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Contemporary art trends and news from Asia and beyond

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Archive for the ‘Documentary’ Category

Video artist Chen Chieh-jen premieres in UK with Empire’s Borders II

Posted by artradar on October 14, 2010


TAIWANESE ARTIST VIDEO ART UK EXHIBITIONS

Following his successful exhibition in the United States, Chen Chieh-jen (b. Taoyuan, Taiwan, 1960), an internationally acclaimed video artist, presents the UK premiere of “Empire’s Borders II – Western Enterprises Inc.” at the Chinese Arts Center in Manchester, UK.

The first iteration of Empire’s Borders, Chen’s critical response to the convoluted systems implemented as a result of Cold War policies, was featured in the Taiwanese Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009. In this commissioned work, Chen Chieh-jen examines the history of Taiwan within a globalisation context.

 

 

Chen Chieh-jen, Empire's Borders II, 2010, video still.

Chen Chieh-jen, Empire's Borders II, 2010, video still. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

The show, which runs from 2 October to 20 November this year, showcases a three-channel film installation including an autobiography of the artist’s father, a member of the Anti-Communist National Salvation Army (NSA), a list of NSA soldiers killed during the China offensive, an empty photo album and an old army uniform. Dr. Marko Daniel with Yu-ling Chou as assistant curated the show.

As profiled in the Taiwanese exhibition information on e-flux, “Chen Chieh-jen was born in 1960 in Taoyuan, Taiwan, and graduated from a vocational high school for the arts. He currently lives and works in Taipei, Taiwan. Chen created a series of photographic and video projects that re-imagine, re-write and re-connect his experience of living in a marginalised region and the intrinsic spirit of Taiwanese society, as well as propose possible ways of subverting dominant neoliberal logic.”

 

 

Chen Chieh-jen, Empire's Borders II, 2010, video still. Image courtesy of the artist.

Chen Chieh-jen, Empire's Borders II, 2010, video still. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

On Taiwanese-UK art blog +8 the artist’s career highlights are described: “He represented Taipei in the Venice Biennale in 2009, has been selected for Artes Mundi 2010, was included in the curated shows at the 1999 and 2005 Venice Biennales, the Liverpool Biennial 2006 and is showing in the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial in 2009-10. He has had solo exhibitions at the Asia Society, New York, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía 2008. In 2000, he was awarded the Special Prize at the Gwangju Biennale in Korea and in 2009 he was awarded Taiwan’s prestigious National Award for Arts for outstanding cultural achievement.”

The exhibition is produced as part of the Abandon Normal Devices (AND) Festival of New Media and Digital Culture in collaboration with the Chinese Arts Centre. It is also supported by the Council for Cultural Affairs, Taiwan.

MS/KN/KCE

Related Topics: Taiwanese artists, video art, art events

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Beijing first to host Arles program outside France

Posted by artradar on June 1, 2010


PHOTOGRAPHY FESTIVAL BEIJING EXHIBITIONS

In the first part of Art Radar Asia’s coverage of Beijing’s Caochangdi PhotoSpring (17 April-30 June, 2010) we presented the winners and semi-finalists of three photography awards. This article aims to explore some of the 27 photography exhibitions, several of which are from the long-established Les Rencontres d’Arles, with which Caochangdi PhotoSpring has partnered for the next three years. These Arles exhibitions are, for the very first time, being showcased outside of France.

Some of the Arles exhibitions seen in Beijing

Rimaldas ViksraitisGrimaces of the Weary Village won him the 2009 Recontres d’Arles Discovery Award. This Lithuanian born photographer has chosen to document the lives of his country’s village dwellers who, in order to face the difficult economic situation they are in, have turned to excessive drinking. Many of his subjects are intoxicated and the photographer’s portrayal of their nudity and often degrading behavior lends an air of the surreal to his images. This show, curated by Anya Stonelake and Martin Parr, was exhibited at the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre.

Rimaldas Viksraitis, Grimaces of the Weary Village, 1998, image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre

Rimaldas Viksraitis, Grimaces of the Weary Village, 1998. Image courtesy of Three Shadows Photography Art Centre.

