Almost Avant-Garde, 2013, performance, 23’, exhibition view, BMW Tate Live Performance Room, Tate Modern, London, May 16, 2013
Galerie Urs Meile is pleased to announce the opening of Liu Ding’s latest solo exhibition Three Performances. Over the past two years, Beijing-based artist Liu Ding(* 1976 in Changzhou, Jiangsu Province, China) has been developing a form of art that he terms “weak performance.” The three artworks—I Simply Appear in the Company of… (2012), The Un-erasable (2012), and Almost Avant-Garde (2013)—employ various perspectives to address the links between artistic practice and our experience, consciousness and contexts. Liu Ding’s work explores how these relationships can be perceived, described and expressed in art. I Simply Appear in the Company of… is a staged conversation about Liu Ding’s own practice between a Mr. Liu (played by Liu Ding himself) and two curators. The Un-erasable features Liu and an art historian carrying out a conversation about artistic practice and the experience of perception in a booth built inside the exhibition space. They were surrounded by artworks Liu Ding had collected over the years, which evoked common aesthetic experiences. Without the use of microphones, which was an intentional setup, the performers’ conversation is barely audible, and the audience is only able to grasp fragments of it.
These two performances did not take place in isolation. They both arose out of specific art contexts and integrated themselves into the very circumstances they are situated in. I Simply Appear in the Company of... was a performance that took place in the form of an artist talk that was built into a one-day symposium held at Tate Modern’s Oil Tanks. The Un-erasable was shown at the 8th Taipei Biennial (2012). It was composed of two performances, one on the day before the opening as an integral part of the installing process, and one on the opening ceremony and as part of the opening ceremony. To Liu Ding, “weak performance” is not an art form that requires strict definition. Yet compared with the tradition of performance art, which involves developing highly symbolic personas, Liu Ding’s weak performances tend to involve Liu playing himself and relating his real thoughts, experiences, and frustrations as an artist on camera.
Liu Ding’s work often speaks out about those seemingly self-evident aspects current in our immediate surroundings and our own experience. He seeks to re-examine existing structures, narratives and consciousness, whether they are related to art history or they are those repeatedly celebrated and defined by the industry. Instead of affirming the pre-existing confrontational roles between art and the reality, Liu Ding intends to reconsider the relevance of these real-life relationships towards art. Clues and relationships are like two sides of the same coin in Liu Ding’s works. He often describes his artistic practice as being like a detective at work: a detective should be fully immersed in the act of investigation, and should put oneself in the shoes of the criminal. One needs to break down the power of time, to sharpen one’s instinct and imagination, as well as to shoulder the responsibility in reality. All of these aspirations bring to mind the position and anxiety of a practitioner in the process of creation.
Being invited by Catherine Wood, curator of BMW Tate Live performance series to create a piece for the series, Liu Ding made Avant-Garde, which took place within an enclosed space, and was a live broadcast designed solely for an online audience. In this work, Liu Ding invited art professionals and colleagues of Tate Modern to a party held in a room decorated with cardboard reproductions of modern pieces of art from the museum’s permanent collection. During the performance, a number of baroque soundtracks that Liu Ding had moderated subtly are being played by a DJ. The conversations on set are hardly audible in the film and the shooting was frequently interrupted by streaming of texts on the screen, taken from Liu Ding’s interviews with an older generation of Chinese artists and curators active during the 1990s. In such an environment as in China where the basis for discussions can never seem to be established, things always appear “almost avant-garde”, with newer and newer historical horizons awaiting for us in the distant future. Liu Ding’s work questions this kind of ambiguous and mediocre reality of art and the populist attitude embodied in it. Liu Ding strives to closely survey the reality on a microscopic level, including those that are barely identifiable and hardly sensible at the first glance. Just as in the salon in Almost Avant-Garde, even when we fail to clearly describe what is happening there and then, those lively relationships among what was present still provide an intense sense of time, motivations and the promise of realness.
Over the past few years, Liu Ding has been making new works, curating, publishing, lecturing and actively engaging himself in other forms of theoretical practices, all of which contribute to a multi-faceted and dynamic system of practice. Within the context of the art industry in China, Liu Ding has initiated a critical approach rooted in the history of ideas, to investigate the prospect of artistic practice in the context of art history and in the logic of the art system. In his work, he re-evaluates and reflects critically on the relationship between artistic practice and the value system surrounding it. In 2014, he has been invited to take part in the New Orleans Biennial, for which he plans to create a new work in the line of “weak performance”.
