Hong Kong artist Nadim Abbas transforms UCCA’s Long Gallery into a single work of art.

From 19 August to 23 October 2016, the Long Gallery at UCCA hosts Abbas’ latest multimedia artwork The Last Vehicle, which divides the space into two separate yet interrelated segments – part alien landscape, part domestic living quarters – mirroring today’s ‘virtually-focused’ life.

Nadim Abbas, 'The Last Vehicle', 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

Nadim Abbas, ‘The Last Vehicle’, 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

People in the modern world seem to live most of the their lives in a screen, in a largely “visual world” that has made everybody both solitary inhabitants and virtually interactive individuals. Hong Kong artist Nadim Abbas narrates how accelerating technology is overwhelming humanity through his latest conceptual art piece The Last Vehicle, showcased in his first solo exhibition in mainland China “New Directions: Nadim Abbas” at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing until 23 October 2016.

Nadim Abbas, 'The Last Vehicle', 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

Nadim Abbas, ‘The Last Vehicle’, 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

The exhibition is accompanied by a monograph of the same title, and in addition, alongside the exhibition, Abbas has curated a programme of science fiction film screenings titled “Reveries of a Sedentary Explorer”, a nod to one of the artist’s main sources of inspiration, as UCCA quotes him as saying:

My work owes a great deal to the cinema and the kinds of images that are crystallized therein. This is a collection of science fiction films—each a classic in its own right—showing that perhaps the most alien of landscapes is located not in outer space, but right here in the cracks and crevices of the mind and imagination.

"New Directions: Nadim Abbas", 19 August - 23 October 2016, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), Beijing. Installation view. Image courtesy UCCA.

“New Directions: Nadim Abbas”, 19 August – 23 October 2016, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), Beijing. Installation view. Image courtesy UCCA.

The show is the fifth installment in the New Directions series, initiated in 2015 by UCCA Director Philip Tinari, to offer some of China’s most promising artists a platform to realise their first institutional solo exhibition and monographic publication. New Directions deepens UCCA’s ongoing commitment to emerging practices pioneered by shows including “ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice” (2013), “Breaking Forecast” (2009) and the “Curated By…” series (2010-2012), aiming to present, through “a constellation of singular positions”, an overall sense of the richness and complexity of new art in China today.

Nadim Abbas, 'The Last Vehicle', 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

Nadim Abbas, ‘The Last Vehicle’, 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

Abbas’ exhibition is curated by UCCA Assistant Curator Guo Xi, who told Art Radar:

The Last Vehicle is a comprehensive piece of work that conveys the artist’s continuous interest on how accelerating technology and culture affect human being.

Advancing technology makes convenience ghostly and magical, as a finger’s touch can connect us to the whole world without being physically present. The ambivalence between the real and unreal, however, has trapped human beings into loneliness and neurosis. Nadim Abbas’ The Last Vehicle furthers his metaphysical interrogation of constructed environments and the psychological neuroses inscribed therein. His work explores technologies of perception, culminating in the construction of a complex set of pieces where objects exist in an ambiguous relationship with their own image, and bodies succumb to the seduction of space.

Nadim Abbas, 'The Last Vehicle', 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

Nadim Abbas, ‘The Last Vehicle’, 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

Nadim Abbas, 'The Last Vehicle', 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

Nadim Abbas, ‘The Last Vehicle’, 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

At UCCA, Abbas transforms the Long Gallery into a single work entitled The Last Vehicle, dividing the space into “two separate but interrelated segments: part alien landscape, part domestic living quarters”, as the press release (PDF download) reveals:

The “vehicle” in question refers to a remote-controlled rover, fitted with a prosthetic eye and wireless transmitter, which relays live footage of the foreign terrain and its solitary inhabitant back to the sedentary view of an armchair explorer. The death of experience is re-enacted through the afterlife of images; multiple hallucinatory frames of reference played out in a perpetual cycle of ruin and regeneration.

Nadim Abbas, 'The Last Vehicle', 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

Nadim Abbas, ‘The Last Vehicle’, 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

The Last Vehicle resonates with audiences regarding the reality of the daily life of people trapped in their limited room, solitarily interacting with the visual world outside, which is between real and unreal, alive and dead, and made up of artificial intelligence versus human intelligence.

Xi tells Art Radar that Abbas’ works are derived from his multidisciplinary background and broad interests, and they reflect the transformation of modern society in Hong Kong:

The artist’s work dips into the city of Hong Kong and its culture, which can be seen in many elements and resources of Abbas’ works. For example, the psychology of local Hong Kong urban dwellers and how Hong Kong authorities would develop the city have been seen in his work like ‘I would not prefer to’ (2009), ‘Afternoon in Utopia’ (2012), and this new work [at UCCA].

Nadim Abbas, 'The Last Vehicle', 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

Nadim Abbas, ‘The Last Vehicle’, 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

I Would Prefer Not To (2009) is Abbas’ work tasked with patrolling an alien terrain via proxy. Here, the narrative of the explorer parodies a scientific community reliant on visualisations of physical phenomena produced from data sets collected by remotely operated instruments – a concern he has developed across several bodies of writing as well as Afternoon in Utopia (2012).

Nadim Abbas, 'The Last Vehicle', 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

Nadim Abbas, ‘The Last Vehicle’, 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

Nadim Abbas, 'The Last Vehicle', 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

Nadim Abbas, ‘The Last Vehicle’, 2016, mixed media installation with durational performance, dimensions variable. Installation view at UCCA, Beijing, 2016. Image courtesy UCCA.

In what UCCA refers to as “a seemingly condensed survey” of Abbas’ work to date, a previously unseen element of performance materialises as a representation of “the alien body”, with a figure enacting it clad in a pastiche of anime characters’ identities and emerging sporadically throughout the installation. UCCA aptly concludes:

A conceptual artist known to combine disparate cultural references, Abbas’ exhibition cascades meaning through diverse literary references and other linguistic play, akin to spending hours clicking through hyperlinks on Wikipedia.

Grace Ko

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Related Topics: Hong Kong artists, conceptual art, installation, new media, museum exhibition, emerging artists, events in Beijing

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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