A number of ’70s vintage prints by renowned Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama were also on display in a solo exhibition entitled Tono Monogatari – The Tales of Tono, presented with the cooperation of Taka Ishii Gallery (Tokyo) and Zen Foto Gallery (Tokyo). Moriyama was the winner of the No Limits Award at Les Rencontres d’Arles 2004 and his images of densely populated Tokyo districts are “characterized by blur, high contrast and rough printing.” His celebrated image of a stray dog, Misawa (1971), has come to describe both the dog and his style of photography: “ragged, savage and disoriented”. More recently his work has also been labeled “random, irrational and zero technique.” A Moriyama retrospective will be held 2011 at the National Museum of Art in Osaka.

Daido Moriyama, Misawa, 1971, Gelatin silver print, Courtesy of Taka Ishii Gallery & Caochangdi PhotoSpring

Daido Moriyama, Misawa, 1971, gelatin silver print. Image courtesy of Taka Ishii Gallery and Caochangdi PhotoSpring.

ArtMia Foundation showed the work of renowned photographer Lucien Clergue (b. 1934) who was one of the co-founders of Les Recontres d’Arles in 1969. This Arles native was a long-time family friend of Pablo Picasso and the exhibition, entitled Picasso Close Up, documents this friendship as well as other intimate views into the daily life of the painter. We get glimpses of Picasso as a father, husband and friend. We see him in a kimono, on an outing with his family, playing drums with musician friends, casually conversing with a cab driver or warmly engaging with Clergue’s daughter, who was Picasso’s god-child. This exhibition also featured eight original lithographs by Picasso.

Lucien Clergue, Picasso and Olivia C., Mougins 1967

Lucien Clergue, Picasso and Olivia C., Mougins, 1967

Another of the Arles exhibitions, Under the Skin, was held at the Galerie Urs Meile Beijing-Lucerne in collaboration with Juana de Aizpuru Gallery (Madrid) and featured the haunting portraits of Pierre Gonnord. These portraits are in a style reminiscent of the great Spanish masters and have come from two series. The first series, Utopians, portrays the underprivileged dwellers of Madrid. The second series, Gypsies, attempts to record the lives of inhabitants of an isolated part of Seville.

Pierre Gonnord, MARIA 2006, image courtesy Caochangdi PhotoSpring

Pierre Gonnord, MARIA, 2006. Image courtesy of Caochangdi PhotoSpring.

Mo Yi presented black and white photographs, video and an installation in his My Illusory City – 1987-1998-2008. The Tibetan-born artist has for most of the past thirty years chosen the city as his subject. He states, “the city has already become my long-term subject, and photography has become the most convenient language with which to transform this subject.”

Mo Yi, My Illusory City No. 5, silver gelatin print, image courtesy Caochangdi PhotoSpring

Mo Yi, My Illusory City No. 5, silver gelatin print. Image courtesy of Caochangdi PhotoSpring.

At Taikang Space a solo exhibition of two series by photographer and filmmaker Wu Yinxian (吴印咸), entitled Beijing Hotel-1975 and The Great Hall of the People, was on display. The former was completed toward the end of the Cultural Revolution and the latter in the early Eighties. These photographs were taken in an attempt to record the power and grandeur of the government at the time. His images are those of a bygone era, both in terms of changes in the political climate of China as well as the outdated furniture and faded patina.

Wu Yinxian, Meeting Room, 1975, image courtesy Caochangdi PhotoSpring

Wu Yinxian, Meeting Room, 1975. Image courtesy of Caochangdi PhotoSpring.

Future of Caochangdi PhotoSpring in limbo

We spoke briefly with RongRong, one of the directors of Caochangdi PhotoSpring, about the significance of this photography festival both for Beijing and China. “The Caochangdi PhotoSpring is the first major international photography festival in Beijing. It is an important event for photographers from all over China. Beijing is a global city that is convenient for a global gathering.”