Liu Ding was born in Changzhou, Jiangsu province in 1976. He’s now based in Beijing and is both an artist and a curator. His work has been shown at a number of art institutions including the Tate Modern, Turner Contemporary, both London, UK; Arnolfini – Contemporary Arts Center, Bristol, UK; the Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria; the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, Norway; the São Paulo Museum of Art, São Paulo, Brazil; the ZKM, Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe (ZKM), Germany; the Centre PasquArt, Biel, Switzerland; the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, Italy; the Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul, South Korea; the Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco, USA; the Frye Art Museum, Seattle, USA; the Iberia Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China; the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai, China; and the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, China. He took part in the 2012 Taipei Biennial, the exhibition at the Chinese Pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennial, the 2008 Seoul International Media Art Biennale, and the 2005 Guangzhou Triennial. With Carol Yinghua Lu, he exhibited Little Movements: Self-Practice in Contemporary Art in September 2011 at OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shenzhen, China. In 2013, the work went on tour and was exhibited at MUSEION in Bolzano, Italy. In 2012, Liu Ding served as a curator of the Seventh Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale – Accidental Message: Art is not a System, not a World. Works which he has written and published include Little Movements: Self-practice in Contemporary Art (Guangxi Normal University Press, 2011), Little Movements II: Self-practice in Contemporary Art (Walther König, 2013), Accidental Message: Art is not a System, not a World (Lingnan Art Publishing House, 2012), and Individual Experience: Conversations and Narratives of Contemporary Art Practice in China from 1989 to 2000 (Lingnan Art Publishing House, 2013).
Reach out – Ai Weiwei, 2013, bronze, concrete, edition of 3, 12 x 25 x 30 cm (bronze), 100 x 27 x 32 cm (plinth)
Russian-born, Berlin-based artist Anatoly Shuravlev (*1963) spent several months at the artist’s studio at our gallery in Beijing to prepare his exhibition Reach Out – China, just as he did in 2007 for his previous show, China Connection. And indeed, the current exhibition pursues the topics of the earlier one, with its similar title and its focus on China. Here, though, the artist takes self-referencing even further. In preparation for his 2007 exhibition he made a series of all black c-prints.1 Each print contains a tiny white dot in the center, which, upon closer inspection, turns out to be in the shape of Japan, Great Britain, India, the United States, or China. Shuravlev actually revised one edition of this series by engraving slogans and drawings into the acrylic glass over the original images. Although this seems like a rather brutal act at first sight, the artist regards it as a refinement. He reworked the prints in accordance with his personal development, just as one might re-read a book several years later.2 Moreover, by physically altering them, he turned one set of the former edition of three into unique works. The missing depth of these linear engravings is contrasted with the viewer’s reflections behind them. The observer can never look at the work without looking at himself. Shuravlev even engraved some words and images mirror-inverted, so that the viewer’s alter ego inside the work would to be able to read it.
Shuravlev tries to do something similarly impossible with the bronze handprint Reach Out–Ai Weiwei.3 This intention is not rooted in coquetry but in his true conviction that art can make things happen, which in other contexts are utterly impractical. With this work he made a “third, free hand” for Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who is famously not allowed to leave his home country. The handprint is in contrast to its original able to travel. But this is not the only potential it provides. It also gives visitors access to the renowned personality and the opportunity to “reach out,” whether they want to show their solidarity by putting their hands in Ai Weiwei’s, or whether they are just curious.
The political implications that arise first in the mind of a Western observer are secondary to Shuravlev. He is more concerned with philosophy than plain politics. Therefore, it is also purely accidental that the monks who created the large map of China4 in the next room are from Tibet. The confrontation with the borders of China is, of course, a painful topic for the Tibetan religious community, whose leader, the Dalai Lama, does not miss a chance to protest against the Chinese occupation, as he calls it. But for Shuravlev it was only important for the religious people to create the mandala and thus perceive it through their outlook on the world. For them the completion of a mandala is a religious ritual and means something totally different from what it will represent to the visitors of the exhibition. Shuravlev was looking for this confrontation between religious and artistic language. In a religious setting the mandala would be destroyed immediately after being finished. Contradictorily, in an art context the work would not be destroyed after the end of the exhibition. The artist does not abide by both sets of rules; the mandala will exist for the duration of the exhibition and afterward be available for sale, but in another form: the sand will be sold in bags, as pure material, which is never to be spread out again.
