Critics’ Picks

Cheng Ran, Rock Dove, 2009, still from a single-channel video, 5 minutes.


“The Tell-Tale Heart”

James Cohan Gallery | Shanghai 上海科恩画廊
170 Yue Yang Road 1/F Building 1, No. 1 Lane
February 27 - April 11

Very rarely does an exhibition that consists solely of video art succeed in convincing its audience to sit through each and every piece on display. “The Tell-Tale Heart,” however, does just that and works its magic through an allegorical reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s classic suspenseful short story. Housed in a darkened colonial mansion replete with historic painted moldings, the show insists on the paranormal as a communication strategy, enticing moving images into fruitful dialogues with one another across the gallery spaces.

The standout work here is the single-channel video Rock Dove, 2009, by emerging artist Cheng Ran, who, though often given to elaborate and somewhat obtuse visual fantasies, here presents a focused portrayal of doves roosting in an empty factory, echoing the composition of a musical score as the birds fly from one dimmed fluorescent light to the next. The piece reaches its climax when the lights are turned on in an awkward rhythm, forcing the birds into frenetic flight patterns that result in a visual experience somewhere between the poetic and the systematic. Also poignant is Li Ming’s captivating XX, 2009, in which two young men attempt to exchange shirts while maintaining skin-on-skin contact, approaching the strictures of unspoken roles through the raw sexual power of the body. The supernatural conversation opened between these two pieces alone is quite productive; strong surrealistic outings by Apichatpong Weerasthakul, Hiraki Sawa, and Martha Colburn add further stylistic dimensions to the concise survey.