However, the whole Caochangdi art district including the hub of the festival, the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, and numerous other independent and commercial galleries, have recently been slated for demolition and eviction notices given to all village inhabitants. The art district is being cleared to make way for a “culture zone.”

Read part one here: 3 young Chinese artists awarded prizes at inaugural Caochangdi PhotoSpring

NA/KN

Related Topics: photography, art prizes, venues – Beijing

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3 young Chinese artists awarded prizes at inaugural Caochangdi PhotoSpring

Posted by artradar on May 21, 2010


PHOTOGRAPHY FESTIVAL BEIJING AWARDS

As part of the launch of the first annual Caochangdi PhotoSpring festival, held in Beijing, China, from 17 April to 30 June this year, three young Chinese artists were awarded a prize for their outstanding work in photography. The three award winners were selected out of 20 semi-finalists who in turn had been chosen from over 200 submissions from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other parts of the world.

International panel of experts awards photography prize

A panel of international photography experts including Eva Respini (Associate Curator, Photography Department, Museum of Modern Art, USA), François Hébel (Director of Les Recontres d’Arles, France), Karen Smith (Photography Critic and Curator, UK), Kotaro Iizawa (Photography Critic, Japan), and RongRong (co-founder of the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, China) made up the members of the jury and selected the recipient of the Three Shadows Photography Award 2010.

The festival was directed by well-known artist couple RongRong & inri, founders of Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, together with Berenice Angremy. The director of Les Rencontres d’Arles, François Hébel, acted as guest curator. According to the event’s website, the award aims to support and encourage new talent and give them greater exposure both locally and internationally.

This year’s 3 winners

The winner of the third annual Three Shadows Photography Award and the 80,000 RMB cash prize was 28 year old Shandong province native, Zhang Xiao. In his They Series of 2009 he deals with ordinary people who, because of their jobs, are often relegated to the fringes of society. The artist describes his work: “In real life, they are a group of very ordinary people, with their own lives and careers, but in these photographs, they seem strange and absurd, and very unreal. Behind this ostentatious city there is always grief and tears, indifference and cruelty. I met them by chance and I longed to understand each of their lives and experiences. Perhaps our daily lives are all absurd. I long to understand the meaning of our existence.”

Zhang Xiao, They Series No.01, 2009. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre

Zhang Xiao, They Series No.01, 2009. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre

Winner of this year’s Shiseido Prize and a 20,000 RMB cash prize was Wang Huan. Born in Shandong Province in 1989, her Alley Scrawl Series (2009) of black and white images was taken of the people, animals and places of the small town of Zhuantang, near Hangzhou. The artist was drawn to recording the lives of its “simple, decent” inhabitants. “It was this simplicity that… made me want to record their lives and engage in this narration about life’s vicissitudes” says the artist.

Wang Huan, Alley Scrawl series No. 2, 2009. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre

Wang Huan, Alley Scrawl series No. 2, 2009. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre

The haunting black and white works of the winner of The Tierney Fellowship a and 5,000 USD cash prize, Huang Xiaoliang, deal with memory and a yearning for a better future. The Hunan Province-born artist (1985) presented his An Expectation or a New Miracle Series (2008-2009), with its shadows and dream-like images drawn from the artist’s memory. The artist states, “Many things from my memory appear in these works; these things are from scenes that I remember.”

Huang Xiaoliang. An Expectation or a New Miracle Series No. 15 2008-2009. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre

Huang Xiaoliang. An Expectation or a New Miracle Series No. 15 2008-2009. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre

Caochangdi PhotoSpring and Arles in Beijing

The photo festival was held at one of Beijing’s top art districts, Caochangdi. Caochangdi PhotoSpring partnered with 40 year old French photography festival Les Rencontres d’Arles. This is the first time that the Arles’ exhibitions have been shown outside of France.

Caochangdi PhotoSpring offered a myriad of exhibitions from 27 participant galleries featuring both Chinese and international artists. The festival also featured slide shows and discussions, documentary film screenings, book launches and even musical concerts. Some exhibitions and activities run into the month of July.