The light-absorbing qualities of the black sand make the mandala look like a black hole, which symbolizes everything and nothing, not only in Tibetan culture. Such a paradoxical connotation also seems a fitting allegory for Shuravlev’s question of “What is this China?” He considers it so gigantic, diverse, uncontrollable, and contradictory that it is fundamentally incomprehensible. Again, a viewer trained by Western media has to discipline himself not to think too much about the notion that “nothing ever comes out of a black hole,” because Shuravlev has a longstanding preoccupation with radically black imagery. He often refers to Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square and its double entendre as radically reductive gesture in the art context and as manifestation of spiritual energy, similar to Buddhism’s idea of the oneness of everything. Likewise, Shuravlev’s exhibition is best absorbed with a broad view. The formally minimal works are actually totalities. A Kalachakra mandala, for example, represents its creator’s concept of the world and is traditionally conceived as a map of the mandala palace surrounded by the perfected universe. The handprint is a strong pars pro toto. An image of a hand forming a victory sign, for example, gets a message across without showing the whole body. In Catholicism a relic such as a drop of blood or a piece of cloth, which has had contact with the body of a saint is thought to bring the believer closer to God. The hand- and footprints of celebrities in front of the Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles are visited by thousands of tourists each year, who want to compare themselves with the beautiful and famous. A similar kind of self-reflection is seen in the revised c-prints: an artist looks back at his work and himself several years later and asks the same self-scrutiny of the viewer. The outcome is not overly positive; sentences such as, “Note to self: you are a fucking idiot,” “Fuck You,” or “I can’t save you from yourself” make it clear that there is “No art comfort here.” Maybe that is true, but instead there is a surreal, grand idea of what art can do on display.
1 Big India, Big China, Big USA, Big Japan, Great Britain, all: 2008, c-print, edition of 3, acrylic glass, 179 x 124 cm
2 New Old Big India, New Old Big China, New Old Big USA, New Old Big Japan, New Old Great Britain, all: 2013, c-print, hand-engraved acrylic glass, 179 x 124 cm
3 Reach out – Ai Weiwei, 2013, bronze, concrete, edition of 3, 12 x 25 x 30 cm (bronze), 100 x 27 x 32 cm (plinth)
4 Universe of China, 2014, black sand, unique, 580 x 711 cm
“Two Videos, three photographs, several related masterpieces,
photography (b/w), ultra giclee
Galerie Urs Meile is pleased to present Yan Xing’s first solo exhibition (*1986 in Chongqing, China; lives and works in Beijing and Los Angeles) in Lucerne. Known as one of the emerging artists on the Chinese contemporary art scene, Yan Xing creates multilayered works using different media such as video, photography, installation and performance. The exhibition will show two of his recent projects, which refer to a variety of sources from art, history, politics, and literature. The artist describes his practice as a “unique system of integration,” which, at first glance, could be thought of as a practice of reconstructing and quoting. But Yan Xing sees himself as an artist in the avant-garde tradition, who understands art as a kind of game in which the players make their next move according to the rules and actions of their colleagues. So it is only natural that Yan Xing’s works refer to, appropriate, and refine the work of other artists who blazed the trail for him. According to avant-garde custom, Yan Xing also writes short, highly articulate texts on his works. These comments tend to obscure rather than convey the work’s individual point of origin. But this is really not what they were intended for. With these texts Yan Xing simply situates his work in the context in which he wants them to be regarded.
For Arty, Super-Arty1 Yan Xing restaged seven of Edward Hopper’s (1882–1967) famous paintings against a black background, even imitating their famous light contrasts. Unlike the original, he uses film and photography; his images are black and white; his characters are all male, and Yan Xing himself is in every picture. His reinterpretation of Hopper’s famously melancholy works emphasizes the lack of communication between the protagonists. Somehow one always seems to be waiting for the other, looking at his vis-à-vis, who seems withdrawn and unaffected. Yan Xing’s intention is to confront Hopper’s artistic universe with his more realistic approach. It is as if he is trying out an old ritual on himself, as if he is conducting a kind of experiment to find out if the old rites are still of value to him. As a historical movement, Appropriation Art was mainly concerned with institutional critique, and Yan Xing is also walking in the shoes of his forbears, with the aim of providing insight into the rules and rituals of art itself. A similar topic—namely “the core theme of contemporary art”—is also one of the subjects of the second exhibited project, Two videos, three photographs, several related masterpieces, and American art (2013)2. The videos, photographs, installation and marble sculpture extol acts of violence, sex, captivity, and enslavement, while combining modern and classic aesthetics. Wooden dildos, modeled after cultural relics, are presented on a shiny steel plinth next to two whips, a bowl, and a handkerchief. The series of photographs depicts two nude black males engaging in ancient sports, such as archery or javelin throwing; their poses are reminiscent of antique Greek statues and the overall staging was inspired by Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989). The same two models reappear in the video installation, playing flute to a caged bird, next to the Chinese character 寿, which means longevity. This character is also carved in a marble block reminiscent of a gravestone, and thus contradicts its meaning.
