The three artists in this exhibition were born in Cambodia and in refugee camps on the Thailand-Cambodia border before, during, and after the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. All three were subsequently raised abroad, and in this exhibition, as transnational artists showing in Phnom Penh, each aptly investigates the force of history and memory to unsettle a sense of self in the present. For instance, Amy Lee Sanford’s prints and video relate fragments of her father’s 1974 letters to her—he arranged her migration to the US prior to the emergence of the Khmer Rouge—in a personal, meditative process that keeps their relationship potent, despite his having disappeared in Cambodia in 1975. While her methods mitigate voyeuristic consumption by fracturing coherent narratives, the details of the letters do prove most compelling, particularly in their references to Kissinger and Vietnam. Meanwhile, Pete Pin and Seoun Som both evoke rituals that aim to shift the personal to the collective. Pin’s photographic prints are based on a relational project where he meets Khmer refugees in the US and asks each person’s family to choose a memento, which Pin then juxtaposes with portraits of the survivors. Som layers images of traditional Khmer rituals with American equivalents on sheer fabric.
The featured works are rhizomatically connected to Cambodia’s histories and genealogies of international contemporary art. While debates on what constitutes the latter have yet to reach critical mass, we are here reminded of differential stakes in time, memory, and politics as well as the diverse, if not uneven, methods that can attend with these.
The exhibition “Mapping Asia” is a unique response to one of the most frequently posed questions at Hong Kong’s Asia Art Archive: How is “Asia” defined? “Mapping Asia” takes up the conundrum from diverse vantage points, from artworks, performances, and talks, as well as materials from the archive.
Boundaries are fluid, culturally and physically. A newspaper clipping from November 14, 2013—“The World’s Newest Island” from the South China Morning Post—reports on the creation of a new landmass off the coast of Pakistan. The troubled legacy of partition, meanwhile, is referenced in Naeem Mohaiemen’s Kazi in Nomansland, 2009, which comprises stacks of postage stamps issued by India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh depicting poet and activist Kazi Narul Islam, each country competing to claim him as its own.
A display of Han through Yuan dynasty ceramics bearing Islamic and Roman stylistic influences complement Francisco Camacho’s film A Parallel Narrative, 2014, which examines early links between China and pre–Hispanic America. Predating even the celebrated voyages of adventurer Zheng He, the film postulates the location of Fousang, first visited by the monk Hui Shen in the seventh century.
In deft shorthand for the persistent debates surrounding Orientalism, the exhibition includes the song “Getting to Know You” in a scene from The King and I (1956). While the clip ends with a clumsy exchange between Anna Leonowens and the King of Siam over slavery and Abraham Lincoln, Anna’s primly catchy song reminds us that, after all, Asia is a continent we’re still “getting to know.”
Ala Younis’s latest solo exhibition, “UAR,” offers a deceptively straightforward visual archive of Egypt’s second president (1956–70) and Pan-Arabist leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Photographs, illustrated journal covers, and other ephemera celebrating the Syrian union with Egypt (1958–61) or documenting Nasser’s funeral (1970) appear alongside several C-prints, mixed-media works, and an extended series of pencil tracings on carbon paper by the artist. These include, Mickey Mourns Gamal Abdel Nasser, 2014, a tracing of the cover of the popular Mickey magazine established in 1959—a staple of the Nasser era. Younis appears interested, foremost, in the role of spectacle in shaping the leader’s career and legacy. At the same time, she insists on the significance of the invisible, or, rather, the repression of the visible in the operation of spectacle.
Her interventions in this register are subtle and thus easy to miss. A stereoscope arranged on a table in the gallery is equipped with images from the period of Nasser’s reign that at first appear to be original black-and-white photographs. Upon closer examination, however, the satisfying illusion of convexity produced by the conventional stereoscopic image can be seen to have been interrupted, divided into distinct, horizontal planes, which achieve a similar effect through alternative means. The exhibition coincides with the run-up to the presidential elections in Egypt, and images of the anticipated winner (who is, like Nasser, an army man), Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, seem to have acquired a similar ubiquity and relationship to the repressed. In this context, the exhibition’s whisper resonates clearly.
Zhang Hui is a painter who works in tight cycles, spending months or years on a particular subject or in a particular style before moving on. His cycles can be so distinct and so diverse that they appear, at times, as if they are the work of different artists altogether—a product of his close relationship to the conceptual milieu that congealed around the “Post-Sense Sensibility” exhibitions in the late 1990s and produced other prodigious artists such as Jiang Zhi, Liu Wei, and Qiu Zhijie.
In his most recent cycle, Zhang works primarily in a seductive palette of indigo and white highlighted by deep gray shadows. The gallery is split into two exhibition spaces connected by a long line of framed sketches, hanging diagrams, and conceptual notes: On one side the artist has installed a cogent group of new works from this cycle, and on the other he has selected thematically related work from the past several years. As a result, his latest works feels less isolated and less sudden, even if it is what holds together most cohesively. Within the newest paintings Zhang has used floating blue lines over a white field to depict a flight attendant pushing a beverage cart, a metastasizing chain-link fence, a cluster of hard hats, and the facade of a social housing block. These images offer specific technical possibilities, and their definition as objects at times collapses into the way they are processed as paintings (the hard hats, for instance, are titled Blueprint.Assemble, 2014).
Zhang describes this exhibition as a “plaza,” where he can trap a variety of alienated objects plucked one by one from his stream of consciousness. Open space for the artist is something akin to a drafting table: a surface upon which one might isolate, diagram, and reconstruct an idea. The titles of all the paintings in the exhibition include Blueprint, referring to a nascent web of perception that is intended, perhaps, to make sense of it all—a modular and casual structuralism for our time.
The duo solo exhibitions of Hua Weihua and Yu Bogong begin and end in staggered temporalities that befit the rapid development of Beijing, acting as an antidote to and a rift on overproduction. Using mostly found materials from Heiqiao Village, Yu has built a provisional structure for a vodka distillery system for five hundred bottles of his eponymous brand of vodka. Rows of empty bottles line blue shelves. The interior space, marked by the infinity-sign wall mural titled Yu Bogong Vodka, 2014, is adaptable for artists, writers, and curators to host events where the alcohol can be consumed during the exhibition’s forty-three-day span.