The main hub of activity, including the venue for the opening ceremony and the announcement of the festival winners, was at the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre. This centre, which was opened in 2007, focuses solely on photography and video art. The Centre was designed by Chinese artist/architect Ai Weiwei.

Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre

The courtyard of the Ai Weiwei designed Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing, China. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre

The semi-finalists: 20 young and upcoming Chinese artists

The semi-finalists, whose work was showcased at the Three Shadows Photography Centre Galleries, are: Chen Ji’nan, Feng Li, He Yue, Huang Xiaoliang, Li Chunjun, Li Liangxin, Li Yong, Liao Wei, Liu Jia, Liu KeMu Ge, Qi Hong, Song Xiaodi, Tian Lin, Wang Huan, Xiao Ribao, Xue Wei, Zeng Han, Zhang Jie, and Zhang Xiao.

Tibetan-born artist Qi Hong submitted hand-painted black and white images of the three gorges damn 15 years after they were taken with the intent “to gradually develop the landscape and life of the Three Gorges that I remember.” His images depict the inhabitants going about their activities of daily life such as boatmen pulling a boat against the current, or mountain inhabitants moving a house.

Qi Hong. Backpacker in the Ra, Three Gorges series. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre.

Qi Hong, Backpacker in the Ra, Three Gorges series. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre.

With regards to his Stone City Series 2009, He Yue states, “Cities are created by piling things up and such is the case with life and thoughts.” For example, in Moth (2009) we admire the beautiful pattern on the wings of a moth only to realize that it is resting on a toilet seat. Or in Electric cables (2009) we can still find beauty in the pink hued cloud that is hovering in the blue sky, even if this view is intersected by electric cables.

He Yue. Dove, 2009. City series. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre.

He Yue, Dove, 2009, City series. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre.

Li Yong presented his Daily Series 2006-2009 in which he documents the effects of rapid economic development in China and its often harmful impact on the environment. One of his photographs depicts a man fishing in a pond that has a partly submerged building in it without any concern as to how this might affect the toxicity of the fish he will later consume. Another depicts a man calmly sitting in the water surrounded by submerged buildings and trees heedless of its possible effect on his health. The artist states, “The people in these photographs are like me in the sense that we cannot change this environment; we can only indifferently accept it and calmly live in it.”

Li Yong. Fishing, 2008. Daily series. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre.

Li Yong, Fishing, 2008, Daily series. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre.

Song Xiaodi has no formal training but managed to capture the attention of the judges and the public with her images of fish and flowers in ultra-bright colours.

Song Xiaodi. Light Series, 2009. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre.

Song Xiaodi, Light Series, 2009. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre.

Haunting images of China’s Xinjiang region were taken between 2005-2009 by Tian Lin, her series, Children of Yamalike Mountain, depicts the inhabitants of the main shanty town in this region, known as the “slum of Urumqi.” These children, from migrant families, play and live in this dusty rubble with a sprawling modern city as their distant backdrop. According to the artist, tens of thousands of migrant workers from different ethnic backgrounds, such as Uighur, Hui, Han and Kyrghiz live here but with no legal papers or standing.

Tian Lin. From the series Children of Yamalike Mountain, (2005-2009). Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre.

Tian Lin, from the series Children of Yamalike Mountain, (2005-2009). Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre.

Taiwanese artist Xue Wei used a scanner to construct full-size images of her body. She had to scan her body section by section between 18 and 24 times to reach her desired effect.

Xue Wei. Self-Portrait - Side, 2005. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre.

Xue Wei. Self-Portrait - Side, 2005. Image courtesy Three Shadows Photography Art Centre.

For more information about the festival visit the website.

Watch for part two of Art Radar Asia’s coverage of Caochangdi PhotoSpring which will highlight a number of exhibitions including some from the Arles program.

