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6 十二月

from ArtSlant  http://www.artslant.com/cn/articles/show/28905

by Edward Sanderson
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Not Only A Taoist Troublemaker! was a short-lived exhibition occupying a leaf-strewn room in a small arts space attached to a bar. A bar with a vegetable market behind; sharing a building that housed a screw factory during the Cultural Revolution. A screw factory built inside a Taoist temple, replacing the site’s original Buddhist temple. This overlapping of every kind of ideology provided an ideal backdrop for the six artists’ work in this show curated by forget art.

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forget art is an organisation created by artist Ma Yongfeng, about whose “guerrilla” tactics I have written once before on ArtSlant. It has become well-known for the ironic nature of its exhibitions, interventions, and projects. These activities are keenly self-aware of their contexts, and never take themselves too seriously.

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Prior to the opening of this new show, Ma Yongfeng had already laid the conceptual and experiential groundwork by initiating a series of “naked” interviews with the artists and academics. Ma’s aims seem to be, on the one hand, to provide a forum for the sort of serious discussion that he feels is lacking in the art environment in China. On the other, by performing au naturel he is pushing the situation out of kilter. The participants’ exposure may lead to a more open discussion – at the very least it places the speakers in a new, less comfortable position.

Ma Yongfeng12:35pm, Fallen leaves on the floor, 2011; Courtesy Edward Sanderson

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This was also his reasoning behind collecting twenty bags of autumn leaves from a forest in Beijing’s outskirts and transporting them into the gallery. This literal groundwork had the benefit of pulling the whole space together with its softness underfoot and the earthy smell that it brought to the space. Ma explained to me that this was beyond simply an intervention – it was an effort to create an atmosphere or even some kind of aura.

Hu XiaoxiaoBaptism, Wash cloth, vegetables, pins, 2011; Courtesy Edward Sanderson

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Picking up on this, Liang Ban’s carved radishes rested on an open window-sill and Hu Xiaoxiao’s failed (in a good way) image made of vegetable matter hung in place of honour against a plush red velvet curtain at the back a small stage. The radishes were clumsily carved with figures, as if these were nascent within the vegetables, awaiting their revelation; and the backdrop hung where a Buddha figure or Christian cross would normally be situated, spot-lit on the raised stage, at the focal point of the room. Counteracting any particular readings, a smartly-dressed woman hired by artist Lu Zhengyuan performed as an unreliable guide to the show, providing background to the works with guesswork and rumours, creating an atmosphere of misunderstandings for her audience.

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Hanging above the stage, Alessandro Rolandi’s red propaganda banner announced, “MAY YOUR MATTERS BE SAFE.” This statement is typical of the ambiguous situations in his work, subtly raising its issues with reality. These words overlooked and seemed to ironically relate to Wu Yuren’s large rock suspended from the ancient rafters. For the opening, Wu stood under this 200lb stone, forcing himself to remain in this precarious position. While perhaps not long enough to privilege this activity as “durational,” he was stationary long enough for a call of nature to be performed amongst the leaves – I have to recognise this as (some sort of) commitment to the (in)activity. In discussion with the curator and audience, he finished the piece by removing his clothes and standing naked under his stone – disrobing again appearing as a means of expression with its parallels to the online response to Ai Weiwei’s charges of pornography (although Ma Yongfeng’s original naked interviews antedated this particular meme).

Performance by Wu Yuren, Work by Ma YongfengNot Only A Taoist Troublemaker! installation view; Courtesy Edward Sanderson

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I don’t want to sound dismissive of Wu Yuren’s activity, however, as it had a deeper rationale than its surface appearance might suggest. In 2010 Wu was jailed for ten months under questionable circumstances and since his release has intermittently been called in for “a cup of tea” by the authorities (as questioning is euphemistically referred to). This serious and continual pressure on him is expressed through this work.

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Whether that makes it a “good” work, I am not sure; my immediate reaction was that I did not like it, even with the background, feeling it was too literal and unsubtle. But I have to respect the fact that it reflects Wu Yuren’s being on the blunt end of the system, and that aspects of his situation are more common than one might expect. He has more right than most to comment on this experience, and of course I do not know what it is like to live through his experience or what it is like to be under this continual pressure. The activity was all done in seemingly good spirits – one way to deal with such serious matters, perhaps.

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This attitude was reflected in the original Chinese title of the show, “不是吃素的” or “not a vegetarian,” a euphemism for not being a push-over, which the curator described as presenting “a very simple, radical attitude.” The English title refers to the Bohemian reputation of Taoists, saying that this show is not “only” about that, in a typically open move.

