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Archive for the ‘Political’ Category

China to use “soft power” of arts for international influence

Posted by artradar on January 5, 2010


CHINESE ART AND POLITICS

China wants its own version of  Hollywood. An intriguing article in the Toronto Star examines China’s growing recognition that media and culture can be a powerful tool to spread political, social and economic ideologies beyond its borders much in the manner of the USA’s film industry.

The economic revolution in China began thirty years ago. Back then, there was nowhere to create or exhibit art works and the Chinese government hardly had time to think about art and international cultural standing. China was opened up to Western investment and the country has since surged toward becoming the world’s second largest economy. Now, China has begun to realise the power that can be gained by having a successful cultural industry.

“…a carefully calibrated gambit is playing out that links cultural production with economic development and the ruling party’s deep desire to shift from a service-first manufacturing centre to a serious, full-fledged player on the international stage.”

China is seeking the benefits of what it calls developing its “soft power”. The country has spent many years creating a booming primary and secondary industry and as a result has spent little time focussing on becoming a cultural world entity.

“…in modern China, soft power translates to a full-scale public relations campaign designed to bolster its image – and influence – by selling an in-tune, culturally savvy version of itself to the world.”

Considering China’s significant history in contributing to world culture in centuries past it is now seeing the value in developing its cultural identity again. China is opening itself up to the international art circuit and some of its artists are gaining widespread popularity and success.

The government is trying to use the arts to disseminate its political views to the world. China’s political administration increasingly views cultural production as a valuable tool for building a strong nation and is rapidly pouring millions of dollars of government money into this sector as well as opening it up for private investment.

1500 new museums to be built by 2015

“China plans to spend untold billions to build 1,500 new museums nationwide, most of them with budgets in excess of $100 million, by 2015. Meanwhile, the state-run media and entertainment bureaus announced this fall that they would spend billions themselves to help build gargantuan media and entertainment juggernauts to rival such American monoliths as Time Warner and News Corp., with the stated intent of producing content in multiple languages for export. It also said that increased private ownership, still under state scrutiny, would also be allowed.”

Many developments have been occurring over the years where old factories and former industrial areas are being rejuvenated by the government as new “art villages”, such as Beijing’s 798 Art District. These places consist of clusters of artist studios and galleries where art can be produced, viewed and sold.

798 art district third most popular tourist draw in China

“The 798 Art District has been a remarkably successful model. In its short life, it has become the third most popular tourist draw in the country, after the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. Dozens of such districts dot Beijing’s urban landscape. In Shanghai, an unofficial number has such areas at close to 300.”

Beijing's 798 Art District

While there may be a move by the government to celebrate local cultural achievements on a world scale, they still want to have control over the ideologies being expressed. However, more widespread access to and use of the Internet and digital cameras has allowed distribution of Chinese art works that critique party ideals.

“…a new kind of expression that has sprouted amid the state-mandated cultural flowering. It’s a thriving underground scene that, through the portability of technology and government indifference, is slowly beginning to promote an idea alien to Chinese thinking – that individual expression can find a place, and an audience, however small, outside the party machine.”

It seems China’s political powers hold an increasingly modern and accepting view in terms of developing the country’s cultural domain. However, even China’s most celebrated artists are finding that they still must toe the ideological line in order to continue to produce their work. There is a dark side to this cultural push and many artists have found out the hard way what happens to those who challenge the government of China.

This is a summary of How China is using art (and artists) to sell itself to the world (Murray White, Toronto Star).

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Posted in Asia expands, China, Chinese, Globalisation, Museums, Nationalism, Political, Social | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Curator Rosa Maria Falvo on emerging Central Asian art scene- interview

Posted by artradar on December 16, 2009


Way to Rome, by Said Atbekov, 2007. Uzbekistan.

Way to Rome, by Said Atabekov, 2007. Lambda print on dibond. Uzbekistan.

CENTRAL ASIAN ART CURATOR

Every industry has its gatekeepers, and the art world is no exception. In the complex world of identifying and valuing cultural and artistic significance, it is the curator who filters through the ‘noise’ to uncover the hidden gems that are relevant, and then presents that information in a meaningful and understandable way.

One may wonder how a curator becomes such an authority, worthy of deciding what fine art demands to be seen, and what does not. The engaged art enthusiast simply must know: who are these internationally active contemporary art curators, and what can they teach us?

Art Radar Asia catches up with Rosa Maria Falvo, an independent Italian-Australian based curator whose most recent project was the East of Nowhere show in Turin, Italy, which showcased artworks from Central Asia. She sheds light on the intriguing world of multicultural curatorship, the rising international interest in artworks from the likes of Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, and, most importantly– why Central Asian art is emerging onto the world scene now.

Where did you grow up and where were you educated?

RMF: I grew up in Melbourne, Australia, graduating with Honours in English literature at Monash University, majoring in theatre, psychology and sociology, and then completing a Diploma of Education. I have done various post graduate studies in Italy on language, art and culture, specialising in photography, cinema, and the 20th century avant-gardes.

Has this had any influence on your career in art, or your response to art?

RMF: I enjoy investigating differences and then looking for natural similarities. In the last 5 years I’ve really focused my curatorial thinking on the East–West dichotomy.

My Italian-Australian heritage has nurtured my open appreciation and desire for aesthetic and cultural reference points. I feel very fortunate to have this twofold awareness, which has given me unique insights and provides the foundation for my work.

Since 2000 I’ve been involved in promoting individual artists, designing exhibitions and contributing to publishing projects. As an independent writer, translator and curator I’ve established a fruitful international network.

In which countries and cities do you spend most of your time?

RMF: With dual citizenship, I live and work in both Italy and Australia, and travel regularly to various parts of Asia.

I do overland trips for long periods, such as throughout Myanmar, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Kazakhstan, Tibet, Mongolia, and Western China, meeting artists and collecting their work. These journeys are both personal and professional odysseys.

I’m particularly interested in the rich aesthetic traditions and contemporary responses of non-Western realities, and I collaborate with local artists, curators, galleries, museums and academic institutions in Europe, Asia and Australia…

I am the Asia-Pacific Publications & Projects Consultant for SKIRA International Publishing in Milan-Paris-NY. This involves establishing publishing and exhibition projects with major public and private museums, galleries, and artists throughout the Asia-Pacific Region.

