PRINT December 2015

Pi Li

Lee Mingwei, The Letter Writing Project, 1998/2014, wooden booths, writing paper, envelopes. Installation view, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo. Photo: Yoshitsugu Fuminari.

1 LEE MINGWEI (MORI ART MUSEUM, TOKYO; CURATED BY MAMI KATAOKA) Lee’s survey at the Mori Art Museum included fifteen works made since the mid-1990s. Most were incomplete when the show opened but were extensively enriched by visitors’ participation. While the meticulously designed structures, instruments, and rules were impressive, what was truly poignant was the warmth with which the works engaged each passerby. Lee creates immersive spaces paradoxically tailored for one-on-one encounters between artworks and individual viewers, a welcome contrast to the communal platitudes of relational aesthetics.

2 UNDER THE DOME (CHAI JING) In February, Chai, an investigative journalist, released a documentary that she had funded herself. Borrowing the format of an Apple product launch, she appears onstage, walking back and forth in front of a large screen, as she cycles through images to present an incisive analysis of the causes of China’s rampant air pollution. Within twenty-four hours of the film’s release, her powerful indictment had reached millions of Chinese people and caused panic in the government. Soon after, however, some in the intellectual community began to question her perceived emphasis on privatization and other (neoliberal) economic solutions to environmental problems, stimulating a much-needed public conversation about the role of class and capital in Chinese environmental policy.

3 CHEN ZHEN (ROCKBUND ART MUSEUM, SHANGHAI; CURATED BY HOU HANRU) During the last decade of his life, Chen traveled frequently between Shanghai and Paris. The former provided his artistic foundation, while the latter allowed him to share his work. A member of the first generation of visual artists to address globalization, he often found himself working on cross-cultural issues unfolding outside China during those years. By the time Chen passed away in 2000, China itself had become fully swept up in globalization, but his works were seldom exhibited within his home country. Seeing his work shown this year in Shanghai, juxtaposed with the incredibly rapid transformation of that metropolis into an international megacity, I couldn’t help but be astonished by the artist’s peculiar, prescient sensitivity.

4 “A HUNDRED YEARS OF SHAME: SONGS OF RESISTANCE AND SCENARIOS FOR CHINESE NATIONS” (PARA SITE, HONG KONG; CURATED BY COSMIN COSTINAS AND ANTHONY YUNG) The English title of Para Site’s inaugural exhibition in its new Hong Kong space is a parody of the nationalist mantra used to describe China’s subjugation to foreign powers in the presocialist era. Yet the show’s content encompassed a far more diverse range of political expression in Chinese art, including voices from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and many other places that addressed topics such as political protest and social involvement. The exhibition succeeded in thoroughly deconstructing homogenized nationalist narratives both old and new, while also provoking a profound contemplation of intellectual rebellion and its limitations.

5 IVAN GRUBANOV (SERBIAN PAVILION, 56TH VENICE BIENNALE; CURATED BY LIDIJA MERENIK WITH ANA BOGDANOVIĆ) Grubanov documented states that disappeared in the twentieth century, then rubbed their chemical- and paint-soaked national flags onto the floor, leaving them lying there like remains on a battlefield. Grubanov’s work cast doubts on the nationalist narratives typically presented at Venice pavilions. When a country dissolves, what happens to its voice, and where do its people go? Where can we find the art of a dead nation?

Hou Hsiao-hsien, The Assassin, 2015, 35 mm, color and black-and-white, sound, 105 minutes. Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi).

6 AGNES MARTIN (TATE MODERN, LONDON; CURATED BY FRANCES MORRIS AND TIFFANY BELL WITH LENA FRITSCH) Martin’s exhibition at Tate Modern gave quite a thrill. For a long time, my understanding of her rigorously gridded works was based on space, structure, and medium. But when I stood in the Tate’s galleries, I could see how painstaking and laborious her work was. I felt her tenacity and her pauses, the breaths, the joy, the rejoicing, and sometimes the indifference underlying every canvas. These are works that comfort one’s soul.

Co-organized with the K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

7 THE ASSASSIN (HOU HSIAO-HSIEN) Hou’s Assassin is something of a miracle: a film of more than a hundred minutes, adapted from a Tang-dynasty story of just over a thousand Chinese characters. The work portrays the power shifts and moral battles that characterized the late Tang period, often considered the nation’s golden age and a bellwether in the discourse of Chinese nationalism. Yet Hou has created a distinctly new Tang ambience—bloodstained and mysterious, but also poetic. As the camera sweeps through mountains and birch trees, we hear the sound of the wind, almost as though it rhymed with Tang poetry.

8 LIU WEI (WHITE CUBE, HONG KONG) The works in Liu’s solo exhibition continued the practice of employing books, mirrors, cheap metal, and found materials that the artist established early in his career. Increasingly using precisely cut industrial fragments, however, the artist has shifted from his earlier, expansive shapes to heavier, more monumental ones, enveloping the whole gallery in matte grayness.

9 GENG JIANYI (OVERSEAS CHINESE TOWN CONTEMPORARY ART TERMINAL, SHENZHEN) About twenty years ago, a fortune-teller wrote Geng’s destiny on a page of scrap paper. Geng eventually lost the sheet, but he still recalls that the phrase “east to the bridge” was mentioned. This reminded him of a bridge he used to cross as a child on his way to the recreational center where he learned to draw, and he treated it as the starting point of his career and the genesis of this exhibition. The small gallery was filled with artifacts from his past, like some sort of maze, even if viewers could choose to enter or exit at any point. What impressed me most was the exhibition’s looming feeling of the impermanence often associated with Buddhist doctrines, tempered by the sense that we were seeing the artist’s spiritual autobiography.

10 TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP Although it started as a trade agreement between several small countries, the Trans-Pacific Partnership took on major significance when it grew to include the United States. Yet none of the negotiations that led to its formation were transparent. The public knows that trade deals have been bundled with political ones. Countries that didn’t meet certain political requirements were shunned, losing all trade and tariff benefits. The TPP has jangled the nerves of Chinese intellectuals, who generally regard it as specifically devised to exclude China. National policymakers and most intellectuals embraced the World Trade Organization and the idea of globalization as the future of the Chinese economy, but today we sense only their anxiety, suspicion, and uncertainty.

Translated from Chinese by Angie Wu.

Pi Li was appointed Senior Curator of M+ in Hong Kong in 2012, and previously worked as a critic, curator, and educator in mainland China. His most recent exhibition, “Right is Wrong/Four Decades of Chinese Art from the M+ Sigg Collection,” opened its latest iteration in Manchester, UK’s Whitworth Gallery this past summer.