Li Hongbo makes extraordinary, moveable, stretchable, slinky-like sculptural installations from paper: here is the start of my profile for The Art Life based on a long conversation with the artist held in his Beijing studio in 2015. I have to say, I've been in an awful lot of freezing cold artists' studios in China in the last few years, but Li Hongbo's rural barn was definitely the most frigid - I dropped my notebook and voice recorder on the floor several times because without my gloves, my fingers were so numb.
Monday, August 21, 2017
Sunday, July 30, 2017
|Lin Tianmiao, Protruding Patterns, 2014, wool thread, yarn, acrylic, dimensions variable, installation view at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, Image courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co, New York|
It seems that this show continues her fascination, last seen in her embroidered 'Badges', with language and how it delimits - and limits - women. The Galerie Lelong Press Release states:
"Over the past six years, Lin has collected around 2,000 words and expressions about women in various languages. Pulling from popular novels, newspapers, the internet, and colloquial dialogues, she has gathered phrases such as “divinité,” “Mori girl,” and “leftover women.” Some are predictably derogatory to women, demonstrating the continued ubiquity of sexist attitudes reinforced by language, while others are directly recovered from obsolescence, representing the nuanced mix of confusion, humor, self-deprecation, and empowerment that accompanies the shifting consciousness of women. This lexicon is woven into thickly raised wool forms so that viewers can feel the visceral and literal protruding patterns while touching and walking on the carpets."
As with the 'Badges' works which include familiar English terms including the entirely predictable tramp, whore and slut along with terms very specific to the Chinese context such as 'phoenix lady' and 'xiao san er' (a 'little third' is a mistress) these works too combine terms such as 'ghetto bird' and 'Beauty Queen' with, as seen below, 'Zhongguo Da Ma'. Literally "Chinese Aunties" the term refers to middle-aged Chinese women who rushed to invest in gold in 2013 when gold prices plunged,
|Lin Tianmiao, F + You No. 1, 2017, Black velvet, woolen yarn, silk thread, cotton thread, 100 x 100 cm, image courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co, New York|
“How do you feel about being called a feminist artist?” I am emboldened to ask. Lin thinks for a moment, then says, “I don’t think there is any feminism in China. Mao said that women hold up half the sky but we have not reached that level.” She denies making her own works in any kind of a conscious response to her reading of feminist theory. “In fact I think feminism is from the west,” she says."
Click HERE for a link to the interview, published on The Culture Trip
This fall, Lin will also be featured in Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Lin will present a solo exhibition at the Shanghai Museum of Glass, which will simultaneously feature her work in the group exhibition Annealing. In Spring 2018, Lin will also present a solo exhibition at the Bund Art Museum, Shanghai. Her work is in many prestigious institutions worldwide including the Brooklyn Museum, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Hong Kong Museum of Art; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Art Museum of China, Beijing; National Museum of Australia, Canberra; M+ Museum, Hong Kong; Seattle Art Museum; Shanghai Museum of Glass; Sherman Foundation, Sydney; and the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing.
And to this list must also be added Sydney's own White Rabbit Gallery, where two works from her early 'Focus' series have just been showing in the recently concluded exhibition 'The Dark Matters'.
The New York show at Galerie Lelong New York September 9 through October 21. If you're in Manhattan, check it out.
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Walnut shells, miniature monsters, nail polish, mirrors, plastic debris and the beauty myth - how does all that coalesce in a socially engaged, multi-disciplinary body of work?