Which cultures do you have a deep interest in or connection to?

RMF: I am deeply connected to Italy and also feel an affinity for Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, particularly Pakistan and India, given the many friends I’ve made and the cultural treasures I’ve experienced.

Dream, by Uuriintuya Dagvasambuu, 2003. Gouache on canvas 47 x 61cm

What types of art have you worked with in the past? Why those?

RMF: I’ve worked with Italian, Australian and Asian contemporary artists: sculptors, photographers, painters and designers.

I admire those who remain true to their own vision while mastering the technical excellence of their craft. How successfully they link the two is for me an indication of quality work, which is by definition powerful. Good artists are important cultural translators and visual conversationalists.

Do you collect art? If so, what is the most recent artwork you have bought?

RMF: I collect work on my travels, pieces that appeal to me aesthetically and intellectually. I take an interest in artists as people, and I like to know as much about their creative process and psychological view as possible.

The most recent works I have collected are by Adeel uz Zafar, a talented Pakistani painter and illustrator, working with notions of the larger-than-life canvas of life, and Uuriintuya Dagvasambuu, an emerging Mongolian painter who reworks the traditional Mongol zurag technique into contemporary themes.

Have you noticed a rising interest in Central Asian art?

RMF: There’s a rising interest in Central Asian art, because there’s tremendous shifting in this part of the world’s geopolitical and cultural realities. Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the ex-Soviet republics are pulling and pushing at an amazing speed.

There’s growing curiosity from those who know very little besides what is shown on TV and ever deepening analysis from those who have long been aware and well travelled.

The allure of ethnicity, exoticism and culture shock is often a visual pretext for the real essence of a show like this, which is to present an account of the changing face of contemporary Central Asia.

This international awareness is recent if you consider that the first Central Asia pavilion took place at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005, where newly established post-Soviet states Kazakhstan (with artists Khalfin, Maslov, Meldibekov, Menlibaeva, Tikhonova, Vorobyeva, Vorobyev), Kyrgyzstan (Boronilov, Djumaliev, Kasmalieva, Maskalev) and Uzbekistan (Akhunov, Atabekov, Nikolaev, and Tichina) represented a “regional group” curated by a Russian, Viktor Misiano. This heralded the development of the Central Asian art scene.

Emerging from a monolithic Soviet Union we see extraordinary complexity and fermentation on issues to do with struggle, conflict, and identity. That a place like Afghanistan nurtures its own contemporary art scene, however fledgling, is testimony to the unflagging spirit of special individuals dedicated to the arts. Rahraw Omarzad’s ‘Closed Door’ video provides a playfully eloquent metaphor for the obstacles facing ordinary Afghanis in the context of violence and corruption.

Have there been many Central Asian art shows, or was East of Nowhere introducing completely unseen art to Italy?

RMF: There have been few initiatives on Central Asian art outside Central Asia. ‘East of Nowhere’ was a natural and ambitious outgrowth of a previous premiere show entitled The Tamerlane Syndrome: Art and Conflicts in Central Asia in Orvieto, Italy (2005), curated by my expert colleagues, Enrico Mascelloni and Valeria Ibraeva, who each have 30 years of experience in this region of the world.

Men Praying on the Central Square in Bishkek, by Alimjan Jorobaev.

What kind of response did you get?

RMF: We’ve had very positive responses. This industrial area of Turin – Via Sansovino- is being redeveloped by Fondazione 107. Visitors have made a real effort to seek out this show and been impressed with the space, which is a beautifully reconverted warehouse. The variety of work and line up of both important and emerging artists has excited Italian and European media, which have been particularly complimentary; commenting on the panorama of talent and the contextual analysis of multiple narratives.

How do you personally measure the success of an exhibition?

RMF: I think a successful exhibition stimulates questions from those who were otherwise unaware of what is out there and raises the quality of debate amongst those who do.

Obviously, once there is growing public interest the art system brings the process of monetising art. Prices have certainly risen and it’s very interesting to watch what is happening in this part of the world.

What excites me is the open, honest and often young creative energy that has no direct dependence on a predetermined art market.

What themes do you see within Central Asian art, and why are they capturing the imagination of an Italian audience?

RMF: East of Nowhere offers a daring mix of impressions about a ‘Greater Central Asia’: accelerating globalization, contemporary nomadism, and pre-Soviet and Islamic traditions.

These 32 artists from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Mongolia take us beyond borders (which are not just arbitrarily reshaped, but often draw a blank in the minds of Westerns), violence, and Hollywood, into a new awareness of post-Soviet experience and ethnic affinities.

Said Atabekov’s Way to Rome, which is the cover image of our exhibition catalogue, recalls Marco Polo’s journey through Central Asia as the epitome of East-West encounters. For this photographic series Atabekov travelled throughout Kazakhstan, capturing daily life and landscapes, documenting the emblems of tradition and transformation. Of course, his work is also an ironic play on the ‘Path to Europe 2009-2011’ announced by Nursultan Nazarbayev in his presidential address to the people of Kazakhstan in 2008, which outlines his foreign policy for developing multilateral strategic cooperation with Europe in technology, power engineering, transport, trade, and investment. This promotion of Kazakh ‘prosperity’ highlights the paradoxical relations between Central Asia and Europe.

Alimjan Jorobaev’s Men Praying on the Central Square in Bishkek shows people praying with their backs to a sculpture exalting Lenin. Issues on collectivism, religion, identity politics, and nationhood are universal concerns, but they are in particularly sharp focus in this region of the world. I’m pleased to say that Fondazione 107 in Turin will continue to present projects based on the legacy of pioneering artists, curators, and collectors.

EW

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Sound art, trickery and time – interview Hong Kong new media artist Chilai Howard Cheng

Posted by artradar on November 12, 2009


HONG KONG ART

A portrait of the young artist Chilai Howard.

A portrait of the young artist Chilai Howard.