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Although it is obvious I had many reservations about this show, maybe because of those reservations I still felt this was a powerful exhibition that did manage to create a strong impression on me due to at least in part to its scattershot nature.


16 六月

by Edward Sanderson

from ArtSlant http://www.artslant.com/cn/articles/show/23823

Alibi

Group Exhibition

Linda Gallery Beijing

No.2 Jiu XianQiao Road, 798 Art District, ChaoYang District, 100015 Beijing, China
2011 June 04 – 2011 July 03

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“Alibi,” the title in English of this group show at Linda Gallery in Beijing’s 798 Art District, seems so much more evocative than the Chinese title (不在场), which the essay by curator Wang Yifei translates as “Being Absent.” Although the adherence to the title seems a little weak at times, this show presents artists working with an absence of some sort. That being a very broad subject, the results take many forms and directions and overall the show brings together an interesting selection of works with some standout pieces.

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Unsurprisingly, given where we are, the curator’s text does not delve too far into any of the contemporary social realities of “being absent,” describing it in general terms as “like a conspiracy, an escape or a way of self-liberation.” To me this places the focus more on an individual’s agency in the matter and less on absence as a result of outside circumstances. The text also proposes that: “In the contemporary art field nowadays, many artists have established their independent and mature styles of expression without any limit to the subject material.” This statement seems somewhat disingenuous. The show opened on a particularly significant day, a fact that some of the exhibiting artists were obviously well aware of, but would have been unwise to attempt to deal with directly. But there is little point dwelling on such matters, as they simply reflect the facts of working in this environment, to which I recognise I am equally beholden as I can only obliquely refer to their meaning.

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Stretching across the entrance to the gallery, a long tree branch attached to the wall by a spring forces visitors to divert around or push it aside to make their entry. This piece by Yang Xinguang abstracts an experience of hiking through woods, pushing aside branches to make your way, suggesting for the curator the activity of escape from one place to another. As simple as it is, the piece has a strong effect in its evocation of the thoughtless gesture of moving through an environment far from the controlled environment of the gallery space.

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Wrapping around the main wall in front of this, Liu Ren’s Searching for a sense of security is a series of thin shelves carrying around 4,000 empty eggshells, inside each of which is handwritten vocabulary from the artist’s attempts to learn English. This mass of shells arranged in their rows are overwhelming in serial nature, their combined fragility, and the sheer amount of potential learning held on their inside surface. The shells hold their information so tentatively in the emptied casings that there is always the possibility of breakage and the loss of meaning.

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Perhaps the most literal demonstration of “Being Absent” is Li Wei’s painted outlines of bodies on the floor – as if evidence of some mass killing. Painted in mustard-coloured oil paint just prior to the opening, these took several hours to dry, with the outlines becoming increasingly vague and disturbed by the steps of the visitors. Li commented that this process reflected the fact that there are certain events for which the evidence may disappear, but the memory will not.

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In amongst all this an additional structure has been built, mimicking the booths that appear in art fairs around the world. This serves as the setting for Ma Yongfeng’s forget art fair that takes place within the gallery for the duration of the show. Ma is known for his critical and irreverent approach to art institutions and in this case he has followed the conventions of the international art fair circuit and created his own distinct sales space, acting as a show within “Alibi.” His curated show within a curated show perhaps marks the presence in their absence of curators themselves, hovering over their shows while attempting not to overshadow them (a delicate balancing act which only the best pull off).

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Works inside Ma’s “fair” include the minimal white canvases of Huang Jia, who adds ridges of stitching to their featureless painted surfaces; Alessandro Rolandi’s unassuming bamboo cane made from polished stainless steel leans up against the corner of the space; and a nice work by Yang Jian of an old armchair supporting a semi-circular section of LED signage. This sign displays a continuous moving text announcing: “… Huang Lei, male, wants to leave – Chen Xiaoxia, female, wants to leave…” etc. For me this piece presented the most appropriate, sensitive and poetic response to the theme of the show. This scrolling sign arches above the absent human form in the armchair, announcing the rather sad and impotent longings of many people to simply – leave.


31 五月

from ArtSlant,Posted by ArtSlant Team on 29-05

http://www.artslant.com/cn/articles/show/23594


forget art is a loose artist collective, based in Beijing, and initiated in 2009 by Chinese artist Ma Yongfeng. They focus on intervention-based work, often with a touch of the absurd, promoting small-scale, subtle disturbances in the fabric of society, which they describe as their “social micro-practice.”

