PRINT December 2016

Du Keke

View of “Discordant Harmony,” 2015–16, Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo: Kazuhiro Uchida.

1 “DISCORDANT HARMONY” (KUANDU MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, TAIPEI; CURATED BY CHIEN-HUNG HUANG, YUKIE KAMIYA, SUNJUNG KIM, AND CAROL YINGHUA LU) Asia may not actually exist. Such is the provocation suggested by this exhibition’s oxymoronic title and elaborated in the curators’ statement. Unfolding across three venues over two years and featuring a shifting constellation of works by artists from Korea, Japan, mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, the show shattered any simplistic notion of the region as a cohesive cultural entity—indeed, exploded the term harmony itself, which is frequently deployed as the key word for any discussion of Asia’s social and political stability. Viewers were left asking themselves whether Asia is a site, a method, or a palimpsest of images and dialogues in perpetual flux.

Co-organized with the Goethe-Institut; Art Sonje Center, Seoul; and Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art.

2 OLAFUR ELIASSON (LONG MUSEUM WEST BUND, SHANGHAI) The sheer scale and vivid visual effects of this spectacular exhibition were perfect for the Long Museum’s cavernous, vaulted concrete space. A carefully curated selection of the Danish-Icelandic artist’s works from the early 1990s to the present, the career-spanning survey provided an overwhelming experience of technologically constructed beauty, forming a strange parallel to the hypermediated, tech-obsessed culture of contemporary China.

3 ZHANG HUI (LONG MARCH SPACE, BEIJING) The subtle visual tricks in Zhang’s pictures remind me of Jiro Takamatsu’s famous “Shadow” series of paintings, 1964–98, but while the latter used viewers’ real shadows to disrupt the illusory space of his works, the former tries to achieve a similar dislocation using only paint on canvas. Zhang constructs complex and intertwined pictorial layers that refuse to cohere into a stable image, inviting the viewer to experience them bodily by moving back and forth, closer and farther. Interestingly enough, just as Takamatsu’s explorations of painting and drawing followed his neo-Dada activities as a member of the performance collective Hi-Red Center in the 1960s, Zhang turned to painting after his theatrical experimentation with the Post-Sense Sensibility group around 2000.

4 WANG XINGWEI (PLATFORM CHINA, BEIJING) Collecting his output over the past few years, Wang’s solo show was a series of full-blown contradictions, as suggested by its title: “Honor and Disgrace.” The calligraphy scrolls hung adjacent to each work evoked the tradition of Chinese literati paintings, yet their subjects ranged from characters in folklore to soldiers from the Sino-Japanese War, all rendered in an eclectic range of styles that recalled everything from Baroque painting to Impressionism. Wry insights into contemporary life in China or unfettered formal experimentation? Perhaps both, or neither.

Organized by Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing.

5 TAKASHI MURAKAMI, THE 500 ARHATS, 2012 (MORI ART MUSEUM, TOKYO) These four eighty-two-foot chromatic murals depicting five hundred Buddhist disciples in various grotesque mutations are visually mesmerizing. Murakami has obviously shifted his references from anime and otaku culture to traditional Japanese art; according to the artist, the massive destruction caused by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake renewed his interest in Japan’s religious and cultural history. Whatever the reason, the demonic Monkey King of the Japanese art world has returned to his own turf for a fantastic homecoming adventure.

Takashi Murakami, The 500 Arhats (detail), 2012, four parts, acrylic on canvas mounted on board, overall 9' 10 7/8“ × 328' 1”.

6 GODZILLA RESURGENCE (HIDEAKI ANNO AND SHINJI HIGUCHI) Not a big fan of Japanese sci-fi culture, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this year’s Godzilla film, written and codirected by Hideaki Anno, who is best known for the cult anime series Evangelion. The film is teeming with political metaphors and hilarious caricatures of Japanese society—scenes of painfully long discussions between government officials in blue work uniforms vividly parody the bureaucratic system while recalling the atmosphere in the aftermath of the Tōhoku earthquake. As dangerously nationalistic as the film’s narrative of Japan’s violent self-defense against a foreign (if fantastical) threat might initially seem, the directors’ approach is anime-istic through and through—innocuous yet searing.

7 CHEN CHIEH-JEN, DISSENTING VOICES OF THE UNWASHED, DISOBEDIENT, NONCITIZENS, AND EXILES IN THEIR OWN HOMES (SHIBAURA HOUSE, TOKYO, FEBRUARY 16–18) The auditorium went dark and the curtains were raised, revealing the hustle and bustle of Tokyo’s streets at night. Looking through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, the audience could see a young man standing on the landing of the neighboring building. He began to speak into a walkie-talkie, and the room was filled with the sound of his voice as he related the story of the precarious living he makes in the city, drifting from one temporary job to another. This performance served as the conclusion to Chen’s own lecture, an hour-long monologue about the social, cultural, and urban effects of colonialism. The lecture started with the notorious Losheng Sanitarium constructed in Taiwan by its Japanese occupiers in the 1930s and ended with what he calls the “latest version of colonial modernity”—the structural inequalities that still govern the lives of the young performer and other residents of the contemporary city. Indeed, while Chen’s dense talk may not have been easy for the local audience to follow, the young man’s story echoed the themes he raised in an unforgettable way.

Organized by Arts Commons Tokyo.

8 GENG JIANYI (OCAT SHANGHAI) Geng’s modest series of new works offered a welcome encounter amid the countless September openings. Twenty-three moving images, each around ten seconds long, were projected from remodeled lamps and flashlights onto the concrete columns of the darkened gallery space. Viewers had to walk along the bottom-lit partitions that at once divided and linked these elements to find their way between the diminutive projections of dried earth, flowing water, leaves, animals, and insects. Is the exhibition a reflection on a specific medium, a probing of visual experience, or simply a beautiful poem composed from fragmented images? Before an answer came to mind, I realized that I had been wandering in the space for almost an hour.

9 YEAR THREE OF CHINA’S “ONE BELT, ONE ROAD” INITIATIVE Last November, a state-owned Chinese firm signed a forty-three-year lease with Pakistan for more than two thousand acres of land in the port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea. There is an undeniable historical irony here, with a resurgent China now seeming to follow in the footsteps of the British Empire, which leased Hong Kong as its own “overseas territory” more than a century ago. Only time will tell whether this ambitious initiative, which aims to connect infrastructure and trade networks within Asia, will distinguish itself from all-too-familiar patterns of imperialism. Is it possible to build a new economic and cultural network in this region that is distinct from the old colonial routes and models?

10 PRACTICE (111 ELDRIDGE STREET, NEW YORK) I visited this project space on the top floor of a Chinatown apartment building on the last day of Song Ta’s exhibition “How Is the Weather.” The trio that run the space—Ho King Man, Cici Wu, and Xu Wang—were talking about how to repurpose the screens and iPads that had been used in the show, debating whether they should try to return the most expensive one to the Apple Store. Their animated argument was great fun to watch, and their obvious energy also explained why, in just a year and a half, this tiny noncommercial space has become not only a place for young artists to make and show work (it has a residency program as well as an exhibition space) but also a social hub—the perfect venue to have, say, a “relaxation party” (one was recently organized by Cao Fei), hold a book launch (as did Arrow Factory), or just meet friends and eat hot pot. I dined there three days later, but that was part of Seon Young Park’s participatory artwork.

Du Keke is the Editor of and a writer and translator based in Beijing. She is currently working on a book about the Taiwanese artist Chen Chieh-jen.