Chilai Howard Cheng, an ambitious young artist in his early twenties, draws attention to his video exhibition Stiffen Water at Para/Site Central, Hanart TZ Gallery in Hong Kong (5 Sep – 30 Oct). A fresh graduate of School of Creative Media and The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, also formerly educated in UK, Chilai is finding the limelight in international art shows – Barcelona, Seoul, Hamburg, and more – using innovative new media.

Just arriving from his part-time job in graphic design, Chilai loosens up in an interview with Art Radar. He talks about his deliberate manipulation of human perceptions with the sound of water dripping from five different sources, and more importantly, his mission to turn more people in Hong Kong from blind buyers into educated art admirers.

Q: Where were you born and educated and how did that influence your art?

I was born in HK. I went to high school in the UK and studied art there for 6 years. For university, I went to HKUST  (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) – creative communications design, and later CityU School of Creative Media. A tutor named Adrian Cooper, whom I met in high school, was very encouraging and recommended some artists such as Alberto Giacometti, a painter and sculptor. This influenced me to start doing some paintings and installations in his style. It’s hard to do installations in Hong Kong though – you need storage and a big studio. Video is easier to manage, so I chose that to begin with.

Q: When did you know you were an artist?

I don’t think I’m an artist. To me, artists no longer exist. R Picasso, Dali were artists because they invented and revolutionized styles and trends. Nowadays, most videos are imitations of the early cinema. At the moment, I call myself an art worker, hopefully an artist after 30 years. I believe that true artists are inventors, such as  Jeffrey Shaw , a media artist as well as the Dean of Creative Media who shaped media art. 

Q: Where did you get your inspirations for Stiffen Water?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stiffen Water by Chilai Howard, video, 2009.

Stiffen Water by Chilai Howard, video, 2009.

 

It’s actually a continuous work of final year project. I calculated the water drops from the beginning to the end of the five-day exhibition. In video-making, we take a micro-narrative approach. Since I want the audience to take a closer look at the water they drink, I decided to play with audience’s conscious and unconscious minds. Even though the video appears to freeze at times,  there is actually still motion in it.  Playing with the same concept, I once made an 18-minute video with scenes from Hong Kong in the sixties, yet in the end the characters revealed that it was in fact the year 2007, so I tricked the audience into identifying the time frame as the sixties.

Q: Why “stiffen”? Not “stiff”?

DSC_0035

Part of the installation work by Chilai Howard

I don’t have an answer because neither do I care much about the title of an artwork, nor do I find it an indispensable element. As a matter of fact, I believe a title ruins all the hidden surprises. I prefer to have my audience guess the subject of my artwork in the way they perceive it. If I were to give my artwork a random title, I would be inviting criticism. It should be the audience, not me, who should name it.

Q: What difficulties lie in the manipulation of the kinetics and sound of water (and to make sure that effects are suitable for the image)?

I had to make sure that the sound and image are synchronized. Basically, I mixed five different sources of water – toilet, shower, pipe, pissing, and water dripping into a tank, with one bass sound. The frequency and the pitches of all five sources are very different, and I had to decide where to place the high-pitch sound.

Q: What aspects of life are you trying to question through Stiffen Water?

Instead of appreciating water, we take it for granted since it’s always been with us. I have a preference for natural elements, such as wood, leaf, plant, trees, for my installations. In the UK, I once shot a bunch of leaves for many days to observe the changes in motion and light. 

Q: How does it differ from other video works of yours, such as Doors? Any particular favorite?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Doors by Chilai Howard, video, 2009

The Doors by Chilai Howard, video, 2009

 

While Stiffen Water is about the natural life, Doors focuses on a social issue. With a plethora of historical buildings under destruction, it’s important to know that ancient is not synonymous with obsolete. As I spent three days taking photos of the same image, I found the patterns of door’s opening and closing fascinating. China attempted to cut off everything from the UK when it took over Hong Kong, so I wanted to shed light on the significance of Star Ferry Pier to our country.

On the other hand, Body Gender is more of a balanced statement inspired by some of my female Hong Kong friends who believe that they’re not treated fairly in Hong Kong – although I think there is equal treatment for all.  By showing only body parts instead of its entirety,  I wished to create the illusion that “he” might be a “she”, or vice versa. 

Q: Next stop for the exhibition? How do reactions to Doors differ between Hong Kong, Barcelona, Seoul and Hamburg ?

The video will travel to Berlin and Taiwan. Right now Doors is in Hamburg. I wanted to go, but I stayed for this exhibition. I also carry a part-time graphic design job, but only for the money. The design industry is far too commercial and practical in Hong Kong, thus not conceptual enough as it is in UK. It’s hard unless you’re a famous designer. 

Q: Obstacles in your art career?

One advantage that Hong Kong has is its small size, which means a smaller art society than that in other countries. So it makes easier to expose your art in Hong Kong. The problem is that people here are not interested in art or art exhibitions. Instead of appreciating art and the history behind it, some buyers use it as pure decoration. Another obstacle is that it’s hard to expose Hong Kong art to the world. There are very few internationally renowned artists from Hong Kong compared with, say, Canada, so we don’t attract as many people to our overseas exhibitions. Due to political reasons, Chinese artists are not that exposed to the world either until recently the government relaxed its policies on art. The West loves traditional Chinese art and calligraphy, but some treat it as no more than decorations, too. 

Q: What key message do you want to convey through your art?

No fixed message, but I pay attention to political or social issues. For instance, the financial markets are Hong Kong’s main asset, but as companies begin to move their headquarters to Shanghai, what else will be left in Hong Kong then? We used to have factories, but they all moved to mainland. Even yuan is more valuable than Hong Kong dollars now. 

Q: Future endeavors?

I might go back to UK to study. But I will return to Hong Kong. This is my dream to expose Hong Kong art to the world. That’s why I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, to educate young kids. The art education here needs a lot of improvement. I have to be famous to acquire the credibility to convince people and change how they perceive art. 

Q: What are other graduates of your class doing? 

Not everyone wanted to be an artist. Some preferred to work nine-to-five shifts. Some became art administrators for organizing shows, while others entered the field of business, marketing, or advertising.  Everyone’s dream is different.