I've written about Monika Lin's work before -- she was one of the female artists I encountered on my first, 2011, research trip to China, when it was beginning to dawn on me that the research question I'd set myself, and on the basis of which I had been lucky enough to win a coveted travelling scholarship, was not really the one that I wanted to find answers to. Instead of producing general teaching and learning materials about how contemporary Chinese artists envisaged their practice, I had become far more interested in the work of women artists, and how they positioned themselves in a still, sadly, testosterone-fuelled Chinese artworld. I met Monika in a Shanghai cafe -- she rode up on her bicycle and we talked about the difficulties faced by women artists, about her practice-led research, about art and motherhood, and how her own position as an American/Chinese artist gave her a unique perspective on the art scene in Shanghai. Her performance in which she wrote the character for 'rice' 10,000 times featured in my article for The Culture Trip, 'The Power of the Word: Calligraphy in Contemporary Chinese Art''
Here's my catalogue essay for her intriguing new body of work, 'From the Bones of the Fish', shown in New York this month:
‘She was very lonely in this sealed-off place. Actually, she was cursed by a witch because of her beauty.’ (Wu Siying, aged 11)
Around the year 700 CE, during the Tang Dynasty in China, a folk tale pre-dated European versions of the story of Cinderella by at least one thousand years. In this earlier version, the protagonist Ye Xian (叶限) was similarly mistreated by an evil stepmother. Her only friend was a pet fish, which her wicked stepmother served for dinner, in an act of vengeful spite. The bones of this fish were magical, recalling the oracle bones used for divination in ancient China. They replace the role of the fairy godmother in the western version of this morality tale, but other elements are depressingly constant: tiny feet, golden slippers, feminine duty, self-sacrifice, and a prince seeking a woman both beautiful and compliant.
The form of this story, like so many others in which women are punished—Rapunzel locked in her tower, Sleeping Beauty cast into a coma, or Snow White slumbering in her glass coffin—are, artist Monika Lin believes, deeply entrenched in the collective psyche. They cut across cultures and historical periods, representing notions of class, gender and sexuality in highly problematic ways. The consistent thread underlying all these stories, and other fairy-tales from many cultures, is the punishment of women for imagined transgressions. Too beautiful? Not beautiful enough? Too proud? Too independent? The narrative arc will ensure that women will learn their place, only to be saved by the grace and favour of a powerful man.
The essential role of women in such punishing mythologies is one of waiting: to be rescued, to be awoken, to be chosen, to be judged as beautiful — and therefore worthy. ‘Those who are not judged beautiful are not beautiful’ pointed out John Berger in his 1972 analysis of the female nude in western art history. Women in fairy tales, and indeed in European oil paintings (think of Giorgione’s ‘Sleeping Venus’, for example), are reduced to a passivity that borders on narcolepsy. British writer Angela Carter likened this to a death sentence in her 1978 text, The Sadeian Woman. Add a more explicitly pornographic element to these tales of women waiting to be activated by being chosen, and we end up with The Story of O.
Where is female agency in these stories, so ingrained in us from earliest childhood? If women tell their own real and imagined stories, might they be different? In her latest body of work Lin has engineered an opportunity for us to hear stories told by 147 women and girls – their voices echo through the gallery space, their stories are written in Chinese and English, and the images they created to illustrate them are exhibited as relief prints. The participants in these oral story-telling workshops were inhabitants of Shanghai: migrant workers, retirees, school children and middle class women alike assuming authorship and agency. In the Hans Christian Andersen tale, the Little Mermaid must sacrifice her voice in order to be seen and desired by the Prince; Lin’s project invited women to speak and be heard.
‘The Bones of the Fish’ interrogates the cultural constructs found in fairy tales as historically powerful, enduring myths that constrain women. Even now. Today. And everywhere. As I walked to meet the artist in Shanghai, I passed a cosmetic surgery hospital. The large banner across its façade said, ‘You too can be a beautiful woman.’ In China, to be ‘bai fu mei’ (white, rich, pretty) is a contemporary aspiration, and Chinese beauty standards are even more stringent than in the west. Women trying to raise daughters free to be their authentic selves must negotiate a Disneyfied global minefield of candy pink. Adult women are marketed versions of the consolatory princess myth as ‘empowerment’. All women judge themselves and each other by impossible standards of beauty and behaviour. Lin’s work investigates this conscious and unconscious consumerism and dares to consider alternatives.
