Food for Art, Food for Thought: “SNACKS” at Shanghai’s Power Station of Art

An exhibition at the Power Station of Art features work that expands on the ‘motto’ of “Art is snacks, life is dinner.

“SNACKS” launched on 16 July and will run until 16 October 2016. The show features 38 international artists, who are all connected by their involvement with the artist-designed magazine SNACKS.

"SNACKS" (2016) at Power Station of Art, atrium view. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

“SNACKS” (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai, atrium view. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Apart from strange sounds and the faint aroma of fried potatoes (courtesy of a Jan Bucquoy work, giving away free nibbles in the afternoon), an act with the title Oil on Canvas (2016), the huge emptiness of the Power Station of Art’s atrium is a stark portent for “SNACKS”, a bewildering exhibition of 38 international artists.

The exhibition’s participants are connected by their involvement with the artist-designed magazine of the same name, which debuted in 2009 and has collaborated with more than 200 artists from around the globe to date. A small folded guide briefly states:

The exhibition SNACKS features precisely these unclassifiable artists and their work. It brings together extraordinary thoughts, experiments, and experiences from different corners of the world and different lifestyles.

"SNACKS" (2016) at Power Station of Art, exhibition view with Jan Bucquoy’s kiosk serving free French fries, 'Oil on Canvas', 2016. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

“SNACKS” (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai, exhibition view with Jan Bucquoy’s kiosk serving free French fries, ‘Oil on Canvas’, 2016. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Power Station of Art, "SNACKS" (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai, exhibition view of outside of Lolo and Sosaku, 'Moters II', 2016. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Power Station of Art, “SNACKS” (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai, exhibition view of outside of Lolo and Sosaku, ‘Moters II’, 2016. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

What the public can explore in the show is relentless spectacle, a conglomeration of self contained works, like a biennale without a programme. Although drifting between the diverse spaces, the experience of the individual parts seems greater than the whole, curator Gong Yan has woven an invisible, powerful link between the works. The museum’s hangar-like spaces have been skillfully punctuated with high walls of shimmering translucent corrugated plastic and elsewhere the rhythm of smaller rooms cleverly creates a sense of progression.

Tomoko Sawada, 'School Days', 2004, detail. In "SNACKS" (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Tomoko Sawada, ‘School Days’, 2004, detail. In “SNACKS” (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

The discrete works are often made up of several elements, with two accompanying texts, expressed in first and third person respectively. These explain quite clearly what the works are and also provide the background to the current project and its place in the artist’s oeuvre. In the case of Tomoko Sawada’s School Days (2004), a suite of faux class photos that have had every face replaced with the artists own image, the text is a detailed essay.

She describes the process and purpose of the work, saying for example,

Pictures of each student were shot in the studio and later on I made a composite and combined it with the background. I used my alma mater for the background of all the photos. During my junior and high school days, school uniforms uniformize and homogenize teenagers in their looks. However, girls don’t give up easily and they struggle to differentiate from others (…) What I try to become is someone different from myself and in order to do that, I just change my appearance.

Feng Li, 'White Nights', 2005-15, installation view. In "SNACKS" (2016), at Power Station of Art, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Feng Li, ‘White Nights’, 2005-15, installation view. In “SNACKS” (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

In a similarly confessional spirit Chengdu-based artist Feng Li says of his glossy collection of informal street photography, White Nights (2005-15):

I am not sure if this is photography, but I believe this is the other side of reality.

The wall text goes on replacing the biographical details about the artist, found elsewhere, with aesthetic assertions such as “He never had the motive to take beautiful photos.”

Si Wei, 'The First 100 and the Second 100', 2016., installation view. In "SNACKS" (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Si Wei, ‘The First 100 and the Second 100’, 2016., installation view. In “SNACKS” (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

For The First 100 and the Second 100 (2016), Tianjin academy graduate Si Wei also makes the context of her work personal writing: “Actually I spend most time in accompanying my daughter. Now I feel that I’m stuck in the crack, grasping every minute to do art thing.” Her words add pathos to the purity of her images of simplified clown-like figures, conceived on an iPad and blown up to monumental scale on the walls of a room, giving a feeling of overwhelming simplicity and emotional charge.