Q: Did you imagine yourself to be successful at a young age? Future exhibitions?

IMG_8900

Timeless by Chilai Howard Cheng, 2009.

I don’t consider myself successful, but I’m honored to be included in the exhibition. Success is when I can influence more people to appreciate art. That’s my dream. 

My new video Timeless will be exhibiting in October Contemporary. This time I will shoot a curtain to illustrate the patterns of light’s coming in and out, which reflects how time flies, and how both light and time are untouchable, abstract systems. In fact, I almost had the opportunity to exhibit my first installation there, but I missed the invitation email sent by Input Output. 

Q: You were accepted at Goldsmith College, University of London, Central St. Martins College of Art and Design. Why did you return to Hong Kong?

My art was rather renowned where I went to school in UK.  However, it’s common for westerners to like Chinese art because they find the integration of the west and east exotic. So I was dubious of my talent. I was confused about whether I were really good at art, or did they simply like my work due to the incorporation of oriental elements. To prove to myself that my artwork is worthy, I came back to Hong Kong and began everything from zero. I don’t regret the decision, especially now that I’ve started to hold exhibitions, an opportunity that would be hard to obtain in a much larger art society in UK.

WM/KCE

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Posted in Asian, Chilai Howard Cheng, Chinese, Doors, Gallery shows, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Artists, Installation, Interviews, Light, New Media, Photography, Political, Slow/fast art, Social, Sound, Sound art, Time, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Questioning “Made in China” – Interview Avant-Garde Beijing Artist: Huang Rui

Posted by artradar on October 28, 2009


CONTEMPORARY CHINESE ART

Artist Huang Rui standing in front of the Comerchina exhibition.

Artist Huang Rui standing in front of Shadow at Comerchina exhibition at 10 Chancery Gallery.

 Father of contemporary Chinese art, Huang Rui  is a Beijing artist who dares to think and act differently in a society that demands conformity. Prominent founder of the historically momentous 1979 Stars Group as well as the famous Beijing 798 Factory, Huang Rui showcases his exhibition Comerchina at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery (17 Sep – 10 Oct 2009) in Hong Kong.

Characteristic of his previous work such as “拆那(demolition)/China”, this series of new paintings called “Hall of Fame” is a collage that tweaks a pun on advertising imagery contributed by online participants.

In an exclusive interview with Art Radar, Huang Rui explains the layers of political and economic connotations in Comerchina, the difficulties facing art in this consumer society and the impossibility of escaping political scrutiny.

Q: Why is the exhibition called Comerchina?

ComerChina coverThe theme is related to commercialization and China. Ever since the 1990’s, China has become more and more commercialized in three aspects.

First, politics is becoming a servant of commerce. Second, commerce is labeled with cultural slogans. Third, the entire structure of society is changing and, as an integrated society,  is very dangerous.

 It’s different from a global society, which is only an element of an integrated society. It’s not a dictatorship, but rather a particular organizational system.  

Politics, the demand for a rise in economic standards and personal interests means that other important concerns such as art are being sacrificed. We need to reflect, criticize, and protest.

Q: How do your new paintings and installations in this show speak to over-commercialization and the power of money in China? What do the numbers represent? 

Hall of Fame 1-25 by Huang Rui, silk-screen printing/collage/canvas, 45X60X25cm pieces, 2009

Hall of Fame 1-25 by Huang Rui, silk-screen printing/collage/canvas, 45X60X25cm pieces, 2009

If someone attacks you, you attack him as well. It’s a natural response. In my work, the number represents you and me, since everyone uses cell phones. In the work of a 100-yuan bill with Mao, there are 100 numbers. 100 out of 100 represents an integrated society. “Made in China” refers to the global economy and the power of cooperation.

Q: How do you see contemporary art in China evolving? Where is it going (the trends)? Would you consider yourself a trend leader?

 

 

Chairman Mao Wan Yuan by Huang Rui, 128X88X4.6X6cm, 2006

Chairman Mao Wan Yuan by Huang Rui, 128X88X4.6X6cm, 2006

 

 

Huang Rui’s take on trends in Chinese contemporary art

It’s getting more commercialized, there is more variety and commerce is a factor that makes cooperation indispensable. Chinese society in the South including Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Shenzhen are producing imitation art. Hong Kong is focused on business, so real art is hard to develop. Artists in Hong Kong either have to bear with it or move out. It’s not up to the individual artists to enforce change. Our power is confined to criticizing and perhaps creating new structures or models, new thinking, and making proposals. To lead changes in the art world, it is up to the social elites, the politicians, and the urban planners.

Q: In your work Shadow, the characters taken together mean “maintain dictatorship of the proletariat”**. Would this work be permitted in mainland China?

 

Shadow(1-25) by Huang Rui, 90X60X27cm, oil on canvas, silkscreen lithograph, 2009

Shadow(1-25) by Huang Rui, 90X60X27cm, oil on canvas, silkscreen lithograph, 2009

 

 

It is now permitted, but this only happened recently. There were a lot of controversies with the Twin Tower (2001), which comprised layers of words and political expressions. My intent was to draw an analogy. The Twin Towers in New York were a symbol of menace as well as a political and economic strength. Likewise, the thinking of Mao and that of Jiang Ze Min are symbols of power yet also have tones of menace. Another work of mine that was banned from exhibition was “Chairman Mao Wan Yuan“(2006) [Note: wan sui in Chinese refers to “longevity” or “10,000 years”. The character wan also means 10,000.]

Many of my works were not just banned in China, but also elsewhere such as Japan, where I used to live. In 2005, there was a 3D Asian Art Fair in Korea and Singapore, but the Consulate General of China protested against the exhibition of my work.

**note: In the Commerchina book that Huang Rui gave me, there are pages of quotations by Mao categorized respectively under upholding, proletariat, classes, and dictatorship

Twin Tower by Huang Rui

Twin Tower by Huang Rui

Q: Tell us about your activity as an artist against political force.

