“If I am the mask then you must be the ‘true’ self hiding behind my insidious body, as for a mask to exist there must be something genuine for it to conceal,” utters Sophie, 2017, an automated mask created by Latvian artist Ieva Kraule to perform her written texts. Schematic, stripped away from any soft tissue that would conceal her hard mechanic body parts, Sophie resembles Maria, the robot in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Although detached from a body, Sophie manages to subvert the relationship between human and machine, between creator and a tool made to merely mediate the artist’s ideas. Machines are born of human desires and, at the same time, human limitations and insecurities, thus immediately gaining leverage in relation to their creators. Same for Sophie: She is immobile, mounted on a wall, and speaks in prerecorded voice between long pauses of mere motorized blinking, yet she becomes indispensible for the artist to communicate her thoughts. We see a mutual relationship, a double game, in which the machine shapes the same ideas that it later pronounces in the exhibition space.
Language is a recurring theme—a device, even—in Kraule’s practice, and it is explored through diverse materials, such as ceramics, metal, and texts. In this show, her linguistic concern is apparent in colorful metal lines reminiscent of fragmented letters, which are scattered throughout the gallery, and two other motionless ceramic masks mounted on a wall that have their mouths open yet remain silent.
In a 2009 performance titled Knitwit, maverick artist Barend de Wet, sporting a churchly suit and calling himself the “Knitting Bull,” loudly—like a lay preacher—implored his audience to “Knit!” In light of the sixty-four mostly contemporary works by thirty-three artists and collectives assembled for this concise survey of weaving, knitting, sewing, lace making, tapestry, beading, and embroidery practices, his entreaty was also a declaration of fact. De Wet is represented in this exhibition by Crochet (Shroud), 2013, a candy-colored knitted garment draped over a standing figure. It appears next to a color photograph by Siwa Mgoboza, Les …tres D’Africadia (After Les Demoiselles D’Avignon), 2015, a Picasso-parodying tableau with five black figures in costumes made by the artist from Shweshwe, a printed cotton fabric common in southern Africa.
Although mostly occupied with mapping the present, “Women’s Work” includes historical pieces that underscore the show’s thesis: Textile arts are often a collective endeavor and are encumbered by prejudicial, gendered assumptions. Africa, a large seventeenth-century wool-and-silk tapestry of Flemish origin that offers a hoary allegory of bounty and danger replete with the folkloric Queen of Sheba, is installed opposite two wool tapestries by Athi-Patra Ruga, The Glamouring of the Versatile Ivy, 2015, and Invitation . . . Presentation . . . Induction, 2013, both figurative works that portray the artist’s queer-influenced matriarchal reimagining of postapartheid history. A rectangular lace insert produced in the 1830s by a Cape Town slave known only as Melati smartly draws attention to the city’s history as a garment-making center—this once robust industry has been gutted by globalization. Zyma Amien memorializes this proximate history in two installations composed of found objects: Unpick, 2015, a display of atomized sewing-machine parts, and Paying Homage, 2016, three vintage sewing machines framed by vertical lengths of fabric decorated with sewing pins.
Caught between East and West, Hong Kong, with its distinctive business-fueled urban culture, has always been an emblem of the cultural hybridity of which Homi Bhabha writes. In Chan Koonchung’s words, that hybridity characterizes old Guangdong itself: half China, half foreign, neither fully ancient nor fully contemporary. In the 1980s and 1990s, Hong Kong’s popular culture—its flourishing film and television industries and its literary output alike—was no exception. Although its regional influence in Asia was far-reaching, a single-minded focus on entertainment often led to a stereotype of Hong Kong as a “cultural desert.”
M+ Pavilion’s new exhibition does not sidestep these criticisms, nor does it attempt to make popular culture elegant. Taking the notable phenomenon of gender ambiguity in Hong Kong’s popular culture as a starting point, the exhibition remains contained in size, using four distinct sections to explore experimental manifestations of boundary-crossing identities.
To emphasize Hong Kong pop culture’s golden age, the exhibition’s atmosphere takes on the lushness of the theme song in Tsui Hark’s Green Snake (1993). The splendor of singer Leslie Cheung appearing in red beads and high heels is case in point. So too are legendary stars Roman Tam, Anita Mui, Denise Ho, seen in costume with extravagant props, in multicolor scenes synonymous with Cantonese pop-music performances. The same period of film and television production further refined expressions of gender fluidity, as sexual ambiguity became a unifying feature of the scenes and stills of films ranging from Rouge (1987) to Peony Pavilion (2001). Similarly, Julian Lee and Wing Shya’s character photography, Alan Chan’s graphic design and urban periodicals such as City Magazine and 100 Most also become multivalent stagings of visual experimentation. Finally, works from M+’s collection, by artists such as Wilson Shieh, Ming Wong, Stanley Wong, and Ho Sin Tung, reflect how pop-cultural elements infiltrate contemporary art.