Despite the variety of different inspirations and allusions, the end result is recognizably Yan Xing, who gives his complex and complicated subtexts a sleek appearance. He combines the different media, connecting ancient Greek sculpture with American photography from the 1960s, American painting from the 1940s, Chinese superstition, queer topics, and theoretical commentary. It is Yan Xing’s “unique system of integration” that turns all these seemingly unrelated interests and aesthetics into a harmonious composition.
Yan Xing was born in Chongqing in 1986, and currently lives and works in Beijing, China, and Los Angeles, USA. He graduated from the Oil Painting Department of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 2009. Yan Xing has won the Chinese Contemporary Art Award (CCAA) – Best Young Artist Award and also received a nomination for the Future Generation Art Prize from the Victor Pinchuk Foundation in 2012. His recent major exhibitions include: Building Bridges – Zeitgenössische Kunst aus China, Wolfsberg, Ermatingen, Switzerland (2013); 2012 Future Generation Art Prize, Collateral Event of the 55th Venice Biennale, Palazzo Contarini Polignac, Venice, Italy (2013); China China, PinchukArtCentre, Kiev, Ukraine (2013); ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), Beijing, China; Yan Xing, Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester, UK (2012); Unfinished Country: New Video From China, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH), Houston, USA (2012); The III Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, Central House of Artists (CHA), Moscow, Russia (2012); The Seventh Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT), Shenzhen, China (2012). His works are also in the Rubell Family Collection, Miami, USA; M+ Museum for Visual Culture, Hong Kong; the Yuz Foundation, Jakarta, Indonesia; and the Kadist Art Foundation, Paris, France.
1 2013, 3 film stills, photography (b/w), ultra giclee, 96 x 136 cm (framed), based on single channel HD video, b/w, silent, 9’16’’
2 2013, video installation, 2-channel digital video (b/w, silent, loop), photographs, sculpture, installation
Die Galerie Urs Meile freut sich, die erste Einzelausstellung von Yan Xing (*1986 in Chongqing, China, lebt und arbeitet in Beijing und Los Angeles) in Luzern auszurichten. Als einer der aufstrebenden Künstler der chinesischen Kunstszene bekannt, kreiert Yan Xing ausdifferenzierte Arbeiten unter Einbezug verschiedener Medien wie Video, Fotografie, Installation und Performance. Die Ausstellung wird zwei seiner jüngsten Projekte zeigen, für die der Künstler Quellen aus den Bereichen Kunst, Geschichte, Politik und Literatur heranzieht. Yan Xing bezeichnet sein Vorgehen als «eigenes System der Verwertung». Auf den ersten Blick könnte dies als künstlerische Praxis verstanden werden, die sich auf das Rekonstruieren und Zitieren konzentriert. Aber Yan Xing sieht sich in der Tradition der Avantgarden und deren Verständnis von Kunst als einer Art Spiel, in dem die Akteure ihre nächsten Schritte abhängig von den Manövern ihrer Mitspieler planen. Daher ist es nur konsequent, wenn er sich in seinen Arbeiten auf die Werke seiner Wegbereiter bezieht, diese sich aneignet und schärft. Ganz den Gepflogenheiten der Avantgarden verpflichtet, schreibt Yan Xing auch kurze, dichte Texte, die allerdings eher den Ausgangspunkt des individuellen Werkes verunklären, als ihn zu beleuchten. Aber das ist auch nicht das Ziel seines Kommentars; mit ihm ordnet er lediglich sein Schaffen in den Kontext ein, aus dem heraus er es verstanden haben will. In der Arbeit Arty, Super-Arty1 hat Yan Xing sieben ikonische Gemälde von Edward Hopper (1882–1967) neu inszeniert. Vor einem schwarzen Hintergrund stellte er sie bis auf ihre berühmten Lichtkontraste nach. Anders als das Original benutzt er Film und Fotografie, beschränkt sich auf Schwarz-Weiss und seine Personen sind allesamt Männer, auch ist er selbst in jedem Bild. In seinen Versionen von Hoppers bekanntermassen melancholischen Arbeiten ist der Mangel an Kommunikation zwischen den Protagonisten verschärft. Einer der Dargestellten scheint immer auf den anderen zu warten, sein Gegenüber erscheint gleichgültig und verschlossen. Yan Xings erklärte Absicht war es, dem künstlerischen Universum von Edward Hopper seinen eigenen realistischeren Zugang entgegenzusetzen. Es ist, als ob er ein Experiment durchführt, um herauszufinden, ob die alten Rituale noch von Wert für ihn sind. Institutionskritik war das Hauptbestreben von Appropriation Art als historischer Bewegung und auch Yan Xing wendet die Methoden seiner Vorgänger an, um die Regeln und Riten von Kunst zu ergründen.