I participated in the Wall of Democratic Rule (1978-1981) in Beijing. With Deng Xiao Ping’s permission, people could voice their opinions, until Deng Xiao Ping withdrew the democratic wall in 1980. I also participated in an underground magazine about arts and literature.  In 1979, I founded the Stars Group of 1979 along with other members. Just search on the web and you’ll easily unearth a lot of information about the group.

WM/KE

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Posted in Activist, China, Chinese, Collage, Consumerism, Cultural Revolution, Hong Kong, Huang Rui, Logos, Mao art, Money, Numbers, Political, Profiles, Words | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Why do critics like Zhang Huan but not his show? Live pigs installation at White Cube 2009 – review roundup

Posted by artradar on October 20, 2009


CHINESE ANIMAL INSTALLATION ART REVIEW

Zhang Huan is known for his performance acts of physical and psychological endurance. This time, however, he left that act up to a couple of pigs.

Zhang Huan’s first show at White Cube

Zhang’s first exhibition Zhu Gangqiang at the White Cube Gallery in London (to October 3rd 2009) featured two live pigs in a make shift pigpen. The pig duo were intended by Zhang to stand in for a remarkable pig in China that survived for 49 days under debris after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed more than 60,000 people.  Now known as the “Zhu Gangqiang” or “Cast-Iron Pig”, the rescued pig has subsequently achieved celebrity status in China for its miraculous tale of survival.  

Zhang’s exhibition was to pay homage to the remarkable Cast-Iron Pig; critics, however, found the exhibition wanting.  For some, the live pig production was far less impressive than Zhang’s portraits of human skulls and the Cast-Iron Pig that comprised the rest of the exhibition. Here is a selection of their reviews:

Zhang Huan "Zhu Gangqiang", 2009 (installation view)

Zhang Huan, Zhu Gangqiang, 2009 (installation view) Two Oxford Sandy and Black gilts, straw, wood, plants, soil, DVD projection, DVD, plasma screen, sound and vinyl

Just a headline grabber

Mark Hudson, writing in The London Daily Telegraph, speaking on behalf of London audiences, declared that large-scale ‘playful’ exhibitions like Zhang’s are no longer inspiring to local audiences:  “We’ve grown so used to headline-grabbing fun-art installations,” he writes, “that Zhang’s pigs feel like just another addition to a list that includes Carsten Holler’s slides in Tate Modern and Antony Gormley’s plinth project in Trafalgar Square.”  

For Hudson, the highlight of the show was Zhang’s depictions of the rescued pig made out of burnt incense rather than the live pigs in the pigpen-utopia (where the pigs appear to have plenty of straw, a football and tire to play with, and exotic plants to eat).

The pig portraits demonstrate the most interesting aspect of Zhang’s work to the Western audience, which is, according to Hudson, his “ambivalence with which he blurs Eastern and Western traditions. The way he offsets strategies borrowed — apparently — from Western operator-artists such as Joseph Beuys and Jeff Koons with scarcely fathomable Oriental philosophy is refreshing in a contemporary art scene in which much has become painfully predictable.” 

Hudson concludes the review by cautioning Zhang not to fall into the trend of artists who have exhibited at the White Cube (such as artist Damien Hirst) and have since become “brand over content.”  According to Hudson, the current prices and high profile of Zhang’s exhibition demonstrates that he “may already be in danger of losing his value as a voice from elsewhere.”

Zhang Huan "Zhu Gangzing", 2009

Zhang Huan, Zhu Gangqiang, 2009- Ash on linen

 

The London Evening Standard’s Brian Sewell, however, disagrees: “I think him [Zhang Huan] a better, wiser and more contemplative artist than…these Western models.”

Tate Modern berated

Sewell’s review describes Zhang’s remarkable and prolific history of performance art works and details the symbolic force they have had on audiences.  He emphasizes Zhang’s mystical mastery of his work and goes so far as to berate the Tate Modern for not yet having acquired any of Zhang’s work for their permanent collection.

Unfortunately, the glowing description of Zhang’s oeuvre to date ends with his exhibition at the White Cube Gallery.  Sewell highlights the element of the exhibition that troubled most critics: the insincere relationship between the live pigs and their audience. “Visitors are invited to lean on the fence,” he writes, “and like Lord Emsworth in the PG Wodehouse novels and Jay Jopling’s father (once Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food), admire these little Blandings beauties and contemplate. But contemplate what? The leap from the amusing comforts of the urban farm to the tragedy of Sichuan is far too great for me to see in it pathetic fallacy.”

Zhang Huan Felicity no.3, 2008

Zhang Huan, Felicity no. 3, 2008- Ash on linen

For the London Times art critic, Waldemar Januszczak, it is a similar story of incongruity. He admits that Zhang’s live pigs were “lovely,” but continues that they were, in fact, “too lovely.”

Trite “Greenpeace story”?

After looking at the exhibition in its entirety, Januszczak found himself troubled by how trite and shallow the exhibition’s “contemporary Greenpeace story” seemed to be: “How dare this pampered modern artist, showing in the plushest gallery in the plushest corner of London’s Mayfair, toy so glibly with Buddhism and death, with human survival and the real meaning of the Sichuan earthquake? Even the accompanying video, in which Zhang retells the pig’s story, is so badly shot that it constitutes a disgrace.”

Human skulls better than live pigs

Zhang’s portraits of human skulls were more favourably received.  Januszczak described them as “just about haunting enough to survive their awful familiarity…Zhang’s skulls…are particularly bare and vulnerable.” This positive reaction to the portraits led Januszczak to conclude that Zhang “is a better artist than this show suggests.”

Links: Zhang Huan website

RM/KE

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What is the next step for the development of Chinese art? BBC video

Posted by artradar on October 14, 2009


CHINESE CONTEMPORARY ART AND PROPAGANDA POSTERS

In a BBC clip made for the 60th anniversary of Communism in China, one of our readers Dr Katie Hill of the University of Westminster in London, traces the development of the visual image in China from political propaganda posters of the fifties and sixties to the reactionary works of contemporary artists such as Xu Bing.

Mao propaganda posters

Today she says there are ‘thousands’ of people visiting the Ullens Center and 798 District in Beijing every day, encountering and studying art for the first time. She has no doubt that China will become a significant centre for art production in Asia and suggests that perhaps the next step will be the development of a deeper political consciousness of the need to support art.