Read part two here: Beijing first to host Arles program outside France

NA/KN

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{Inter}Viewing Possession with Leung Chi Wo, Hong Kong artist at Asia Art Archive – interview

Posted by artradar on January 19, 2010


HONG KONG ARTIST INTERVIEW

A viewing station of Leung Chi Wo's video work exhibition at the Asia Art Archive, entitled {Inter}Viewing Possession

The remarkable Hong Kong artist Leung Chi Wo explores the idea of possession and value in his fascinating installation exhibiton entitled {Inter}Viewing Possession, curated by Carl Cheng Chi-Ming and Livia Garcia.

Leung Chi Wo is a highly active artist in the Hong Kong community,  a co-founder of the internationally significant Para-Site Art Space, who graduated from the Chinese University of Hong Kong with an MFA in 1997.

He represented Hong Kong in the Venice Biennale in 2001, and has worked in the arts abroad in both New York and Italy.

Despite this, he says, “When I was young I never thought about becoming an artist, and even after studying art, I didn’t think I would become one.” He describes his art as a “contradiction of ideas,” and that he “likes to explore things that are not meant to be.”

Watch a video interview of Leung Chi Wo here on ChoochooTV Media Entertainment, which posts arts related video programs on [art]attack, Hong Kong web television.

His installation exhibit at the Asia Art Archive is comprised of 8 viewing stations, each similar in outward appearance to a telescope.

Regarding his process and intentions for {Inter}Viewing Possession, he says:

I want to express the idea of viewing, and possession is an association to the location we are at. We are situated on Possession Street, and close to here is Possession Point where the first Colonials arrived. Possession is also something we can all associate with. We interviewed people around this area regarding their possessions, objects that they treasure. During the interview, you are actually exercising your thinking about what you learn from the interview. I transcribed the interviews into a monologue. Then I interviewed the interviewers about their point of view when conducting the interviews, turning it into the second set of monologues, and combined it into the audio for this set of works. During the process, I want to explore what ‘value’ is and how to describe it. In my artwork, I want to put more thought into the context, when the artwork is exhibited, it should be very closely related to the environment. I hope the presentation of the installation can work with the situation it is in. The environment should also involve the audience, what you are showing the audience. What I meant by the environment doesn’t necessarily mean physical space, we must also consider the historical or cultural space and also the habitation of the people in that area.

The video works from this exhibition are also available for viewing on Youtube, and can be accessed through the links below.

{Inter}Viewing Possession- Video Channel 1 (Cantonese)

{Inter}Viewing Possession- Video Channel 2 (English)

{Inter}Viewing Possession- Video Channel 3 (English)

{Inter}Viewing Possession- Video Channel 4 (Cantonese)

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Trends and opportunities in the contemporary photography market

Posted by artradar on October 7, 2009


PHOTOGRAPHY MARKET TRENDS

At a seminar held in London in September 2009 organised by ArtInsight three London-based photography market experts from a fund, a gallery and a major auction house shared their views on the most promising opportunities and interesting trends in photography today.

We attended the seminar and have teased out surprising facts and intriguing assertions for you to mull.

Background to the photography market

  • First photography auction was held in 1971 initiated by Sotheby’s.
  • Over the past 15 years, this medium has out-performed every other major medium including sculpture, prints, painting and sculpture.

In its early history this sector of the art market encountered resistance with buyers concerned that the works were not unique and therefore were not a viable investment. The development of controlled limited editioning in the seventies helped allay fears and the market saw steady but modest growth.

This all changed in 1989/1990 which marked the 150th anniversary of the introduction of photography and the market experienced a 45% leap in sales. Further steady growth marked the next 15 years until 2005 after which sales took off. 2006 saw the highest price ever paid for a photograph …US$2.6m.

  • Today photography accounts for 2% of total auction sales compared with 75% for painting and 11% for drawing and watercolour.
  • Photography has proved to be one of the least volatile sectors in the art market.
  • 9 photographs have broken the US$1m level including work by Japanese-American Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Why has interest in and sales of photography increased?

Nobody know for sure but various reasons have been offered including relative affordability, the introduction of controlled editioning, a loyal customer base and increased market transparency.