As they work by and large outside of recognised gallery spaces, the creation and value of social space has become an important material for forget art. This keys into the long history of nomadism, with particular attention to the local experience in China and its mass population of migrant workers, as well as the international development of the itinerant white-collar worker. So in forget art’s “situations” ambivalence towards the fixed location comes through, feeding into their approach to production and presentation, and their feeling that sometimes it is necessary to “forget” in order to proceed. As Ma quips “That’s also why we don’t need any space – because we ‘forget art,’ why do we need any space to do this?!”


forget art made its first appearance at the Dragon Fountain Bathhouse in September of last year, with a group show inserting a collection of minimal works into a temporarily détourned bathhouse in Beijing’s Caochangdi Art Village.
The works appeared as small situations expanding on the idea of an artwork, but always with a standpoint somewhere between the object and the situation. The light touches of the pieces infused the rooms without overly asserting their presence or nature, with male and female areas open to all for a few hours only. At the time Ma explained to me that, “An ‘object’ is just this thing [indicating a cup], but if we draw a circle around it, it’s an expanded object, developed, and it becomes a situation. But we don’t want it to become bigger and bigger, we’re just in the middle, in-between.”



This sensibility has laid the groundwork for forget art’s Guerrilla Living Syndrome (created by Ma Yongfeng, Yang Xinguang and Wu Xiaojun) that began last month. Guerrilla Living Syndrome will be a series of projects continuing to attend to these subtle displacements of spatial and social constructions but applying to wider forms of subject matter. As the name suggests, all the sub-projects will build up to a renegotiation of our social relations based on lived space.

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A starting point for this new project is the effect of the Hukou system on life in China. A Hukou is a residence permit, which gives you rights in the area it applies to. While not preventing you from moving around, as it did in the past, a Hukou makes things like healthcare more convenient in its area; treatment for serious health issues can only be received in your Hukou.

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Although certainly not as draconian as it used to be, the Hukou system represents a strong tie to a “home” area. The psychological and practical issues of accommodation outside of your area become an issue, so the first Guerrilla Living Syndrome project, Youth Apartment Exchange Project (YAEP), picks up on the issues of nomadism seen in the previous projects while providing practical accommodation possibilities for the participants. As Ma says: “People move many times in their lives, and there are also a lot of temporary spaces in the city – Starbucks, hotels, restaurants. We want all spaces to become temporary.”


On a practical level YAEP takes the form of a social website that allows participants to find others who want to exchange residences, and then to share the experience and stories behind the exchange back on the site. The site is not just for apartment swapping though — anything can be shared through this open barter system forget art have constructed.


One effect of this new system is to bring people together, promoting social interaction through exchange. Ma worries about the contemporary tendency of people to live their lives online, weakening real world social bonds. As Japan has its otaku, China has its zhainan (宅男) and shengnu (剩女), recognised as potential problems for the development of society. YAEP addresses this by providing an arena for real-world socialisation through the exchange format, in what Ma characterises as “from Facebook to face-to-face.”


When I put it to Ma that in practice exchanging apartments would perhaps not be easy for many people, he was pragmatic about the issues involved, and also pointed out the part traditional Confucian family values will play on participation. These emphasise your family as your top priority while those outside of it are seen as less important or trustworthy. This background will make exchange with strangers difficult for many people, so to begin with, the project will bring existing friends together to exchange with each other.


These social barriers are what this project seeks to address with its interventions, which forget art see as a route to adjusting society as a whole: “Chinese civil society is not like Western civil society. [Chinese society] can be very cold and selfish… We want to make our projects the starting point to let people accept their value as a citizen, to care about strangers, to care about society, about social responsibility. This is not an art project: it’s a social thing.”



Reflecting the nomadic ways of life, YAEP represents alternative living practices, and although Ma recognises this is “a very utopian way of thinking about society in the future,” nevertheless he feels that taking a lesson from art practice can provide new possibilities in the wider field:

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“In the art world we talk about alternative strategies, but we can expand this to everyday life. In the traditional Beijing hutongs we have shared toilets in every alley; it’s more sociable (but maybe less convenient). But modern life says that having a toilet in your house is the only acceptable value, but that way of thinking is very much like what Marcuse addresses in ‘One-Dimensional Man.’ We want this society to have many different values of living, not just one.”

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Appropriately, this is a long-term project for forget art which they see lasting ten years (or more), and the results very much depend on circumstances; Ma is happy to leave that aspect of the project open:“China has a very sophisticated society, so the results of this are really unknown.”


Starting from the minimal roots of the Dragon Fountain Bathhouse project, Guerrilla Living Syndrome shows that the approach of forget art will always be subtle but with grand aspirations: “We want to make a very small change – to find that critical point, where we can try and get some more interesting things to appear.”


– Edward Sanderson

(*Images: Kevin Cyr, Camper Bike, 2008.  Han Wuzhou, Sofa Cart, 2011. Courtesy of the artists and forget art.)


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