This would make an interesting reversal of the early relationship between Communism and art. At the birth of Communism sixty years ago art was harnessed to support Communism.

See BBC video: Art and politics in China

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Stop…look again! Work of Iranian activist artist Parastou Forouhar is not what it seems…

Posted by artradar on September 22, 2009


CONTEMPORARY IRANIAN ART

For a revealing insight into contemporary art and its relationship with political and gender issues in Iran today, don’t miss this intriguing interview with Parastou Forouhar in which she describes how she challenges viewers to take a second look.

Parastou Forouhar

Parastou Forouhar, from Series II, Tausend und ein Tag, 2009.

Art by Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar takes on political proportions with her intriguing delicate imagery of torturous acts being perpetrated by Iran’s authoritarian regime.

Political violence is a deeply personal issue for the activist artist, whose parents were the victims of a politically motivated murder in Iran.

In an interview with DB Art Magazine, she discusses this trauma and her artistic style of creating beautiful ornamental artworks, which upon closer inspection reveal twisted scenes of cruelty.

Forouhar, who is now based in Germany, has exhibited at the 2nd Berlin Biennial in 2001, the Global Feminisms show in 2007 at the Brooklyn Museum of Modern Art, and her works can currently be seen in Iran Inside Out — a comprehensive exhibition at the New York Chelsea Art Museum. However, at the moment the artist is “more involved with politics than with art.”

Forouhar says she consciously intended for viewers to first see her ornamental images and feel they are beautiful, and then become shocked when the true subject matter becomes apparent. She says:

I challenge the viewer to take a second look. At first glance, you see the beautiful pattern and think you’ve understood it. And then you get a little closer and realize, no, it’s completely different, I didn’t understand anything at all. To challenge the viewer to take a second look is exciting to me. The viewer is thrown back on himself and is forced to reevaluate his perception.

This compelling interview also covers whether Islamic art is becoming ‘more Catholic’, (and yes, she agrees it is leaning more towards visual Islamic-pop elements and ritual), and questions the attitude of the young male Iranian generation towards their patriarchal past (they are reportedly ‘fed up’ with the traditional masculine character.) Read full interview here.

-contributed by Erin Wooters

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Iran Inside Out review round up – 56 artist survey show in New York described as mesmerising, a privilege

Posted by artradar on September 3, 2009


IRANIAN ART SURVEY

56 contemporary Iranian artists are presented in the attention-grabbing and timely  Iran Inside Out exhibition at Chelsea Art Museum in New York (June 26 – Sep 5 2009).

Surprisingly – or perhpas not – only 35 artists in the show reside inside Iran and the other 21 dispersed outside Iran. Together they contribute 210 works of painting, sculpture, photography, video, and installation on themes such as gender, war, and politics. Complemented with forums and film screenings, theatre performances, music recitals, and panel discussions, Iran Inside Out is part of Chelsea Art Museum’s 2008-2009 “The East West Project”. 

In this round up, art experts and critics from the New York Times to the Huffington Post give their perspectives on this exhibition and report that they are enthralled, mesmerised and surprised.  In this rich and challenging show unexpected findings and themes abound. Be sure to scroll down and read Huffington Post’s Marina Bronchman who discovers a controversial new view of the veil and its effect on sexual and gender expression.

 

Pooneh Maghazehe, Hell's Puerto Rico Performance Still, Digital C-print 2008 copyright artist and courtesy Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller Gallery
Pooneh Maghazehe, Hell’s Puerto Rico Performance Still, Digital C-print 2008 copyright artist and courtesy Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller Gallery

 

 

Chelsea Art Museum: Curators Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath

The curators explain that Iran Inside Out defies the traditional perceptions of Iran and Iranian art:

An intimate look into the people, both inside and outside a country that is more complex than images of veiled women, worn out calligraphy and what a handful of other emblematic images would suggest…an examination of the means through which a young generation of artists is reconciling the daily implications of cultural and geographical distances with the search for individual artistic expression…offers an unexpected insight into the artistic energy of a culture that is constantly evolving as Iranians living both in and out of the country, come of age living and working in contentious societies.

(Art Radar editor note: the curators of Saatchi’s Middle Eastern show ‘Unveiled’ (in which Iranian art predominated) earlier in 2009 also claimed to go beyond the ‘worn out’ to present a more nuanced and alternative view of art from the Middle East – this was hotly contested by some reviewers who were surprised to find that, on the contrary, bloodshed, repression and gender inequality were ubiquitous and courageously expressed. See related posts section below for the review round up of  Saatchi’s show).

 

Yet there are differences between insiders and outsiders say the curators:

Ironically, contrary to one’s expectations, the artists living abroad often draw more on their cultural heritage, while those on the inside focus more on issues of everyday life without much regard to what ‘the outside’ views as specifically Iranian references. Yet, within these disparities, one element stands strong: the recurrent references, sometimes ambiguous, at times emotional, often nostalgic and on occasion satirical and even tragic to Iran the country, Iran the past, the Iran which has been lost and that which could be found.

New York Times: Holland Cotter

Holland Cotter elaborates on how Iranian cultural references run through the show in this 30th-anniversary year of the Iranian revolution. For this critic, whether inside or out, artists are in touch with their cultural history. 

Golnaz Fathi, who lives in Tehran, walks the line between calligraphy and abstraction in his paintings; so does Pouran Jinchi, who lives in New York. The heroic epic called “The Book of Kings” is given an action-hero update by Siamak Filizadeh of Tehran, but also in film stills by Sadegh Tirafkan, who spends part of his time in Toronto.

 

“Zaal arrives to help Rostam, ROSTAM 2 The Return” by Siamak Filizadeh(2008)
“Zaal arrives to help Rostam, ROSTAM 2 The Return” by Siamak Filizadeh(2008)

 

 

Female artists are  given the spotlight, too:

Alireza Dayani’s fantastical historical drawings; Newsha Tavakolian’s photographic study of a transsexual; Saghar Daeeri’s paintings of Tehran’s boutique shoppers; Shirin Fakhim’s sculptural salute to the city’s prostitutes. Abbas Kowsari documents cadet training for chador-clad female police officers in Tehran. Less interestingly, Shahram Entekhabi draws chadors in black Magic Marker on images of dating-service models.