Strictly speaking, “Ambiguously Yours” is more than just an art exhibition: It exemplifies both M+’s ongoing ambitions to shape visual culture and its step toward adding popular culture to its taxonomy of interests. However, given that Hong Kong’s cultural identity and territorial status remain in flux, the exhibition falls short of providing multiple perspectives on gender fluidity.
Translated from Chinese by Du Keke and Dawn Chan.
What do we mean when we talk about post-internet art? For curators Klaus Biesenbach and Peter Eleey, it is in part a question of geography. For this exhibition, they have selected eighteen works by Chinese and Western artists that explore how regional diversities and differences are informed by our digital age and consequently affect contemporary art practices. It represents the first sortie of an ongoing research partnership between the K11 Art Foundation and MoMA PS1. Many of the works, which range from Wang Xin’s virtual-reality installation The Gallery, 2014–, to Oliver Payne’s classical trompe l’oeil mural Untitled (Portal Painting), 2017, seem to find form and subject in between the digital and analog realms. In Aleksandra Domanović’s film From Yu to Me, 2013–14, the .yu domain becomes a tangible relic of the vanished country, Yugoslavia, where the artist was born. She reminds us of the fragility of universalizing systems in a period of nationalist retrenchment. An untitled 2015 silk-screen print by Laura Owens was created with an early twentieth-century cartoon of Nikola Tesla that lampooned the inventor’s prophetic World Wireless System. Over the purposely fragmented and pixelated image, Owen applied paint in thick, textural strokes. Finally, in a pair of surreal video pieces by Cao Fei (The Birth of RMB City, 2009) and Sondra Perry (Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation, 2016), each artist’s virtual avatar navigates urgent realities. Such clever juxtapositions throughout the show challenge the notion of the World Wide Web as a utopian space unencumbered by boundaries, territorial or otherwise.
On the fifty-third floor of Mori Tower—the tallest building in the Roppongi district—to be unable to look out over Tokyo is agonizing. Agatha Gothe-Snape must have felt similarly when she conceived her exhibition for the almost windowless space of the Mori Art Museum. She explores the notion of the window as a metaphor for that which both joins and separates, an element which contributes to the site-specificity of her installation. The spectrum of works on view, which grew from her research in Tokyo, includes videos, digital prints, and sound recordings, as well as sculptures and other spatial elements, such as a pair of moving curtains that hang side by side slightly offset from one another—SCREENTONE (OBSCURE LANGUAGE) and SKINTONE (CMYK) (all works cited, 2017)—which function as a shifting stage for performances and as part of a unified installation.
An industrially manufactured handrail that can be found in various locations in the Roppongi Hills serves as a model for the three-part work THIS MEANDERING HAND. When uncoupled from its original context and transferred to the exhibition space, it takes on sculptural qualities. In GRADUALLY, THIS.PPTX and OOOOOOOOOO.PPTX, various interviewed subjects, many of them affiliated with the museum (including the show’s curator, Haruko Kumakura), were asked to observe the city landscape from high up in the tower for ten minutes, and then to render it from memory. Their responses are discussed in the texts displayed as projected slides. The results present not only a subjective view from an imagined museum window but also a multitude of views of the museum itself.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
This museum is an ironically fitting setting for Maha Maamoun’s Night Visitor: The Night of Counting the Years, 2011, a film constructed from YouTube clips the artist compiled in the months following the initial uprising of the 2011 Egyptian revolution during the Arab Spring. The work documents a series of trespasses on the part of liberated Egyptian civilians into the hitherto hermetically sealed, intensely defended spaces of the state’s security wing, responsible for many brutal abuses under the auspices of President Mubarak’s draconian Emergency Law. The revealed gilded interiors, with their expensive Baroque furniture and gold-framed photographs of suited government functionaries, mirror the Belle Epoque architectural trimmings of the Sursock Museum, an unintended parallel that becomes all the more troubling once the video descends into bare interrogation chambers festooned with the graffitied prayers of past torture victims.
Exhibited alongside this piece is Dear Animal, a 2016 narrative film shot in Cairo and India that is based on a series of letters by Azza Shaaban and a short story by Haytham El-Wardany about a drug dealer who transforms into a goat. Shaaban, a filmmaker who participated in the Arab Spring demonstrations, wrote the letters from the perspective of being caught between human and dolphin forms as a kind of of therapy. The dreamy and often quite beautiful film, which departs dramatically from Maamoun’s earlier video collage methods, comically shifts between narrative, temporal, and spatial registers, presenting a familiar world made strange through subtle transformation and quiet reactions to sociohistorical trauma.