Several other works echo the combination of an unsophisticated and playful surface with a reflective attitude. Jin Ningning’s assemblage of a soft velour toy football mounted on a damaged plastic model of Snow White, Snow White and a Soccer Ball (2016), is watched over by the artist’s ludicrously posed Selfie (2016), blown up to life size. The juxtaposition suggests mischief and the reticent melancholy of a child who knows they have done something wrong.

Nathan Zhou, 'Play Water', 2016, installation view. In "SNACKS" (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Nathan Zhou, ‘Play Water’, 2016, installation view. In “SNACKS” (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Mischief is also a familiar mindset in Nathan Zhou’s work. He has enjoyed a ubiquitous profile in Shanghai recently, with a solo show entitled, “Jericho” at West Bund Art and Design Centre, and a generous space in Shanghai MOMA’s Animamix Biennale. His work Play Water (2016) adds a rigorous economy to the repertoire of anarchic excess familiar from these other recent outings.

Made of profoundly unassuming materials – black polythene refuse sacks taped to the wall, a row of five red plastic bath tubs, marker pens and water – it has nevertheless a powerful effect, as if inspired by a Ramones-like dumb punk aesthetic and constructing intense, childhood, sensual experiences without nostalgia. There is something unsettling in his insistent valorisation of playful creativity. His statement reads,

Playing with water was a thing full of sweet memories for me—either jumping into the water from the shoulders of a friend at the seaside in Xiamen or spraying water into the sky from a tube to make a rainbow […]. To look at flowers in fog and to look at paintings in water are both interesting.

Marcel Dzama, 'A Game of Chess', 2011. In "SNACKS" (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Marcel Dzama, ‘A Game of Chess’, 2011. In “SNACKS” (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

By complete contrast, Marcel Dzama’s motion picture A Game of Chess (2011) is filmed in intense black and white, like charcoal and platinum, and rooted in the manner of the 1920s Bauhaus theatre of human dolls. It is both beautiful and pretentious, with dancers in polka dot costumes acting out the tension in an eternal chess game; in the end one player is shot by a female sniper.

Every space brings an eclectic change, many making a considerable impression with sparse materials. An almost life sized church in glowing fuchsia, Boris Hoppek’s This is not a Copy of a Church (2016) turns out, almost unbelievably, to be made of empty cardboard boxes.

"SNACKS" (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai, exhibition view with Boris Hoppek, 'This is not a Copy of a Church', 2016. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

“SNACKS” (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai, exhibition view with Boris Hoppek, ‘This is not a Copy of a Church’, 2016. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Eduardo Kac, 'Free Alba!', 2001-2 (detail showing, 2. Le Monde, 3.Ann Arbor and 4. Folha de Sao Paulo). In "SNACKS" (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Eduardo Kac, ‘Free Alba!’, 2001-2 (detail showing, 2. Le Monde, 3.Ann Arbor and 4. Folha de Sao Paulo). In “SNACKS” (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Eduardo Kac’s Free Alba! (2001-2) documents the controversy around the artist’s rabbit, genetically modified with DNA from luminous jellyfish and designated as an artwork. The hullabaloo it caused is evoked by the artist’s series of just seven nonchalant photographs of people reading about the controversy in international newspapers. Similarly light in touch, is Spanish artist Escif’s Fire Plan (2016), paintings of the museum’s unnoticed fire safety accessories rendered on a wall sized scale.

Wang Yiquan, 'Central Club', 2016. In "SNACKS" (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

Wang Yiquan, ‘Central Club’, 2016. In “SNACKS” (2016) at Power Station of Art, Shanghai. Image courtesy Andrew Stooke.

A further attitude is particular to Wang Yiquan’s Central Club (2016) where people are invited to sit and chat on the museum’s stairs surrounded by plants. The work is intended to evoke a “relational” conviviality, “a space for having talks”. It is a forlorn gesture. The situation is uncomfortable and over constituted with hectoring reminders, in the form of slogans on the seats.

Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “Don’t look for the meaning of things, look for their use.” “SNACKS” grasps at this possibility but in the end too few works follow a unified pattern and the exhibition is a reminder that snacks can still leave you feeling empty.

Andrew Stooke

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Related Topics: Shanghai events, mixed media, installation, painting, photography

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