“The Dynamics” showcases work by some of China’s foremost multimedia artists working with new media and time-based art.
Running until 30 November 2016 at ShanghART in Singapore, the exhibition features a range of multimedia artworks by Hu Jieming, Jiang Pengyi, Lu Lei, Shao Yi, Xu Zhen, Yang Zhenzhong and Zhang Ding.
Mention new media art, and the first things which might come to mind are a sense of ephemerality and insubstantiality – the evanescence of artworks which exist, in some sense, as particular arrangements of bits. Not so with “The Dynamics”, a largely new media-based group exhibition at Singapore’s ShanghART gallery, which places some emphasis on the notion of dynamism, in the sense of changing through time, rather than a specific insistence on digitality.
The first body of work likely to be encountered encapsulates this rather neatly: a selection from Jiang Pengyi’s series Inconsolable Memories (2015), specifically Number 1, 4, 18 and 19. Consisting of aged (dating to 1996) abstract Polaroid shots, the subtle change wrought on the film’s chemistry by the passage of time comes to the fore, highlighting the sense that even as we look at them, on some infinitesimal scale, the images remain subject to the inexorable progress of various chemical interactions – a notion with enough gravity that the specific images seem almost an afterthought.
Nearby, Xu Zhen’s The Last Few Mosquitos (2005) presents the unusual sight of colossal mosquitos in clear, wall-mounted vitrines. What’s going on is not immediately apparent, but the sight of power cables running into the installation (a recurring feature of “The Dynamics”) is a telling hint, as is the faint sound of some sort of mechanism in operation. Close inspection reveals a red fluid flowing steadily through the mosquitos, as if they were draining blood directly from the gallery walls.
Whether because of flaw or design, the pump mechanisms do not work properly. Apart from the rattling of its operation, a faint spatter of red on the wall suggested a leak in one of the mechanisms, while the other had apparently failed. While it could be mere mechanical failure, unexpected or planned, the alternative suggests layers of depth beyond “mosquitos sucking blood from the walls”, such as dysfunctions in the system (economic and political, for instance, or also directly related to the art market).
Continuing the theme of exposed wiring is Hu Jieming’s 100 Years in 1 Minute (2010) series, five examples of which find themselves arranged vertically, their cables falling and pooling beneath them, as if somehow growing like ivy. The series as a whole encompasses iconic works from the past century of art history, but in this limited instance the works cited are by Bruce Nauman, Carlo Carrà, Chaim Soutine, Zhao Wuji and Bradley Walker Tomlin, all of which have been animated in short loops. The effect is not unlike cinemagraphs, while their encasement suggests, perhaps, some notional method of sampling artworks for further study.
As a counterpoint of sorts to these comparatively technology and new media-based artworks, we might consider Shao Yi’s Psychiatric Centre Immateriality Status 1 (2016) and Yang Zhenzhong’s Passage No. 10 (2013), both of which consist, in large part, of material absent from any digital or electromechanical innervation. Shao Yi’s steel installation, for instance, consists of a galvanised steel plate folded according to the principles of traditional Chinese paper-folding, yielding a simultaneous sense of both delicate precision and the brute forces required to fold steel thus.
Meanwhile, the only painting in the exhibition, executed by Yang Zhenzhong, simply depicts a luridly lit corridor of some sort. What is unusual about it, as an oil painting on wood, is its sheer volume, with the shape of the wooden block conforming to the lines of perspective of the corridor – a doubled dimensionality. Yang’s other work in the show is Light and Easy 2 (2003), which riffs on the sort of perspectival tricks beloved of tourist photographs wherein the subject holds up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or kisses the Sphinx. In this case, the monument in question is Shanghai’s Oriental Pearl Tower, which Yang attempts to use to balance the city of Shanghai above him. This snippet of acrobatic absurdity hints, in its brief duration, at the overwhelming pace of urbanisation, both in China and elsewhere.
One of the most dramatic works in the exhibition forms its centrepiece of sorts: The Fountain of Crow (2015) by Lu Lei. Its most arresting aspect is its titular fountain, formed in the shape of a human heart, from which steadily flows a viscous deluge of tarry black engine oil. It traces the contours of the heart before slowly spattering into a basin below, set in a geometric stone plaza seemingly floating in the air.
That image alone, in its surreal, carnal intensity, is more than enough to make the work, but the inclusion of an ornamented gate and some link to Aesop’s fable of The Crow and The Pitcher renders the installation as a whole both dense and overwrought. Like Xu Zhen’s The Last Few Mosquitos, Lu Lei’s The Fountain of Crow also appears to be leaky, though in this case the sickly black spatter and its lingering hydrocarbon reek seem to harmonise with the overall aesthetic of stone and tarry oil.
Zhang Ding’s Enter the Dragon (2015) rounds out the exhibition, presented in its own dark room, separated from the rest of the artworks. While the video displayed is taken from a previous version of the artwork, an actual installation/performance of the same took place briefly in late September 2016 at another location in Gillman Barracks, to which comparisons can be drawn.
While the link to Bruce Lee’s final film is rather oblique, what cannot be mistaken is that the work operates as a sort of constantly evolving experience of light and sound, with the light being provided, in large part, by artfully choreographed laser projections and installation of rotating geometric objects with mirrored surfaces. Key to the production of this multi-sensory experience is the collaboration between musicians from disparate genres and methods of work, with the Singaporean edition featuring experimental musician Bani Haykal alongside Zhang Ding’s Control Club.
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