Photography trends

There is growing interest and, arguably, opportunities in the following four subsectors of photography:

  • fashion and celebrity photography
  • reportage-style photography
  • phot0graphs recording ephemeral art forms such as performance art and land art
  • “slice of life” photography – a vernacular style dealing the everyday real life as its subject

Brett Rogers of the Photographers Gallery noted the development of a sub-genre she called “constructive fiction” which blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction crossing the techniques of the photo-journalist and fine artist.

In an interesting twist she forsees gains for collectors of photography books and advises buying first editions and examples of rare, early books. Explaining that books usually feature the very best of an artist’s work, photography books can deliver enormous joy as well as potential financial dividends.

Matt Carey-Williams, Director of Christies Post-War and Contemporary Art recommended photographs from the 1930s to 1950s – a seminal period in the development of photography as an art form – and which he believes are “massively undervalued”.

Global opportunities in photography

During question time, the panel was asked where they saw opportunities in emerging countries and the following recommendations were made.

  • Visit Sharjah and Biennial and Art Dubai to see interesting work from the Middle East and Iran.
  • Explore Central Asian countries.
  • Korea has huge potential.
  • Female Indian artists are producing some interesting work.

It was agreed that Chinese photography seemed “a little old” though Matt Carey-Williams said that it would look “remarkably fresh again in twenty years”.

Current challenges facing the market

Conservation of photographs– One of the most pressing challenges today is developing guidelines for acceptable conservation work. Colour photographs fade and some artists and galleries will ”refresh” (reprint) the works and some refuse. As museums are beginning to collect contemporary photography on a large scale, panellists felt that it was likely that this issue would be resolved

Is photography a separate genre? – Recognising that artists now work in many media. there are questions about whether it is appropriate or useful to dedicate parts of the market such as galleries or funds exclusively to photography. Matt Carey-Williams explained that as an auctioneer he regards artists as artists first and photographers second. Brett Rogers noted that this trend away from a specialisation in photography is due to a change in the way art schools teach. A consequence of a broadening of focus though is that less attention is given to technique. Image is more important than technique for young photographers today.

(Editor’s note: It is may also be a sign of market maturity – specialist focus marketing and promotion is necessary for an emerging section of the market. Today many if not most contemporary art galleries show photography as a matter of course. Just as photography is integral to and fully-accepted in today’s art world on equal terms with other media we at Art Radar are looking forward to the day Asian art is given equal weight with other geographies in art media and we can drop Asia from our name).

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Surprising new direction taken by cadaver artists and Saatchi stars: Sun Yuan and Peng Yu – interview

Posted by artradar on September 16, 2009


HONG KONG CHINESE PHOTOGRAPHY ART

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, born in the early 1970s and both alumni of the prominent Beijing Central Academy of Art, have a long-established  reputation in Asia for their controversial collaborative installations featuring animals, human tissue and baby cadaver specimens.

In the west they made a big splash in 2008 at the record crowd-drawing Saatchi exhibition of new Chinese art, The Revolution Continues with a satirical work called Old People’s Home (click for video). Both popular and critically-acclaimed, this life-sized 2007 work featured sculptures of decrepit old people “looking suspiciously like world leaders… now long impotent”‘ rolling slowly in wheelchairs around the gallery and occasionally crashing into one another.

Taking a surprising new direction, their exhibition Hong Kong Intervention (Aug 22 – Oct 10) at Osage Gallery delves into the working environments of Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong.

Each of the 100 Filipino participants took a photograph of a toy grenade placed in his or her employer’s home. Sun Yuan and Peng Yu talk with Wendy Ma about whether or not this experiment in spatial intrusion by Filipino maids creates tensions.

Toy grenade placed in the center of a dining room and the back of the Filipino maid. Image courtesy to Erin Wooters.

Toy grenade placed in the center of a dining room and the back of the Filipino maid. Photography by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. Image Courtesy to Erin Wooters.

AR: What inspired you to make photos with Filipino domestic staff?

Two years ago at a square in Central I observed the mass congregation of Filipino girls. I thought it was a very interesting situation since each one is connected to a family in Hong Kong. I started chatting with them and obtained their agreement to volunteer to do the photo shoots. Through them I could intervene in an relationship.