Meanwhile, Hua’s Waiting for Business, 2014, an off-the-meter taxi service, territorializes the city itself. The gallery’s reserved parking space is demarcated in the same blue paint of Yu’s vodka logo. Inside, on the counter, the artist has left a stack of calling cards that depict a red BMW convertible speeding down a blurry landscape. The actual taxi, a white Fiat Palio Weekend, can be seen in Hua’s diaristic entries on Action Space’s website, which he inaugurated with images of his urine street-drawings that resemble a rose and a chrysanthemum.
On the evening of the vodka launch, Yu and his collaborator Megumi Shimizu’s distillation process was in full view. Past midnight, some visitors dialed Hua’s taxi service, only to find that his cellphone had been turned off. The failure of an easy car ride concedes a rare lucidity of social interdependencies; another jolt of de-synchronicity to keep us awake, to be fully present.
Banknotes are memories. In “Spring and Autumn,” Shao Yinong and Muchen present part of their embroidered replicas of obsolete banknotes on large-scale transparent black silk that suggest the fleeting nature of power and its effect on collective memories. Varying only in size and color, favoring the golden palette of traditional Suzhou silk weaving (it took nearly ten years to complete the whole series, not entirely on show here), these diaphanous veils are suspended in rows in the gallery, inviting keen observers to study their fine details and ponder the idealized territorial claims and national values manifested by the successive governments who commissioned the originals.
Presiding at the entrance, a large, scintillating portrait of Sun Yat-sen in 1942 10,000 Chinese Note (Dr. Sun Yat-sen), 2004–2010—a replica of a Republic of China banknote—testifies to the ephemerality of governments and the fundraising needs of revolutions. On its right, the only non-Chinese reference on view, 1908 100 German Mark Note (Goddess), features an imperial German Reichsbanknote in which the goddess Freya, as centerpiece, is flanked by female figures serving as personifications of industry and agriculture. Other shimmering magnified reproductions of out-of-print currency promote the finest iconography of Chinese nation-building, such as advancing trains, the temple of heaven, marching people, and healthy multi-ethnic groups enthusiastically united.
By combining an element of the occult with a direct approach to the social anxieties associated with authoritative states and by relying on numismatics and ornamentation, the artists not only extract the essence of historical symbols, but also engage in a spiritual transformative process that adorns the emotional, political, and economic passing of time.
Sex is messy. Establishing a correlation between high population density and a diversity of carnal urges, “Ten Million Rooms of Yearning. Sex in Hong Kong” is a five-venue show spread across town that addresses an arguably decreasing local libido, through the aesthetics of the crowded and the homoerotic. More generally, it open-mindedly speaks to the nonmainstream practices of BDSM, Internet sex, and paid sex. Works by thirty-nine artists in media including painting, drawing, photography, digital animation, video, sculpture, print, and installation—mostly overtly phallic—give the exhibition a messy, overcrowded thrift-store feel.
Weaving together political concerns, those of sexual identity in particular, there are, for instance, the paintings of Agung Kurniawan and mimeographs of Hou Chun-ming in the Sheung Wan Civic Center. Addressing the tensions inherent to colonial history, as well as issues of national identity, the works employ allegorical, ingenuous graphics to depict fornication between virile, sometimes dismembered bodies. Over in Connecting Spaces, in Roee Rosen’s film Tse, 2010, political extremism is exorcised through willful pleasure: Two members of the Israeli BDSM community engage in flogging, ultimately prompting the sub to spit out quotes by extreme-right-wing politician Avigdor Lieberman. More personal pursuits are also explored. Hito Steyerl’s Lovely Andrea, 2007, a video documenting its subject’s quest in Japan to find a twenty-year-old bondage photo in which she modeled, emphasizes the erotic value of limitations and life’s randomness. Ultimately, the show encourages individuality. In the cheerful video excerpts from The Trilogy of Sinai: Sex Love and Hope, 2013, Dr. Petula Ho Sik-ying interviews Hong Kongers in public spaces: for example, a wife who hopes to dissuade her husband from having sex with her by charging him for it; a recently postoperative transsexual giggling over her new vagina; and a churchgoing man acknowledging the importance of sex for a successful Christian marriage.
Avoiding sensuality, courtship, and sexiness in favor of themes of loneliness, passive violence, mismatched relationships, politics, and freedom of choice, this emancipated exhibition acts as a release, thanks to the liberation only full disclosure can bring.
For her debut solo exhibition at Ren Space, Shanghai native Lu Yang presents a new multimedia dreamscape that features an army of nauseatingly adorable cancer cell protagonists in videos, plush toys, figurines, paintings, and screenprints. The show’s conceptual centerpiece, Cancer Baby (all works 2014), is a gaudy video installation, in which a singing and dancing cancer cell lightheartedly chirps about the essential futility of the human struggle, while inviting viewers to sing along with various slogans, including, “Mommy, daddy, please don’t kill us.”
The rest of the exhibition stems from this video and echoes its characters, colors, and content. For instance, in Centro C-Ball, the artist offers two large tumorous baubles dangling from the ceiling, and countless cancer cell figurines are strewn across four glass cabinets for C-Baby Toy. Exploiting aesthetics of disgust and nausea, Lu negotiates moral boundaries here by emphasizing that expelling cancer is akin to expelling a part of the self. Kimo Kawa Babies, five figurines depicting human organs such as the heart and the bladder, exemplifies this. Each figurine is equipped with an agonized face, as one or two cancer cells ravish its surface. Though almost comical in appearance, the objects’ matte visceral exteriors, which are enhanced by hues of fleshy mauve, are uncomfortable to behold. The cancer cells blend seamlessly with each organ, seemingly at one with the host.
The show’s playful superficiality is coupled with an infectious optimism about the very real threat of cancer and human mortality. Lu’s Technicolor attempt at leading the viewer on a cathartic journey is often underscored by a central message—one tirelessly depicted, sung, and imprinted upon the viewer—to “love.” Whether such an ambitious goal can be achieved in the framework of a commercial gallery show remains to be seen.