However, not all of them advocate social causes. Some artists employ a less aggressive tone:

Ahmad Morshedloo’s tender paintings of sleepers, Reza Paydari’s portrait of school friends and the mysterious little films of Shoja Azari are in this category.

Nevertheless, ambiguity does not equate with absence of politics in these artwork: 

Repression both inside and outside Iran is under scrutiny in a piece by Mitra Tabrizian about the roles of both the West and Muslim clergy in Iran’s modern history. In photographs by Arash Hanaei, brutal scenes from the Iran-Iraq war and Abu Ghraib are played out by bound and gagged dolls.

Flavorpill New York: Leah Taylor 

 

Sara Rahbar, 'Flag #5', 2007. Textile/mixed media, 65x35 inches
Sara Rahbar, ‘Flag #5’, 2007. Textile/mixed media, 65×35 inches

 

Taylor praises Iran Inside Out as one of the timeliest exhibitions in history:

With violence and political unrest roiling in that country, this exhibit takes a closer look at its inherent contradictions, tradition, culture, identity, and struggle — especially as faced by its younger generation of artists. As gruesome descriptions and footage of the election-protest clampdown continue to slip through Iranian censors daily, having Iran Inside Out‘s creative insight into the country seems a privilege, indeed.

Huffington Post: Marissa Bronfman

Shocked and enthralled by the creative artwork at the exhibition, Bronfman comments: 

A sense of duality was apparent in all the various pieces I saw at the exhibit, and there is an interesting geographical duality influencing the artists as well. The artists still living in Iran must struggle with avoiding government censors while not compromising with self-censorship, and those living outside strive to assume an “unlabeled artist-status” within a West-centric contemporary art world. The museum reminds us of their important commonality, however, such that all 56 artists desire to “establish an individual artistic identity free from the stigma of “stereotype” and “locality.” 

She explains what draws her the most about the Tehran Shopping Malls by Saghar Daeeri:

 

Saghar Daeeri, Shopping Malls of Tehran - Acrylic (Aaron Gallery).
Saghar Daeeri, Shopping Malls of Tehran – Acrylic (Aaron Gallery).

The paintings came to life with a stunning palette of vibrant colors and women depicted in a grotesque, almost fantastical rendering. Heavily made up faces, lacquered nails and peroxide hair instantly made me think these Iranian women were influenced by typical American ideals of beauty. However, Hanna Azemati, who works at CAM and presided over the show, offered a wonderful perspective that I hadn’t originally considered. She told me that, “Because of the compulsory veil, women express their femininity through venues that are allowed in exaggerated ways. They resort to excessive make-up, overdone highlighted hair, thin eyebrows, long colored nails and even suggestive behavior.” This dualism that Iranian women must grapple with, between veiling and self-expression, was communicated with profound contradiction and was really quite mesmerizing.

Contributed by Wendy Ma

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Thai Chinese artist Nipan Oranniwesna shows installation art made of baby powder in Hong Kong – review

Posted by artradar on August 25, 2009


THAI CONTEMPORARY ART IN HONG KONG

Is national identity still relevant within our globalized world, which is more interdependent than ever before? Where do we get our identity, and what does baby powder have to do with it? Art Radar talks with the renowned Thai contemporary artist Nipan Oranniwesna at the Osage Gallery in Kowloon, Hong Kong before the opening of his latest exhibition Being….. at homE.

Napin

Storytelling through sight, smell, and unexpected mediums

Nipan Oranniwesna had a big job ahead of him when he arrived in Hong Kong for his exhibition at the Osage Gallery, perhaps the most respected experimental art gallery in Hong Kong. In only 4 days, he would create 2 massive installation exhibits that sprawl across the floor of Osage’s Kwun Tong gallery space in Kowloon, which are sculpted out of only baby powder. Not just any baby powder either, mind you. Nipan’s baby powder installations require the signature scent of a product by Johnson & Johnson that is only available in Thailand, and countless packages needed to be flown into Hong Kong for the artist’s materials. The exhibition is essentially a story, and is complete with 3 narrative installation works that consider identity and the idea of home on a global scale, a national scale, and ends considering the idea of home and connectedness to one’s personal space.

Napin_2

Powder cities demonstrate fragility

The result of Nipan’s labor is astounding. The exhibition, titled Being….. At HomE questions the validity of nation-based identity within modern society. The first piece of the show, City of Ghost, is a massive cityscape made of baby powder that depicts 13 major metropolitan cities of the world as interconnected. A similar work of his was also on display at the 2007 Venice Biennale for 6 months, and other sprawling works of sculpted baby powder cities have sold to private collectors, fetching up to $20,000 USD. Nipan explains the meaning of this work:

“Every country is nationalistic, but is it real, or does it just manipulate our thinking? This piece challenges personal and national identity. We think we are Thai, but the interconnectedness of this work demonstrates a question… I used baby powder because global society is both beautiful and fragile. The smell of the specific brand was important, as I wanted this to be a full sensory experience, with a stronger, more serious scent.”

Napin_3

Chinese National Anthem in powder suggests vulnerability

The next piece, titled ...with our flesh and blood, examines the idea of home and identity at the national level, depicting the Chinese national anthem written in baby powder. Accompanying framed works also show the Chinese anthem created from small pierced holes on paper, creating a braille-like version of the lyrics. Through these works, Nipan was subtly suggesting the vulnerability of basing personal identity on one’s nationality or ethnicity.

Nipan_4

Come home, take off your shoes.

The last piece of the show, Narrative Floor, brings the audience to the most intimate interpretation of place and identity, the home. The piece invites viewers to get involved, take off their shoes and walk on the work, which resembles a hard wood floor inlaid with photographic ‘rain drops’. Upon closer inspection, these raindrops are revealed to be small scenes from Hong Kong, China, and Thailand. Nipan admits this piece reflects his heritage; he is ethnically Chinese, but native to Thailand. The work begs the question, when a person is connected to different places, where is home? Nipan suggests everywhere that touches someone becomes a part of him, and all of those places are his home. The piece invites viewers to take off their shoes, sit down, and even lie down, demonstrating home is a feeling that can be felt anywhere one happens to be.

