pause, wait for it – China.
After Duchamp, it is very hard to make a real anti-art exhibition. In one sense it was a great liberating moment in art but he set the bar very high. Manzoni did it and so did Beuys; Hirst also, before he became a brand. ‘Carry-on Items’ does it too, by subverting, ridiculing, and then re-appropriating the notion of ‘Found Items’.
As one of the artists, Gefei, said to me, the opening is not the exhibition. In fact, the exhibition is not the exhibition. Rather the exhibition is something that takes place when you walk in, and it goes with you when you leave, or when you call one of the numbers or make a ‘connection’. It is easiest to find it in the future as a possibility framed by preconceptions or in the past as a memory shaded by experience. Which sounds a bit pretentious. And it is too. After all, this isn’t an exhibition, it’s just pretending to be one. The artists themselves would just smile.
The final aspect of the exhibition, the catalogue, is yet to come. Prepare for take-off.
Contributed by Chris Moore, a writer and a partner in the contemporary art investment firm mooreandmooreart.co.uk. He lives in Shanghai and specialises in contemporary Chinese art.
- Outlook for Chinese art market – Larry Warsh AW Asia podcast – May 2009
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- Emerging Chinese conceptual artist Li Hui defies recession at Christies Hong Kong sale – Dec 2008