This exhibition of video artwork by seventeen international artists takes the horizon line as its subject, using Jan Dibbets’s included filmic series of sea and sky, “Horizon – Sea,” 1971, as cue. Shanghai might be an ideal setting in which to contemplate the concept: The exhibition title’s elision could also refer to the city’s dissolving horizon line, where buildings across the Huangpu River still appear faint in the distance.
In Kimsooja’s reflection of Nigeria, titled Bottari-Alfa Beach, 2000, for example, the sea has been flipped above the sky much in the same way Dibbets’s work tilts perspective. Giovanni Ozzola’s video, Garage—Sometimes You Can See Much More, 2009–11, displayed on a wall of an empty room, depicts a life-size garage door opening up onto an open sea, changing our line of sight while also blurring the lines of the gallery space.
Some works also stretch the concept of worldly delineations to those that move laterally, inwardly, or even without direction. In Wang Gongxin’s The Other Rule in Ping Pong, 2014, a ping-pong table is deconstructed and reconstituted into three screens: A tabletop screen projects each side of the table while two upright screens show unlikely opponents, such as a man’s mouth, which spits out the white ball and another man hitting it with a shovel. And in Zhu Jia’s It’s Beyond My Control, 2014, a looped video shows a hand faintly penciling in the edges of a corner of the gallery. Here the border between art viewing and art making dissolves. Like a horizon line, the demarcation suggests a kind of infinity.
The key strategy in Soghra Khurasani’s solo debut is repetition. Each of her woodcuts and etchings features blood cells, either soaked in red or leached of color. Hundreds of these ring-shaped motifs populate Khurasani’s compositions—at times appearing like erupting volcanoes or a field of blooming roses—evidently suggesting a human presence in volatile and fecund landscapes.
“One Day It Will Come Out,” the title of the show, which includes a set of three fifty-six-inch prints of the artist’s rivers of molten lava filled with red blood cells, could be thought of as a foreboding. The placid Silent Fields 1 and 2, both 2014, on the other hand, feature clusters of Khurasani’s signature red blood cells amid picture-perfect blue skies, green grass, and red roses. Here, it appears as if the anger and the outrage prominent in the volcano triptych, also titled One Day It Will Come Out, 2012, have been overpowered.
Cocurator Sumesh Sharma’s essay links the use of blood cells as a figurative device in Khurasani’s artworks to the rise of Hindu nationalism in India and to a gruesome gang rape on a bus in New Delhi that caught the world’s attention two years ago, among other issues. Khurasani’s output can be ominous if examined in conjunction with the resounding electoral victory of Narendra Modi, India’s new prime minister who has been accused of supposedly abetting a pogrom against the minority Muslim community. Using both tranquil and ferocious frameworks for Khurasani’s use of blood cells in her work, however, may allude to the way crimes are being conveniently covered up in India for the promise of a better future.
“A Terrible Beauty,” Meera Devidayal’s first solo exhibition in five years, addresses the afterlives of Mumbai’s defunct textile mills. Though Devidayal relies on the aesthetic and nostalgic allure of ruins in her documentary photographs of the crumbling buildings, she also reimagines their existence through painterly interventions. For instance, the canvases Rose Garden and A Terrible Beauty (all works cited, 2011) offer dreamlike landscapes superimposed over expansive views of massive, roofless factories. Here, wild foliage in the photographs and painted rows of blooming roses and tulips triumph over a dilapidated emblem of Mumbai’s industrial modernity. While Devidayal’s fantastical visions of rejuvenation may seem trite and kitschy—they mimic popular posters and locations of Bollywood music videos—they deeply resonate in this city as it faces an acute shortage of open spaces.
In much of the rest of the exhibition, Devidayal abandons hypothetical propositions. The video Staircase to Nowhere juxtaposes a flight of steps with an escalator, referring to the conversion of one of the city’s iconic mills into a mall. Meanwhile, A Leveled Playing Field uses animation to show grand glass-and-steel towers emerging from a concrete skeleton that was once occupied by the working class. This impending future is already a palpable present for other mills. Yet the site pictured in the film still lies vacant, waiting its turn. The structure’s clandestine use as a cricket court affords Devidayal an opportunity for a fantastical insertion: Players of the national team appear as spectators of a match at the mill through digital fabrication. Fictional interludes such as this one imbue the sites of the defunct mills with renewed potential, even if they remain in the realm of impossibility.
Like a perfect cherry blossom, Daan van Golden’s idiosyncratic solo exhibition “Made in Tokyo” lures the viewer in to take a closer look. The Dutch artist could be called a painter, a photographer, or even a playwright of pieces that anticipate theories about the death of the author, and this show digs into his past as an English teacher/model/bit-part player and (artist’s) artist based in Japan between 1963 and 1964. The paintings van Golden made while living in Tokyo appropriate patterned motifs such as flowered and checkered wrapping paper from local department stores as well as those from handkerchiefs and other textiles. Although meticulous in their compositions, these translations always bear lingering touches of conscious imperfections, and such visual cracks open up their formal planes. For instance, the image of abstract shapes (rather than a material quality) resurfaces as a wandering character that changes through time and space—like a sign stripped of meaning, creating new possibilities. A highlight is the floral-patterned Untitled (Tokyo), 1964, introduced as recurrent background motif in more recent works on view and as relic from his 1964 solo show at Tokyo’s Naiqua Gallery.
A second body of work offers his recent series of “Double Prints,” 2012, digital collages in an intimate format that blend his past and present; for instance, an image of a Japanese issue of the Beatles’s LP Meet the Beatles features in Study Pollock/Made in Japan, 2012, which also paradoxically adapts Pollockesque drips. Interspersed throughout the show is an eclectic digest picked from van Golden’s photographic series “Youth is an Art, ” 1978–96, a work that blurs art and life and shows his daughter Diana growing up (to age eighteen) and traveling in various environments. A slide projection that documents his own life in Tokyo, including an installation view of his Naiqua exhibition, is presented alongside the thoughtfully grouped works. If ever a gallery show could be called context-sensitive without being didactic or stiff, it is this small but mighty one.