Monika Lin’s work has consistently focused on the marginalised, on those absent from the grand narratives of history. In ‘Double Happiness’ (2011) she explored the impact of pharmaceutical companies and the ‘medicalisation’ of ordinary life. ‘Exemplars’ (2013) used the medium of the woodcut — making a reappearance here in her new work — to deconstruct patriarchal Confucian allegories of filial duty. She works at the intersections of gender, class and race, examining the lives of Shanghai courtesans in ‘flower house’ brothels, and the exclusion of women from the Imperial Examinations system that produced Chinese literati painters and poets. In innovative multi-disciplinary bodies of work, underpinned by deep research, she presents us with alternative, hidden histories, and with the voices of those who were expected to be silent.
‘The Bones of the Fish’ is shaped through connected elements, like the chapters of a book. ‘Lacquered’ is the most explicitly polemical. Nail polish contains highly toxic chemicals that leach into the body and have been found in international samples of breast milk. Lin interviewed manicurists in Shanghai nail salons—young women from the countryside seeking a better life and the promised intoxicating glamour of the big city—engaging them in conversation about their working lives far from their hometowns. Twelve portraits resulted from these lengthy conversations, painted with glossy nail polish on mirrored surfaces. It’s a dangerous glamour: the seductively luscious surfaces of lacquered nails can be likened to the shiny poisoned apple given to Snow White by the wicked queen.
‘Philosopher’s Walnuts’ consists of 1,000 gilded walnut shells, each containing a tiny, part-human figure. Arranged on square tiles of gold leaf, they recall religious iconography. These miniature hybrid creatures reference a Japanese erotic print, Hokusai’s 1814 ‘The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife’ (also known as ‘Girl Diver and Two Octopuses’) that shows an ecstatic sexual encounter between a woman and two octopi. These works possess an element of the uncanny, a suggestion of the cyborg, of an impending post-human dystopia. The walnut shell itself is imbued with magical possibilities of transformation. Alternately representing fecundity or masculinity, walnut shell bracelets are prized male accessories in China, with links to Buddhist practice and to the imperial past. Signifiers of status. In the early twenty-first century, for a while walnuts were artefacts of trade worth more than gold. Lin cleverly interweaves a gendered narrative with theories of labour and capital.
With great prescience, Roland Barthes suggested in his 1957 text ‘Mythologies’ that ‘the whole world can be plasticised, and even life itself.’ ‘Plastic River’ is an installation made of rubbish salvaged from the streets – recycled advertising signs, acrylic, Tyvek bags and LED signs. Here Lin connects the toxicity of the beauty myth to the vast waste dumps of plastic and garbage surrounding Chinese cities and polluting the oceans, a result of our reliance on the endless cycle of production and consumption, and the repetitive labour of millions. Culture subsumes nature.
In ‘The Bones of the Fish’, Monika Lin suggests that the shiny, seductive allure of advertising is a siren song of desire, as toxic and false in the end as the beauty myth and the fairy tale.
Luise Guest, May 2017
All images courtesy of the artist
Saturday, July 15, 2017
|Song Dong, Wisdom of the Poor: Song Dong’s Para-Pavilion, Old house, old furniture, steel, Dimensions variable. 2011. Photograph, LG|
As you will see, I loved this show.
To read more, click HERE
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
|Dong Yuan, Painted objects, acrylic on multiple canvases, image courtesy the artist|
TO READ MORE, CLICK HERE
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
With a certain significant date earlier this week and a new exhibition just opened at Sydney's Art Atrium gallery, it seemed timely to re-post my profile and video interview with Chinese/Australian artist Guo Jian, published in The Art Life just before I went to China in April. He is brave, resolute, astonishingly outspoken, and continues to make interesting work and push the boundaries of practice:
Guo Jian in Conversation with White Rabbit from White Rabbit Collection on Vimeo
Guo Jian had returned to China in 2005 and he was profoundly shocked by what he found— the rush to modernisation left so much destruction in its wake as traditional architecture in Beijing was replaced by eight-lane roads and tower blocks, and whole neighbourhoods were demolished....