Eine ähnliche Frage – die nach dem «Kernthema Zeitgenössischer Kunst» – beschäftigt ihn in der zweiten ausgestellten Werkgruppe Two videos, three photographs, several related masterpieces, and American art2. Die Videos, die Fotografien, die Installationen und die Marmorskulptur idealisieren Gewaltakte, Sex, Gefangenschaft und Versklavung durch ihre Umsetzung in einer zugleich modernen und klassischen Ästhetik. Auf einem polierten Stahlsockel liegen Holzdildos, Kopien von historischen Fundstücken, neben zwei Peitschen, einer Reisschale und einem Taschentuch. Die Serie von Fotografien zeigt unter anderem zwei nackte, dunkelhäutige Männer bei der Ausübung klassischer Sportarten wie Speer- oder Diskuswurf. Ihre Posen erinnern an antike griechische Statuen und die Gesamtinszenierung ist von Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989) inspiriert. Dieselben Darsteller kommen in der Videoinstallation vor. Einer von ihnen spielt Flöte für einen Vogel, der in einem Käfig gefangen ist, während gleichzeitig auf dem zweiten Monitor das chinesische Symbol 寿 (zhou) für Langlebigkeit zu sehen ist. Dieses Schriftzeichen ist auch in eine Marmorplatte eingraviert, die an einen Grabstein erinnert und mit dieser Symbolik den guten Wünschen für ein langes Leben zuwiderläuft.
Ungeachtet der Vielzahl an unterschiedlichen Inspirationen und Referenzen ist das Endergebnis immer unverkennbar Yan Xing, der seine komplexen und komplizierten Subtexte in einer aufgeräumten und klaren Sprache materialisiert. Er kombiniert unterschiedliche Medien, vereint Skulpturen aus der griechischen Antike mit amerikanischer Malerei der 1940er und amerikanischer Fotografie der 1960er, chinesischem Aberglauben, queeren Themen und theoretischem Kommentar. Sein «eigenes System der Verwertung» fügt all diese scheinbar unverwandten Interessensgebiete und Stile zu einem harmonischen Ganzen zusammen.
Yan Xing wurde 1986 in Chongqing geboren und lebt aktuell in Beijing, China und Los Angeles, USA. Er schloss 2009 sein Studium der Ölmalerei am Sichuan Fine Arts Institute ab. Yan Xing hat den Chinese Contemporary Art Award (CCAA) – Best Young Artist Award gewonnen und war 2012 für den Future Generation Art Prize der Victor Pinchuk Foundation nominiert. Eine Auswahl seiner jüngsten Ausstellungen beinhaltet: Building Bridges – Zeitgenössische Kunst aus China, Wolfsberg, Ermatingen, Schweiz (2013); 2012 Future Generation Art Prize, Collateral Event of the 55th Venice Biennale, Palazzo Contarini Polignac, Venedig, Italien (2013); China China, PinchukArtCentre, Kiev, Ukraine (2013); ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), Beijing, China; Yan Xing, Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester, UK (2012); Unfinished Country: New Video From China, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH), Houston, USA (2012); The III Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, Central House of Artists (CHA), Mosau, Russland (2012); The Seventh Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT), Shenzhen, China (2012). Seine Arbeiten befinden sich in den folgenden Sammlungen: The Rubell Family Collection, Miami, USA; M+ Museum for Visual Culture, Hong Kong; Yuz Foundation, Jakarta, Indonesien und The Kadist Art Foundation, Paris, Frankreich.
1 2013, Fotografie (b/w), ultra giclée, 96 x 136 cm (gerahmt), basierend auf Einkanal HD Video, s/w, stumm, 9’16’’
2 2013, Video-Installation, Zweikanal-Digital-Video (s/w, stumm, Loop), Fotografien, Skulptur, Installation