For his first solo exhibition in Japan, San Francisco–based Hiroshi Tachibana has fleshed out a new set of ten small paintings. Assembling traces of the subconscious, the works document and stage a phenomenological drama of the visible and the invisible. Tachibana’s unpretentious abstract paintings catch the eye with nuanced, lustrous color schemes exposed by the works’ textures, which resemble papier-mâché and dyed fabric, and thus consciously reflect abstraction’s function beyond the pictorial.
Against the backdrop of the white cube, at first hardly discernable, three bright-scaled works interspersed in the space gradually enter the view. Palette, Paper Towel and Catalog (Magritte) (all works 2014) depicts organic, nonfigurative light-gray and incarnadine color traces that aggregate to approximately geometrical shapes and emerge in an almost-three-dimensional, ghostly presence on a double-toned white ground, which is highlighted by pink and blue speckles. Orange Line with Kiki (Trace) collects clumsy shapes reminiscent of letters or numbers over an unevenly cropped blue-white-patterned ground while entering in a formal dialog with a zigzagging orange line in the lower half of the canvas. In Palette and Palette (trace) a white-graded rectangle is overlaid with flecks of color from found palettes from the artist’s studio, establishing a space-time relationship between site and non-site.
An almost-libidinal attraction drives the viewer towards the soft-glazed sculpted surfaces that result from Tachibana’s indexical translation process. Also in the colorful and more visually articulate Catalog (Magritte) and Kiki (Trace) and Green Painting and Uta’s Math, paint was first applied to uneven polyurethane plates by his daughters, then peeled off and rendered onto the canvas in a lavish spread of gel medium. The appeal of these embalmed skin-like transplantations, which at times recycle older works, is reinforced by their function as shifters—empty signs that are only filled with meaning through the titles that bring in material and souvenir, art and life as external referents.
Nobuyoshi Araki’s latest show, “Love on the Left Eye,” which opened on his birthday in accord with an annual tradition of the artist to commemorate life, remixes frozen erotic poses with surface studies—for example, Tokyo’s urban space, the rusty cargo bed of a truck passing, a panel cutting a passerby out of sight. Araki has compiled a visual diary of sixty-five prints, hung neatly across the gallery. Included is an image of a woman dressed in a flowered robe holding a blue toy carp—a symbol of love—as well as a range of women’s bodies exposed in provocative poses. Araki soaked the right half of the negatives in black marker ink before printing the photographs, effectively blotting out that part of the image. The technique gestures at his own physicality, specifically a retinal-artery obstruction that came about in 2013 and permanently deprived him of half his sight. At that same time, the blinking craquelé of vanishing surfaces adds a new layer of formal perception.
There are also more personal images—for instance, a fantastic zoo of dinosaur toys kept on his terrace—which mix emblems of love and death in self-ironic combinations, creating not just a cinematographic foray but a fragmented dictionary of beloved sites. For instance, an image of Tokyo covered up in heavy snow, resounds with famous views of his series “Winter Journey,” 1990, which documented the untimely passing of his late wife, Yoko. Reflecting how his own mortal body deteriorates, Araki grants a vital image of perception.
Tsumari, in a remote region in northern Japan where Yasunari Kawabata’s 1948 novel Snow Country (Yukiguni) takes place, remains relatively cut off from progress with its late introduction of major roads and train lines. In their latest exhibition, which offers black-and-white photographs shot in this area, the Beijing-based artist duo RongRong & inri offer an intimacy that also evokes the imagery of pure isolation described in Kawabata’s masterpiece. Since “Fuji,” 2001, a previous series in which the artists declared their passion for each other under Japan’s iconic mountain, RongRong and inri have become well known for their support of photography—for instance, in 2007, they established Three Shadows in Beijing, the first art institution dedicated to the medium in the country. Some of the photographs in their current show were commissioned by the 2012 Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale and are being shown for the first time in Tokyo.
While the couple still occupies most of the images, the most moving photographs in the “Tsumari Story” series, 2012, show the artists as parents (they have three children). In one, RongRong holds his son’s hand as they look over a wide, idyllic rice field. In another, the naked figures of mother and children look out over the snowy landscape from a cedar bath. In Tsumari Story no. 2-5, 2012, a snowy forest holds two figures standing close to each other in the mid ground—possibly the artists or their children—with faces obscured by traditional woven straw hoods.
The love and intimacy between the artists and their children presented in the “Tsumari Story” series is one that transpires amid a setting of white snow, farms, and forests. It is in the relationship between all the elements—the family, house, and nature—where beauty is found. The couple wholly invests in the belief that their life is inseparable from their art, and with “Tsumari Story,” their art is inseparable from their awe-inspiring surroundings.
Against the ever-debated status of contemporary painting (“zombie formalism,” etc.), the twenty-four artists in this exhibition make one thing collectively clear: There’s simply no stopping them. The artistic arguments they support are various and decentered, but their works manifest tendencies that might generally be described as, for instance, “formalism meets Pop” or “neo-Surrealism,” while also displaying and negotiating conceptual challenges of the post-medium condition, the nature of the uncanny, and a reverence for manga. As the works link to one another through subtle formal and material dialogues, the featured artists remix a broad vocabulary of painting discourses, developing their own aesthetic through differences and variations in our digital age of copy-and-paste.
Shimon Minamikawa’s 4 paintings, two legs, 2013, comprises two billboard-like structures: Four piercing neon-pink panels open the exhibition and are echoed by a silver sister work in the middle of the show. Meanwhile, Shinichiro Kano’s paintings depict enigmatic games of chance operations (as in plot , 2011). In Yui Yaegashi’s series of small canvases, it feels as though an abstract informational interface gazes back, while the semiabstract abandoned landscapes of Asuka Yokono’s works unfold through reduced strokes via a pulling effect that evokes a black hole (see curve, 2014).
Facing the revival of 1960s-era Japanese art in Japan and abroad (as with recent exhibitions at MoMA and the Guggenheim in New York), the exhibition opens up perspectives on painting’s legacy in this country. More important, it raises consciousness of a new generation tackling often-impenetrable images in our mediated, everyday reality.
For the inaugural touring exhibition of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, curator June Yap has brought together nineteen works by sixteen artists and collectives from eleven countries, represented in diverse media such as painting, photography, video, sculpture, and installation. Following iterations in New York and Hong Kong, this final show in Singapore marks a homecoming.