Writing on marble is not easy, but the title of Hera BŁyŁktaşÁıyan’s latest solo exhibition, “Write Injuries on Sand and Kindness in Marble”—a proverb found in many cultures, including Gulf countries and France—seemingly ignores this fact. In fact, marble emerges as a deceptively attractive menace, an elusive signifier of slippery semiotic value, in such works as Chanting if I live, forgetting it I die, 2016, a kinetic sculpture that features a row of moving piano-key-like off-white marble slabs on a simple plank of wood. Compared to an earlier, larger wooden version twice exhibited in Istanbul, whose motion-activated “keys” together resembled a pier, these levers are short and narrow; their significantly quieter mechanism, as a result, harkens back to a transcultural history of automata for the world’s elite across ages. However, implying a similar loss of ground with the uncoordinated movement of individual slabs, the work also constitutes an eerie overture about the past of Al Quoz, where the gallery is located, as a former marble factory.
In this narrative, The Relic, 2016, overturns the prevailing disappearance of laborers’ traces from the end products of grand projects by allowing small mosaic pieces to leave their imprints on bronze-cast hands. The work is a sly take on the myth that builders who worked on Taj Mahal lost their fingerprints from sanding marble. With the same laborer-commissioner relationship in mind, the monumental Everflowing Pool of Nectar, 2017, reverses the tiling pattern and water-current flow in the titular, sacred pool in Amritsar, India, through eight thirty-two-foot-long scrolls with large circumflex marks pointing upward. The installation is vaguely Situationist in its bicolored, geometric demarcation of space, and upon closer inspection, its circumflexes reveal manually reworked details of Byzantine, Mughal, and Italian illustrations of builders and building. And so against the tide of history, BŁyŁktaşÁıyan’s deeply political claim surfaces once more: that artisans—not rulers—are, in her words, “the main pillars of . . . representation.”
Dove-gray walls have an unexpectedly soothing effect in this exhibition of Sara Rahbar’s disembodied bronze appendages—eight sets of life-size cast arms and legs, and one head, displayed on the floor, on plinths, and weightlessly hanging from walls—with one lone flag in the corner. The lack of more forceful white walls doesn’t appear gimmicky; instead, it provides an emotionally neutral base for Rahbar’s confrontational, discomforting references to unspecified acts of violence. But the aggressiveness is just a front. The subtle juxtapositions employed discreetly temper every harsh note with an element of fragility: The clenched fists and curled toes indicate torture, fear, discrimination, and lack of safety, but paired with unfurled fingers and outstretched arms trying to wrangle the feet back together, the longing for salvation is unmistakable.
Despite the indestructible medium, paradoxical tone, and (literal) cold shoulder, the urge to touch these works is strong. This push and pull embodies the complexity of vulnerability, which Rahbar further broaches through two modes of phenomenological identification—the universality of suffering, and shared limbs and mannerisms—plunging you into unwelcome memories and acknowledgements of global states of anguish with bleak resolutions. Here, the significance of the American flag-like Flag 53, Shelter Me, 2016, rears its head. A meticulous, orderly assemblage on tarp of objects Rahbar carefully collected—such as a knife, bullet belts, and nametags abandoned by soldiers after war, as well as coins and Bedouin-style metal jewelry—bluntly outlines the items and cyclical conditions that sustain, define, and destroy humankind. While Rahbar’s theme may not be fresh, this wound is, and it needs a healing touch.
A glass box with a concrete column at its center is flanked by two windowed walls—this is the Brutalist-style space that hosts the most recent site-specific installation by Biljana Jancic, an artist who creates compositions that respond to the architectural features of a given environment. Surface Tension, 2017, uses projections and reflections, made with light and duct tape, to explore this cubic space. Plants and shadows of a louver extend over the central white wall. Combined with those of visitors, the shadows seem natural, as if coming from the distant brise-soleil of the courtyard, but they are the byproduct of a film projected in two channels. This compelling optical illusion leads to an ambiguous atmosphere: an intermediate space between indoors and outside.
Emerging from these projected shutters and expanding across the concrete floor is a thick line of flat stripes made with bright-silver aluminum tape. This intersects with another type of tape that marks in gray the space’s interaction with light, while a line of blue tape emerges from a corner to cross the entire gallery floor and then climb up one wall to trace the surfaces of the outdoor stairs. Jancic’s enveloping installation plays with form, materials, and physical experience, making viewers conscious of the transitional dynamics and features of this site. A storm of lines that has as its eye a column witnesses the repeated modular elements and crossed relations that occur within.