Read the rest of the article.HERE
Note that all photographs were provided by the artist and are reproduced with his permission.
Thursday, June 1, 2017
|A group of young photographers shoot the work of Liang Shaoji at ShanghART, photo:LG|
|Lu Yang, Uterus Man installation, K11 Art Mall, Shanghai 2017|
A classic China moment: I wanted to see a curated group show at a certain very high-profile commercial gallery. It was a Saturday afternoon, and it should have been open. Arriving at the address, I found the door mysteriously locked. A bored guard, dozing over his jar of tea, got up and opened the door, and realised I was in the middle of a fashion shoot, with the paintings as backdrops. The guard assumed that any strange foreigner arriving at the door (no matter my less than fashionista appearance) must somehow be connected. The models, photographers, lighting technicians, make-up artists, hairdressers and runners completely ignored me, so I stayed tolook at the paintings by the light from my mobile phone.
|My inadvertent participation in a fashion shoot - as a witness|
|Tiny wooden stools like those that Song Dong and his friends sat on as children to watch movies shown in the Beijing hutongs - but here they are arranged behind the screen not in front of it.|
|Another iteration of ''Eating the City" - I overheard a boy strongly (and wisely) advise his girlfriend not to eat the stale cake|
He Xiangyu, 'Turtle, Lion and Bear' at Qiao Space was a disconcerting and very moving installation of 25 screens in a darkened space, featuring people in the act of yawning. It's infectious - you cannot not respond with your own yawns - the link between artist, artwork and viewer is complete. There was something quite magical about this sense of shared humanity.
|Student photographers engage with Liang Shaoji's work at ShanghART|
|Chen Yujun, installation view at Bank/Mabscociety|
|Chen Yujun, collage, detail, at Bank/Mabsociety|
Lu Yang, breaker of taboos and too cool for school, is always fabulous, and 'Delusional Mandala' in an exhibition of young new media artists 'Three Rooms' at Chronus Art Centre did not disappoint. I am rarely willing to stand in uncomfortable, cold gallery spaces on hard floors and watch long artist videos, but I watched this one twice, all the way through. Here's a snippet to tantalise, with commentary, from M Woods Museum in Beijing:
Yin Xiuzhen, Xu Bing, Hong Hao, Chen Yujun and a group of interesting artists in 'Collage: The Cards Players' (sic) at the Shanghai Gallery of Art, provided some strange and unexpected juxtapositions. I was delighted to see another iteration of Xu Bing's 'Background Story' series, where apparent traditional Chinese landscapes are created,not with ink and brush, but from rubbish and debris attached to a backlit screen.
|Xu Bing, Background Story, the front and the back|
|Yin Xiuzhen's rockets - or missiles - parodying the kitsch Pearl Orient TV Tower, all made of old clothing and textiles|
|Song Dong, "I Don't Know the Mandate of Heaven"|
After this disappointment, I entered a dimly lit upstairs space to be immersed in the meditative abstract paintings of Zhao Li, in her first solo exhibition for many years. Floating shapes hover on soft grounds of grey, or vivid red and pink. Linear forms overlapping and coalescing suggesting the constant rhythms of the universe and the human body. Zhao is interested in Daoist thought, and the push and pull of yin/yang binaries are evident in the juxtaposition of line and form in these compelling paintings. I was seduced - and calmed - post KAWS.
The exhibition text is, not unusually in China, full of emotive phrases like this: ''Reasonable romance and bold elegance can both be seen in her works.'' I may be obtuse, but I have no idea what reasonable romance is. But these paintings are absolutely, stunningly, beautiful. Painting in China is alive and well, and if April's crop of exhibitions in Beijing and Shanghai are any indication, it is holding its own amongst the new media, photography, augmented/virtual reality, sculpture and installation.
A ratio of nine strong exhibitions to one that was just silly and shallow - actually, that's not bad. And there's even a Chengyu, a four character idiom, that fits the situation: ''nine cows, one strand of hair''