The legacy of certain local historical events, ideologies, and religions has influenced many of the works. The partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 is a recurrent concern, for example, in the work 1:14.9, 2011–12, by Shilpa Gupta and Amar Kanwar’s Trilogy: A Night of Prophecy, 2002. In Norberto Roldan’s monochromatic painting F-16, 2012, the Filipino artist juxtaposes the image of an American fighter jet cruising over modern-day Afghanistan with the unsettling words of US President William McKinley on the colonization of the Philippines: “There was nothing left for us to do but to take them all; and to educate them and uplift and civilize and Christianize them.”
Some of the most compelling pieces also deal with perceptions of womanhood and family. In Kanwar’s meditative film, A Season Outside, 1997, which is also part of his “Trilogy” series, the narrator describes the households he documents in the border village of Wagah as “scenes of unspoken stories.” His own mother told him of the women who, during the upheaval of partition, hammered nails into the windows of their homes to try and prevent the men from coming in.
From afar, Bangladeshi artist Tayeba Begum Lipi’s stainless-steel Love Bed, 2012, is alluring and beautiful. Up close, the viewer can see that the bed, a symbol of rest and comfort, is made of razor blades. Where the mattress would be, small blades have been strung together in delicate chains. The suggestion of violence, both domestic and political, is here made subtle and defiant.
In one photograph from the “Workers” series by Sebastião Salgado, a woman raises a shovel above her head (Worker on the canal construction site of Rajasthan, India, 1990). A scarf with light shining through it is draped over her head and across her body; she wears metallic cuffs with tassels on her arms and more jewelry on her neck, fingers, and nose. Salgado has captured her mid-effort: The scarf billows, and the tassels lift with her movement. The woman’s face is full of strength and story.
Salgado’s photographs are uplifting and grand, evidence of the compassion and wonder with which he treats his subjects and of his readiness to view the ordinary as heroic (in this case, the laborer as goddess). His focus on black-and-white photography adds to the epic feel of his works. By leaving the color of various objects in his compositions ambiguous, Salgado allows for a degree of interpretation on the part of the viewer. So a vibrant scene of a crowd on a platform in Church Gate Station, Bombay, India, 1995, might take on a different significance when the subjects appear to all be wearing white, the color of mourning.
Fifty-three gelatin silver prints are on display at Sundaram Tagore Gallery, spanning twenty years of Salgado’s career, with selections from his latest series “Genesis” alongside older collections such as “Migrations,” “Workers,” and “Other Americas.” The exhibition coincides with a large-scale presentation of 245 photographs from “Genesis” at the National Museum of Singapore. This series is the outcome of an eight-year expedition during which Salgado travelled to some of the most remote regions on Earth to document the impact of globalization on landscapes, human tribes, and wildlife. It is a majestic and soulful paean to the planet.
Yeondoo Jung’s “Spectacle in Perspective,” curated by Nayoung Cho, is the artist’s first museum-scale solo exhibition in Korea since his being named Artist of the Year by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in 2007. Along with his early photographs, the exhibition presents one of Jung’s recent experiments with media technology, Virgil’s Path, 2014, and a collaborative performance and installation, Crayon Pop Special, 2014. Though the artist has introduced elements of advanced technology into his show, he maintains his interest in an age-old concern: the dreams and fantasies of ordinary people.
Virgil’s Path is a virtual sculpture experienced via Oculus Rift, a head-mounted device originally designed for 3-D games. Deployed in front of Rodin’s imposing sculptural groupThe Gates of Hell, 1880–1917, part of the museum’s permanent collection, the device almost completely covers a participating visitor’s field of vision to create a virtual reality that overlaps with the actual scene of the sculpture. Looking through the headgear, gallerygoers watch Rodin’s hundreds of looming bronze bodies slowly transform into fleshy graphics that almost appear to be at arm’s length.
If Virgil’s Path speaks to the destiny of human beings, whose desires and guilty passions are constantly unfulfilled, Crayon Pop Special is a kitschy homage to this tragic human drama. The work consists of a performance video that features the middle-aged male fans of an actual K-pop girl group, Crayon Pop. Outfitted in the ridiculous helmets and quirky tracksuits favored by the stars, the corps of “uncle fans” cheer enthusiastically to the instrumental accompaniment of Crayon Pop’s hit songs. Next to the video is a large stage outfitted with lighting and sound equipment, forever prepared for the arrival of Crayon Pop. The fans’ dream—to obtain full access to their idols—won’t come true, but their unquenched passion nonetheless livens up their mundane lives.
“Secretly, Greatly” presents artworks by the three finalists of the reality-TV competition Art Star Korea, which premiered in late March. The show gave fifteen artists the opportunity to compete for substantial rewards: a cash prize of $93,000 and a solo exhibition at a prestigious gallery in Seoul. The show also set no restrictions on the contestant’s age, education, or occupation, which resulted in over four hundred applicants. The final three—Hyeyoung Ku, Jae-hyun Shin, and Byung-seo Yoo—survived the ten episodes, in which they underwent art-school style criticisms by five judges after each weekly “mission.”
The current exhibition at the Seoul Museum of Art was the site for the concluding episode and features the final three works. Wearing a blood-red chiffon gown and a silver wig, Ku enacted Sincereness of the Tilted Stage (all works 2014) a spectacular performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor. Yet the tilted stage and the muffled sound revealed that she was not actually acting as conductor, only imitating one. Alongside four kinetic installations that addressed both personal and political issues, Yoo offered Artist’s How Are You?, in which he set up a desk and two chairs to discuss the meaning of art in contemporary society with visitors. For Shin’s Trailing: Drawing Performance in Fifty Days, which comprised video, installation, and live performance, he additionally prompted visitors to consider solutions to a nuclear disaster. Hailing from Yangsan, a town near the Gori nuclear power plant in Korea, Shin examined how this decrepit facility represents an immediate source of acute anxiety. On a screenlike piece of canvas, he wrote the names of residents living within an approximately twenty-mile radius of Gori. Yet soon after, the names disappeared as the ink dried out. The work stands as a countermemorial, and, in the end, Shin won the competition.
