Edward Sanderson | forget art

Tag: Edward Sanderson

25 八月
by An Xiao on August 24, 2012
from HYPERALLERGIC
“I want to feel the sun on my skin,” a slogan artist Ma Yongfeng pulled from conversations with workers at Bernard Controls Beijing.

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LOS ANGELES — The image of the Chinese manufacturing plant is quickly becoming a 21st century icon of production, just as the car plants of Fordism were in the 20th century and Victorian coal mines were during the Industrial Revolution. They’re frequently portrayed as sites of high efficiency, but rarely as spaces for art, humanity and wonder.

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In 2010, Beijing-based Italian artist Alessandro Rolandi staged a series of interventions in a Beijing factory run by Frenchman Guillaume Bernard. These well-received interventions have now become a curated series of invitationals to local artists.

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“After several intense and spontaneous conversations about the nature of work, capitalism, human development, corporate structure, radical art, future and creativity,” Rolandi explained over email. “I designed a program that invites every two months one artist/designer/architect/musician to intervene in the factory in a subtle but radical way to stimulate discussion, raise questions and confront the reality of work with a different angle, straight on the field, without any mediation.”

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Determined that should be predominantly experimental in nature, Rolandi still drew a strong connection to his goal of tying the work to labor: “We invented a definition using enterprise language to give legitimacy to the project and make it understandable (at least its general nature) to people working in companies,” he noted. And so the name of the project was born: Social Sensibility R&D Program, situated at Bernard Controls Asia.

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The work has become embedded in the, well, work of the factory. Take Ma Yongfeng‘s series of spray painted slogans. “The owner now uses his sentence sprayed on the wall ‘INVEST IN CONTRADICTION’ as the first thing to be discussed in  job-interviews with new employees,” Rolandi points out. “Workers and managers had mixed feelings about the tags and felt all in need to discuss them.”

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The stencils themselves are re-interpretations of Chinese propaganda, lifted from conversations with workers and reflective of the strict systems of control.

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Rolandi also noted the effort of Lulu Li to provide ambient music for workers. “Even in Europe in most factories, listening to music is now forbidden for various reasons, from safety to concentration, and here we tried with these small devices and rhytmic compositions from classical to experimental to noise (avoiding words, as they are proved to affect concentration),” he says. After a series of negotiations with floor managers, Li and Rolandi agreed to only play music on Fridays, at least for the moment.

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There’s a tension to the idea that the artists, at the behest of top brass, can move around freely and explore interventions, while the workers themselves must remain in optimal flow under the strict rules enforced and determined by the very same management. The artists of the Social Sensibility R&D Program are not oblivious to this.

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“Our interventions must be conceived in order to interact with the physicality of the area and with the conceptual codification of the signs and of the different working sections,” Rolandi said. “Timing is also very important as precise schedules define the rhythm and the flows. ”

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Beijing-based art critic Edward Sanderson, who visited the plant, had this to say about the space in a terrific review in Artslant:

This particular factory is unlike the cliché of a Chinese factory: you won’t find thousands of workers performing mundane and repetitive tasks over long conveyor belts in an airless hanger. This factory is relatively small, with about a hundred staff, of whom only twenty to thirty actually work on assembling the product. The work areas are also relatively discrete in terms of their interior design. Rolandi says it’s not an environment where you feel you have no way out, where everything is under surveillance. But at the same time, “No matter how you look at it, it’s still a factory.”

Sanderson goes on to explore Rolandi’s own initiation into the workers’ lives by undergoing the training procedures and entering the world of high-efficiency production, as well as some of the questions he wrestled with. It calls to mind some of the work done by Cao Fei with factory workers in southern China, where the majority of the manufacturing sector is concentrated. Her PRD Anti-Heroes and Whose Utopia project looked at types of similar work.

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Unlike Sanderson, I’ve not seen the interventions in person, so I can’t comment on their merits per se. But seeing the videos and speaking with the artists, I find that what makes Social Sensibility interesting is Rolandi’s choice to invite artists to stage interventions in two-month phases. The in and out of the artists over time reflects the rhythms of factory life, and the diversity of perspectives allows for a certain freshness to each intervention.

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The turnover of the creative people,” said Rolandi, “is designed to provide a constant tension around the next new ‘intruder’, his proposal and the way it will be received and dealt with, and prevent habit and comfort to settle in.”

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The Social Sensibility R&D Program is an ongoing project at Bernard Controls Beijing (A2-1, Lidaxing Industrial Zone, No.15, Fourth JingHai Road, Economic & Technological Development Area, Beijing).



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.