“Energy Field”

Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai (MOCA Shanghai) | 上海当代艺术馆
People's Park, 231 Nanjing West Road| 南京西路231号人民公园内
January 21, 2017–April 14, 2017

Xu Jiang and Yuan Liujun, Farewell Song for Landscape, 2016, metal, elastic fabric, metal wire, 25 1/2 x 19 1/2 x 57".

In “Energy Plan for the Western Man,” 1979, Joseph Beuys spoke of the “chemical reactions, fermentation, color changes, decay, [and] drying up” that characterize his work. “Energy Field,” a transmedia exhibition at MOCA Shanghai, tests Beuys’s method in explicit and surprising ways. Could the curator have anticipated, for example, that Han Xia’s ASCII Mirror, 2015, a large projection of cascading green Matrix-like open code, would be complemented by the bright Mac OS X desktop screen appearing on the opposite wall, museum staff valiantly attempting to reboot the computer?

There is nothing sterile about the exhibition’s homage to a Conceptual artmaking genealogy. The show is filled with a haphazard, disorientating, and inviting collection of mostly videos and projections. In Yang Fudong’s My Heart Was Touched Last Year, 2007, the massive projection of what at first appears to be a black-and-white, Helmut Newton–esque photograph of a model, hair pulled back, her hand barely touching her cheek, turns out to be recorded footage, as evidenced by her breathing and the subtle motion of her lips; her humanness is exposed, a living tableau in a darkened, silent room. Zhenzhong Yang’s Disinfect, 2015, similarly plays off silence and darkness, with life-size figures projected against a black void, silently hurling pantomimed insults at the viewer in slow motion. It is hard to shake their collective gaze and even harder not to cringe and stare. Throughout the exhibition, screens mediate bodies. In Xiaolei Tian’s video Thirty Six Point Five Cenidgree Secnery, 2011, computer-generated breasts, hands, and other bulbous masses of flesh result in a hypnotic kaleidoscope of twisted forms. The screen opens possibility beyond itself, but, as Gilles Deleuze suggests, when we look up, the world tends to creep in.

— Todd Meyers