Ku will perform the piece every Saturday afternoon until the end of the show. Yoo is determined to be present at the desk every day, and Shin intends to keep writing the names onsite while the museum is open and until this exhibition ends.
For this exhibition, artist Nevet Yitzhak was invited to browse the collections of the Museum of Islamic Art. Yitzhak selected a number of objects, including some associated with liturgical practices and others with more everyday functions. Among them were a piece of cloth, a sword, and an illustrated manuscript. Photographic reproductions of these objects, originally used for the collection’s cataloguing system, have been reinterpreted into the video collages that are screened on the gallery walls, orchestrated to create a composition onto the space itself.
In the collages, the original colored photographs have been desaturated and enlarged to a ratio of 1:100. Each image becomes the subject of animation and three-dimensional digital models that reconstruct a possible history for that object, providing it with an imagined narrative, amassing literary sources and allusions to early cinema’s fascination with the Orient. For example, in a single projection an ornamented three-dimensional wooden chest opens and reveals itself to be an old television set broadcasting the 1950s quiz show What in the World?, hosted by Dr. Froelich Rainey of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Every week on the show, a panel of experts would try to identify archeological objects submitted by viewers. In one moment of failure, these authorial figures cannot decide if the object they are holding is meant for writing, ritual, or as a musical instrument. Their archaic approach to the object and its analysis is rephrased through the framing of the chest as an archeological exhibit in and of itself.
The Hebrew title of this exhibition (“צעדים בוני אמון”) translates into English as “Confidence-Building Measures,” a term to which the world of international relations refers as CBMs. Developed during the Cold War, CBMs are strategies designed to increase trust between hostile parties through the establishment of common ground. A similar drive to reduce tension between warring factions—with others, with the environment, or within the self—is the basis for this ambitious show. Including thirteen artists and choreographers working from the early twentieth century to the present, “Set in Motion” surveys work that deals with the body as social agent and dance as social action.
The exhibition’s centerpiece is a new commission by Israeli choreographer Yasmeen Godder, CLIMAX, 2014. The three-hour tour-de-force—the only live performance in the exhibition—includes seven dancers enacting a tension-filled, stripped-down group tango that incorporates props from Godder’s previous performances. From this center, the exhibition expands figuratively and literally into other galleries, incorporating a wide, almost unwieldy range of leitmotifs from the metaphysical to the political.
A glimpse into the history of modern dance is provided through video documentation of German Expressionist dancer Mary Wigman, as well as a digital screening of Babette Mangolte’s photographs of performances by Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, and Steve Paxton. Homage takes a twist with Mike Kelley’s Test Room Containing Multiple Stimuli Known to Elicit Curiosity and Manipulatory Responses, 1999, a videotaped dance based on primate psychological experiments choreographed in the manner of Martha Graham. The convergence between amateur dance and popular culture is explored in Dan Graham’s Rock My Religion, 1983–84 and Tracey Emin’s Why I Never Became a Dancer, 1995, as well as in a brief excerpt from the first season of HBO’s Girls, in which Lena Dunham’s character Hannah rocks out in her bedroom. Israeli artist Nevet Yitzhak’s shrine-like installation explores the similarities between the traditional Ivory Coast dance Mapouka and today’s twerking trend, while Alona Harpaz films the continuation of Israeli folk dance tradition in Kfar Saba’s sports arena. Actions in Israeli-Palestinian border zones are encapsulated in Arkadi Zaides’s Capture Practice, 2014. Zaides isolates and reperforms actions filmed by Palestinians of Israeli soldiers in the Occupied Territories. By detaching these movements from their everyday exchanges, he reveals their inherent violence.
Dani Gal’s long-term fascination with historical memory is the basis for two of his films currently on view at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. In them, Gal raises questions regarding personal and collective memory and the changing relationships between victim and perpetrator.
Inspired by an interview he conducted with Holocaust survivor and former police officer Michael Goldman-Gilad, Gal created a twenty-two-minute film titled Nacht und nebel (Night and Fog), 2011, which reenacts events of a night in 1962 when Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann was executed and cremated in Israel. The characters, among them Goldman-Gilad (played by Yaron Mottola), guard the ashes as they sit in silence in a police bureau, then in a van, and later in a boat to complete the secretive mission of scattering the ashes in international waters. By eliminating dialogues, enhancing sound effects, and adding a voice-over of Goldman-Gilad’s personal experiences from that night, Gal illustrates the participants’ deep moral unease and sense of detachment in this problematic situation.
Wie aus der ferne (As from Afar), 2013, is a twenty-six-minute film that traces a fictional meeting between Nazi architect Albert Speer and Holocaust survivor, architect, and Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal. Based on their peculiar and controversial mail correspondence during the 1970s, the dialogue reveals the ambivalence about their potential meeting and the scars left from their past. This is exemplified by Wiesenthal’s explicit memory of Mauthausen concentration camp, which Speer was responsible for planning, and where Wiesenthal barely survived the last few months of the war. By adding a voice-over of Wittgenstein’s text “Lecture No. 35” (1934–35) that discusses memory images, Gal contemplates how memories are created and maintained through different standpoints.
Both films’ documentary style produces a seemingly objective approach, yet the circumstances, as well as the characters, embody turmoil: guilt, pain, failure, and conflicted human pride.
In Nadav Assor’s latest exhibition, a trapped hexacopter, hidden behind a black curtain and tied down to the floor, reacts to visitors entering its space by hovering and praying, perhaps crying for help. The drone chants Ezekiel 1 in Yemenite style and catches random broadcasts from the local popular army radio station, Galey Tzahal (Waves of the IDF), all becoming part of Ophan, 2014, the first installation in an Israeli gallery to consider civil uses of drones and the first to involve a drone practicing religious devotion.
The inclusion of a central biblical chapter of Jewish mysticism, which has also been interpreted as an encounter with aliens, uncovers an ominous spirituality in the interactions between operators and their machines. In the chapter, the prophet charts a vision of a chariot of god, appearing from a fiery storm. Ophan, which translates as “wheel” in Hebrew, is an angelic, mechanic entity of a wheel within a wheel, controlled by the spirit of another angel. Here, this description of the “Ophan” signifies the complicated emotional relationships between a machine, its operator, and its creator.