AR: Why do the photographs include the image of a toy grenade?

To intervene, I wanted to use a toy specifically bought in Hong Kong. It was up to them to place it anywhere inside their owner’s house, e.g. inside a garden, on the bed, blending it with the environment. Then they take a photograph of the scene. The toy is a legal product. When your kid plays with a toy grenade, you might find it cute, not dangerous. It was a chance for the participants to exercise their creativity. We wanted to use a very simple object to show how it can open up possibilities.

AR: Is it just a game or does it carry other implications?

It is a game because there are no real consequences. An example of something that is not a game would be the recent incident when a reporter threw a shoe at George Bush. However, it would’ve been a game had he said, “I’m going to throw it at you, first at your head then at your chest.” By not carrying it out, it would have remained just a concept. If something happens in reality, it changes the environment. But right now our work is only a photograph.

The proposition of the game is neutral. It doesn’t carry implications of danger. Last night someone told me that they treat their Filipino maids like guests.

Hidden toy grenade on the book shelve and the male domestic worker. Photography by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. Image Courtesy to Erin Wooters.

Hidden toy grenade on the book shelve and the male domestic worker. Photography by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. Image Courtesy to Erin Wooters.

AR: Why is the photograph of the back of the worker juxtaposed next to the surroundings?

Actually, neither the person nor the environment is significant. They are entities with no individual characteristics. Instead of specifying a particular being, I just want to describe a phenomenon.

AR: What have you found out about their lives and about contemporary Hong Kong society?

One third of the Filipino population live outside their country. They are a special group in Hong Kong. During the week they enter into the homes of different families. On Sundays, they bond and return to their own world. When they work, they disappear into the families of Hong Kong. They play different roles in their working and living environment. They use their culture to communicate. As for us, we work outside the family and we bond when we return to our home. For them, they enter our families to work. It’s the reverse.

Bedroom and Filipino maid. Photography by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. Image Courtesy to Erin Wooters.

Bedroom and Filipino maid. Photography by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. Image Courtesy to Erin Wooters.

AR: Why is the exhibition called Hong Kong Intervention?

Intervention in Chinese can be small (eating a crab) or large-scale (invading a country). It can be magnified in the imagination of readers. You can imagine the explosive possibilities of the toy grenade, despite the fact  that in reality it cannot explode. How the viewer perceives ‘intervention’ is beyond my control.

Intervention can be a strategy to communicate ideas. Ours is the study of a social phenomenon. It does not necessarily mean invasion or changing a situation as it does in the English expression “tossing a grenade”.

Words acquire different meanings in different situations. They cannot be precise. Words cannot express what you actually feel. So art is not expressed through words or titles but through a different means to pull you closer to the underlying meaning.

AR: Are you concerned that the proprietor might feel violated if he saw the photograph of his home on display?

We had no intention to expose individuals. Like I said, the photos of the maids and the homes are not meant to be specifically meaningful; they only a representation and a portrayal of the mass.

Bedroom of a Hong Kong owner and the Filipino maid. Photography by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. Image Courtesy to Erin Wooters.

Bedroom of a Hong Kong owner and the Filipino maid. Photography by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. Image Courtesy to Erin Wooters.

AR: What is the role/identity of Filipinos in your work? Creators, participants, or assistants?

I consider all the participants as collaborators: not just Filipinos, but also the audience involved in the discussions. They are common authors of the work. As part of the contract, we don’t have to give credit to them by listing their names as they transferred the copyright to us.

Contributed by Wendy Ma

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Editor’s note: This post is interesting to contrast with a recent exhibition at Para/Site in Hong Kong in which Filipino domestic helpers were invited to receive manicures given by the Australian artist collective Baba International.  Whereas Baba International sought to nurture and engage with their subject physically, the “‘Intervention”‘ exhibition carries intriguing tones of depersonalisation and violence. Baba was keen to explain the intentions behind their work whereas Sun Yuan and Peng Yu step away and allow the viewer to explore and fully shoulder the responsibility for interpretation.

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