It’s easy to miss the meaning

The last work, Narrative Floor, is decidedly different from the other pieces, most notably because it does not use baby powder. Nipan explains:

“I wanted to use a new language. Baby powder is just one language….. I deal with the perception of the viewer, especially using distance, the space between people and artwork, the space between people and other people. This is what I access in my work. In this piece you come inside…

The exhibition is also full of clues of meaning that could be easily missed. Nipan reveals:

Every piece and work is like a sign. The way to read the exhibition is to look for the signs, issues, even though they are almost hidden, very subtle… The red in this room suggests the color of the Chinese flag. The 5 dots that are present in the exhibition title are a reference to the 5 stars on the Chinese flag. The capital letters in the exhibition title Being….. at homE are a reference to the space between the word ‘be.’ I am concerned with what lies between. Of course my work can be read in other ways, and that is okay. But I want to deal with this triangle of me, Hong Kong, and China.

Problem: Fragile art gets harmed

The delicate nature of the work is part of the art’s significance, and also leads to inevitable mishaps. Staff at the Osage Gallery mentioned they considered turning down the air conditioning to prevent air flow from disturbing the powdery surface, and Nipan cheerfully recalled the footprint he discovered in the Venice Biennale’s installation.

Solution: That’s OK.

He explains that damaging the artwork is not encouraged, but minor accidents are natural and ultimately contribute to the participatory quality of the work, relating it to viewers. Such an attitude is wise, considering the tours of school children that parade through the gallery. Furthermore, upsetting the fragile medium reinforces the essence of the work. Nipan proves although something is not meant to be broken, it may still be far too easy to destroy.

Nipan’s exhibition is among 2 others on display at the Osage Gallery in Hong Kong. Other exhibited artists include Cheo Chai-Hiang from Singapore, and Sun Yuan & Peng Yu (China). The exhibition runs from August 21-October 4, 2009.

-contributed by Erin Wooters

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Bangkok museum opens with seminal survey, a who’s who of Thai modern contemporary art- Nov 08

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Posted in Biennials, Chinese, Hong Kong, Installation, Large art, Nationalism, New Media, Nipan Oranniwesna, Participatory, Political, Reviews, Shows, Space, Thai, Uncategorised, Venice | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

80 per cent of Iraqi artists live elsewhere – Creativity vs Destruction review

Posted by artradar on July 23, 2009


IRAQ ART REVIEW

Around 80 per cent of Iraq’s artists now live elsewhere but many are still driven to explore events in their former homeland, as is shown in Creativity vs Destruction, a group exhibition of Iraqi art in Edinburgh, part of the Reel Iraq Festival. A review in the Scotsman explains that although the title pits creativity against destruction, the work displayed suggests a more subtle relationship between the two.

Here is an extract from the review:

Hanaa Mal Allah, who is regarded as one of Iraq’s foremost female painters, left Baghdad in 2006 under the Scholars at Risk Scheme which helps academics whose life or work is threatened in their home country. Her two large canvases, from a series called Vivid Ruins, are creative works born of destruction – canvas which has been burned, cut, patched together and pierced with threads and twigs. Hung in the middle of the Roxy’s subdued, ecclesiastical space, they are both painful and beautiful.

Hanaa Mal-Allah, The Map of Iraq 2008

Hanaa Mal-Allah, The Map of Iraq 2008

In a small, darkened side chapel, she presents three smaller works, including a book in which the pages, though similarly damaged, show fragments of Arabic writing and patterns. They speak of the way a culture is destroyed by the looting of its artefacts and wrecking of its sites; how its sense of itself is reduced to fragments. This is complex, mature work, elegiac rather than angry – all the more remarkable for being achieved in the midst of ongoing destruction.

Wafaa Bilal takes a more confrontational approach. Arrested and tortured for his political artwork under Saddam Hussein, he now lives in the United States. He lost his father and brother in the most recent war.

Wafaa Bilal dodges paintballs

Wafaa Bilal dodges paintballs

In Domestic Tension: Shoot an Iraqi, an interactive performance work, Bilal lived in isolation for 31 days in a Chicago gallery where visitors – or viewers online via a 24-hour webcam and automatic setup – could operate a paintball machine to fire at him at any time. The response was immense, and polarising. More than 60,000 shots were fired, while a group of self-appointed “protectors” worked shifts online to point the gun away from him.

 

The project received overwhelming worldwide attention, garnering the praise of the Chicago Tribune, which called it “one of the sharpest works of political art to be seen in a long time,” and Newsweek’s assessment “breathtaking.” It spawned provocative online debates and ultimately, Bilal was awarded the Chicago Tribune’s Artist of the Year Award.

Buy book here: Wafa Bilal's life journey Save an Iraqi

Buy book here: Wafa Bilal's life journey Save an Iraqi

In the film shown here, he speaks matter-of-factly about that experience while dodging a barrage of paintballs behind a plastic shield. The work captures something of the sense of living under fire, while showing that interactive art, when it is done well, can do what good art has always done: make us understand something important in a new way.

 

 

 

 

Sama Alshaibi, an Iraqi-Palestinian artist who is now a naturalised American, uses her work to explore the complex issues which arise from her nationality. Her film Diatribes, which intersperses her own dialogue with US broadcasts from the time of the bombing of Baghdad, feels raw and unresolved – understandably so.

To Eat Bread, Sama Alshaibi

To Eat Bread, Sama Alshaibi

Her photographs use more oblique means. In her Birthright series, which focuses on Palestine, and Between Two Rivers, about Iraq, she uses her own body as a symbol of a country subject to damage.

The Loss, Sama Alshaibi

The Loss, Sama Alshaibi

Contemporary art is sometimes described as self-indulgent, but the pressure of the political circumstances give the works in this show an urgency and vitality. Yet it’s wrong to expect artists to produce answers; these are individual responses, each is the product of the artist’s own experience and concerns.

 

 

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