Assor’s video Lessons in Leaving Your Body, 2014, further reflects on these relations of vision and power. The work’s protagonist, Jake Wells, is a DIY drone builder, First-Person View hobbyist, and Remote Control Minister. He is pictured in the film building a drone while preaching its use as a means for hope and an extension of bodily experience. In Wells’s world, drones allow him a divine perspective, to conceive existence as an all-seeing, all-knowing being. In society’s posthuman condition, illustrated through Assor’s work, civilian operators turn the machine unto themselves, unraveling the inherent failure of belief in finding a spiritual relief in machines of war and surveillance designed to survey, gather information, and control their movements.
Nelly Agassi presents a series of ink-jet prints, identical in their dimensions and display. The arrangement of the abstracted geometric shapes in each composition echoes both blueprints for unidentified architectural surroundings and humanly configurations, namely, female reproductive organs.
These ambiguous floor plans are driven by harmonious gestures that cannot be fully interpreted or materialized. The grid-like compositions repeat a constructive logic, as seen in Drawing No. 3 (all works cited, 2014) in which a circular shape functions as the center of an abstract structure, to which all else responds. A central form also anchors Drawing No. 1; abstract objects organize around it, perhaps creating an arena or a stage as seen from a bird’s-eye view. The form, positioned at the lower edge of the composition, might indicate a hypothetical audience’s location. Rendered as a pendulous appendage, its ambiguous presence marks an emptied space.
Since her emergence in the Israeli art scene in late 1990s, Agassi has used textiles and her own body in intimate video and performance works to confront feminine physicality, painful emotional moments, and societal models of behavior. This exhibition, however, marks a turning point in her practice and technique, commensurate with the transformations she has experienced in recent years, including becoming a mother, relocating with her family from Tel Aviv to Chicago, and establishing the new studio in which she has redefined her practice. The visceral directness of her past work is now replaced by seemingly opaque shapes that remain remote, yet equally captivating.
The protagonists of Gilda, Luciana Kaplun’s latest film, are silent, anonymous faces of foreign workers whose legal status is questionable. The 2014 film homes in on Latin Americans who clean Israeli homes and businesses, among them cleaners of the CCA itself, following workers as they begin their daily chores. A young man dressed in white arrives at a luxurious house in Tel Aviv, another at a triplex, and a woman cleans offices in the Haaretz newspaper building. Amidst a monotonous rhythm of work, their activities suddenly transform: The first young man, folding washed clothes, calmly tries on an elegant women’s blouse and the other man enacts a striptease in a leopard-print G-string, while the woman creates sculptures from office supplies.
Kaplun’s video invokes the latent fantasies conceived during tedious and repetitive labor via two simultaneous storylines, one depicting the protagonists working and another showing them joining forces in an improvised temple that they have erected in a small space. These overlapping narratives might reflect the ambiguous nature of the title itself: Gilda, the name of an Argentinian pop singer, also translates as “guild” in Hebrew. The temple might be the location in which the “guild” organizes itself as such, where its destitutions are replaced by commitment and devotion. Gilda’s hit song “No Me Arrepiente de Este Amor” (I Do Not Regret This Love) becomes the sound track of their daily routine. As behaviors become more unpredictable, connections between class and gender are revealed, as are the sweeping economic forces that fuel globalization.
Rounding out the third edition of Ashkal Alwan’s experimental art school, “A Museum of Immortality” is the last in a series of exhibitions anchoring a curriculum developed by the artists Anton Vidokle and Jalal Toufic. The show is based on a concept by Boris Groys, and actually tries to realize the Russian philosopher Nikolai Fyodorov’s wild notion of “The Common Task,” whereby a heady, hallucinatory mix of science, technology, political circumstance, and spiritual fervor reimagines the museum as a space for resurrecting the dead and immortalizing all mankind.
With the help of more than fifty fellow artists, Vidokle and Toufic have created a muscular, mazelike installation of stacked and angled boxes, display cases doubling as glass-capped wooden coffins. The range of people, ideas, and things offered for eternal preservation here is broad, uneven, and dazzlingly inventive in terms of materials and forms. Jessika Khazrik’s My Body If Only I Could See You (all works 2014), for example, pays tribute to the eleventh-century polymath Ibn al-Haytham and his Book of Optics by placing a pair of identical light fixtures face-to-face. Daniel Barroca assembles seven vellum sheets, among others, scrawled with notes and astral drawings in Alberto Caeiro to conjure the spirit of the titular Portuguese poet, who was, like Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos, one of Fernando Pessoa’s great literary heteronyms.
Inevitably, perhaps, several artists plumb their own autobiographies. But where Lynn Kodeih’s broadcast of 147 hours of psychoanalysis, Untitled, 8820 Minutes Ongoing seems excessive and self-indulgent, Tony Chakar’s How to Say Goodbye, a collection of at least as many cassette tapes, speaks beautifully to a time of loss and a sense of longing whose resurrection can only ever be painfully incomplete.
Dowsing, or divining, is a practice that stems from ancient times, in which one uses rods or sticks to find a diversity of hidden objects, such as metals, oil, archeological remains, or even missing persons, under surfaces. In 2013, Netherlands-based Zimbabwean artist James Beckett, whose practice centers on revealing the nature of found objects and historical narratives, invited two dowsers from the United Kingdom to explore the grounds of various educational institutions in Amsterdam.
In this didactic exhibition, the results of the project are configured into an installation that investigates the representational machinery of museums. Dowsing Schools: Preliminary Findings and Corresponding Survey Kit, 2013, presents in two display cases a selection of books published between 1939 and 1980 devoted to dowsing, as well as a collection of Y- and L-shaped diving artifacts, such as a natural forked branch harvested from a British garden and an industrially made South Korean telescopic brass pen rod, from different locations. Exploiting traditional anthropological museology aesthetics, a survey kit with a variety of objects used by the dowsers to inspect the academies—including a plane table used for mapping, flags for marking the layout of buildings, a metal pendulum, a shovel, and a fiberglass umbrella—is also carefully arranged in the gallery.
