Hyperallergic | forget art

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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).



20 三月

by An Xiao on March 19, 2012

from HYPERALLERGIC http://hyperallergic.com/48504/youth-apartment-exchange-project-forget-art-ma-yongfeng/


A post from Ma Yongfeng seeks a handmade rolling home. (screenshot by the author)


LOS ANGELES — We’re all familiar with sharing sites like Airbnb that help you rent out your room to peers and even strangers. And there are a rising number of sites that let you share home appliances like a Roomba with your neighbors. The sites usually focus on one-way sharing interactions, and usually for the point of utility.

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Forget Art, the Beijing-based collective run by Ma Yongfeng, wants to get people talking to each other. Youth Apartment Exchange Project (青年公寓交换) is an initiative to encourage urban dwellers in China not just to share their items, but to exchange them. This could range from a simple exchange, like cell phones, to even trading and sharing apartments.

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Previously a BBS, the site now uses a private Sina Weibo feed, tapping into the Twitter-like service’s broad network (some 300 million users) to encourage interaction. Though the feed is relatively new, users are already posting images, using a hashtag to organize. Ma Yongfeng recently posted a handmade truck from the 1970s, and in the BBS version, users traded phones and even homes.

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And some, in their search for an exchange, offer a poetic glimpse into hopes and dreams. One young womanposted her search for an RV:

When I was little I especially wanted to have an RV. I would go wherever I wanted to go and carry around my own little home. Wherever I wanted to stay, I could stay for a day. That would be very nice.

Youth Apartment Exchange is a simple social media platform to get people talking. As Ma Yongfeng told me, he wants the site to encourage online users to trade and exchange and meet people outside their immediate circle.


16 三月
A view of the installation at Zajia, featuring works by the Forget Art collective. Image courtesy the author.
A view of the installation at Zajia, featuring works by the Forget Art collective. (Images courtesy the author)

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BEIJING — For the past few years, the hutong area in downtown Beijing has become a new territory for experimental art spaces with the aim of establishing a different, participatory relationship with the viewers and the local people. In April 2011, Zajia Art Lab, run by Italian sinologist and curator Ambra Corinti, opened in two rooms of the former Hong En Taoist temple. Located near the Bell Tower food market in the Gulou area, Zajia hosts all kinds of experimental art, including music, performances and fine arts.

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A recent project was commissioned to the collective Forget Art, created by artist Ma Yongfeng. The collective has been active for the past couple of years doing micro-installations and site-specific interventions outside gallery spaces.

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The six artists involved transformed one of the rooms into a crepuscular vision of art and life. There were Buddhist figures carved into big white radishes, a dragon made of cabbage and a still life with poisoned apples and persimmons.

The floor was covered with fallen leaves, while, suspended between the two main pillars, was drawn a red and white propaganda banner in the style of the Cultural Revolution, carrying the English version of the Chinese proverb “May your matters be safe.” The sentence is a play on words with the Chinese words “apple” and “persimmon.” A heavy stone was hanging from a chain attached to the central beam, and a pretty Chinese hostess in executive clothes provided incoherent introductions to the artworks for the public.

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In the room next door a video, shot the day before, showed interviews with all the artists, some of them naked, in an atmosphere reminiscent of a Delacroix painting.

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The show, titled Not Only a Taoist Troublemaker, leaves behind a sense of tragedy and loss; the temple, that, for a while, was also a factory, a market and a mahjong playhouse, has been abused by the same means that once made it fertile.

Artist Wu Yuren beneath a hanging stone.

Artist Wu Yuren beneath a hanging stone.

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Fruits and vegetables lie silent together with the fallen leaves and the banner warns you of an omnipresent danger. The nice smell and the vivid colours are less convincing than their possible double meaning — decay and poison — while the hanging stone creates a threatening tension.

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One of the artists, Wu Yuren, spent two hours underneath the stone, creating a powerful image about the condition of the free thinker in Chinese society.

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“It’s like if there is some kind of danger underneath the carpet of leaves, some hidden trap … ” A Chinese art student commented after seeing the intervention.

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Turning towards nature and asserting spontaneity, Forget Art proves a fresh, non-conformist, attitude towards making art, but the melancholia in this work seems to suggest also a different message: certain contemporary artists in Beijing are disillusioned about the façade of the new China and they are starting asking “naked” questions to everybody, not just to the art world.