Additionally, two audio recordings with the dowsers’ testimonials, describing their methods based on vibrations or electromagnetic waves to find objects, envision the practice either as a magical divinatory system or as a pseudoscientific praxis. With this work, Beckett explores institutional cultural modes of legitimization while becoming a dowser himself, revealing what is invisible: the subculture tradition of diving that exists independently from general, and more evidently artistic, view or knowledge.
In 2012, the Walters Prize judges were criticized for selecting a short list of works few had actually seen in person. It was a sign of globalization’s impact on New Zealand art; all four of the projects had been shown overseas. This year’s short list, by contrast, contains only one offshore work: Simon Denny’s All You Need is Data – The DLD 2012 Conference REDUX, 2013, first exhibited at Kunstverein Munich. Denny’s massive installation is effectively a walk-in conference program, in which he cuts and pastes details of every session from the titular gathering and turns them into ugly inkjet prints on canvas. Its commanding scale is emphasized by the fact that it is also the only short-listed work to physically occupy the Auckland Art Gallery in its entirety. By contrast, Maddie Leach’s project, which transformed a barrel of oil into enough energy to create a 2.4-ton block of concrete, exists largely as website documentation. Kalisolaite Uhila’s Mo’ui tukuhausia, 2012, restages a performance in which the artist lived homeless for a spell. And Luke Willis Thompson’s work takes the form of a journey: Gallery visitors are invited on a taxi ride across Auckland to a run-down house, without any clues as to what, or who, they’ll encounter. Thanks to curator Stephen Cleland, doing an outstanding job with such an ephemeral brief, the Auckland Art Gallery’s difficult top floor is the best it’s ever looked. In September, Charles Esche will arrive to pick a winner. Based on the scale, bravery, and ambition on display, he has a very tough task ahead of him.
Steve Carr’s solo exhibition comprises three works, but the six-channel video projection titled Transpiration, 2014, is the showstopper. Large-scale hyperrealistic carnations are strewn across two gallery walls—a pastel spectrum of baby blue, pink, and yellow—their quivering tissue-paper petals much larger than life. The effect is exhilarating and just a touch embarrassing, since the carnation is a lowly flower, ubiquitous and a bit tacky, and offers longevity over beauty.
Carr revels in offering the viewer the iconic and the imperceptible, the instant gratification and the longue durée, so things are not how they first appear. These luscious images eventually reveal movement, a glimpse of a petal folding or fluttering, and the carnations’ colors change, too, each pink, yellow, and blue slowly deepening. Carr has filmed a classroom science experiment with a time-lapse camera: Place a white carnation into dyed water, and the flower absorbs the water through its stem, adopting its dyed color in the process. The work’s points of reference are as avant-garde as they are populist: for instance, Warhol’s flower paintings that were in turn inspired by Jean Cocteau’s 1959 film Testament of Orpheus (thus Carr returns the flower imagery to its cinematic roots).
But the video installation on view is astonishing for its perceptual rather than metaphorical effects and is, ultimately, a gift for the patient viewer. Time sped up, then slowed down, and presented in high-definition lushness hints at other orders of perception. This is true as well for the two works that bookend Transpiration. They include a wall of perfectly gridded prototype golf balls for pro golfers, sliced in half to reveal their multicolored concentric interiors, and a small video projection of a mechanical bird set in front of a theatrical backdrop, filmed over the course of a day, but now condensed into seemingly artificial cycles of light and shadow.
In 1968, Vogue published Richard Avedon’s photo of star model Marisa Berenson wearing a twenty-four-karat golden ear made by Eduardo Costa, a young Argentine artist living in New York. This was one of Costa’s many “Fashion Fictions,” wearable sculptural items that appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, and other magazines in Latin America and the US. Like the media art he produced in Buenos Aires in 1966, these were conceptual works about cracking the media’s codes. The first large room encountered by visitors contains documentation of Costa’s “Fashion Fictions,” along with mannequins wearing clothing designed by nineteen contemporary artists for the Fashion Show Poetry Event staged at the May 2014 opening. There are also photos of the original Fashion Show Poetry Event, a performance organized in 1969 in New York by Costa, John Perreault, and Hannah Weiner with models wearing designs by Marisol, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, and others. The other two galleries introduce viewers to Costa’s paintings, as well as sound, film, text, and video pieces.
Although the exhibition is not a retrospective, it gives a sense of the complexity of Costa’s work, which has developed in dialogue with teachers, friends, and collaborators in Buenos Aires, New York, and Rio de Janeiro. Conceptualism, pop, performance, Neo-concretism, the Afro-Brazilian tradition, and avant-garde writing: He has brought all of these together in surprising ways over the past fifty years. The show lacks key works, such as his “Talking Paintings”—and documentation of his role in street and theater performances is also absent. But the exhibition still allows for a rich experience of Costa’s nomadic, syncretic art.
“Superlatives and Resolutions,” the latest solo exhibition (and first show in Brazil) by French-Algerian artist Neil Beloufa, speaks of a world full of promise yet lacking in solid achievements. It reminds the viewer how today we have access to limitless information that seems somehow to hem us in. We are addicted to being online, yet, despite the vast possibilities of the Internet, we feel like we live in bubbles that are as impermeable as they are invisible. The show offers various works in different media—painting, sculpture, video, and installation—all evoking the vicissitudes of contemporary life and underscoring the complexity of our desires for continuous connection.
Beloufa’s new paintings are made with MDF and metal. Some of them feature electric sockets embedded in their surfaces—occasionally with a power cord plugged in. One such painting powers the projector and the audio system of the large-scale installation People’s passion, lifestyle beautiful wine, gigantic glass tower, all surrounded by water in Judgement scales, 2014. This latter work is a modular structure made of a diverse array of materials, including paper, plastic, speakers, a video projector, and an iron grid. A ten-minute video in the piece presents interviews recorded in Vancouver, Canada, while a pleasant sound track plays in the background. In the interviews, people describe an ideal life from the Western—that is, North American and European—perspective, and the nonexistent utopias of their imaginings meld with a documentary form. In this way, a discourse constructed by Western society finds itself rooted in subjectivities.
Translated from Portuguese by Wendy Gosselin.