Pushing Boundaries: performance art in China (and its relationship to photography)

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Zhang Huan, 65KG , 1994, performance, Beijing, China

In ‘Performance art and its constraints’, Thomas Berghuis outlines two distinctive characteristic of Chinese performance art: its reliance on auxiliary medium and its collaborative nature, both of which apply to the work of one of China’s best-known performance artists, Zhang Huan. Continue reading

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Tvrtko Buric: taking Futurism and Pollock a step further

Post Human

A shattered human form advances through the space of a gallery, fiercely pushing through the ether while being remodelled by the tension of this pursuit. Tvrtko Buric‘s installation Post Human evokes the old Futurist dream of capturing the psychosomatic effect of the modern, progressive, accelerated age characterised by “universal dynamism”, a concept according to which objects in reality are never separate from one another or from their environment but interact and intersect with all that surrounds them.

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Futurism and Pop Art: from “the beauty of speed” to smoke, chaos and collapse

image for blog

“We wish to sing the praises to the men behind the steering wheel,”[1] proclaimed in 1908 the founder and a key figure of Futurism, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Fascinated with the energy and the power of a racing car, and certain that the world has been “enriched with […] the beauty of speed,”[2] Futurists found their theme in depicting the abstract sensation of movement – the radiance of the moving object and its effect on the surrounding environment. Cars and motorised vehicles were celebrated as emblems of modernity and progress; modern machines par excellence, symbols of the technological ‘triumph’ of humanity over nature.[3] Fifty years later, cars reappeared as popular motifs in the Pop Art, this time as quintessential tokens of leisure and typical objects of consumerist desire. Like Futurists, Pop artists investigated the relationship between the machine and the body, a psychosomatic effect of the mechanized (and commercialized) modern life.

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Conceptual Art vs Greenberg: clash in means, not the ends

Lawrence Weiner, As Long As It Lasts, 1992. Visual statement.

Lawrence Weiner, As Long As It Lasts, 1992. Visual statement.

“Ideas alone can be works of art,”[1] proclaimed American Minimalist artist Sol LeWitt in his 1968 Sentences on Conceptual Art, summoning up a new stream of thought that emerged in 1960s America[2] as a reaction to Clement Greenberg’s insistence on formalism and opticality, a stance that art should be experienced solely through ‘visual stimuli’ and in a disinterested manner.[3] In an anarchic Dada style,[4] Conceptual Art (as this new stream came to be known) proposed “perceptual withdrawal”[5] – instead of producing ‘sacred’ and valuable art objects, they offered only brief linguistic description of their ideas or simple visual statements such as Lawrence Weiner’s As Long As It Lasts (Figure 1). If a physical object of some sort was present it was either perplexingly bare or badly executed and aesthetically unappealing. What is more, these artworks mixed a variety of media (including everyday objects and all sorts of rubbish), thus attacking Greenberg’s “quest for medium-specific purity.”[6] Purposefully provocative, conceptual artworks encouraged a renewed enquiry into what art is or should be.

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Countess Le Castiglione: author, scribe, or trickster?

“Mirror of male desire, a role, an image, a value, the fetishized woman attempts to locate herself, to affirm her subjectivity within the rectangular space of another fetish – ironically enough, the ‘mirror of nature’.” Abigail Solomon-Godeau

Figure 1: Louis Pierson, The Eyes, c1864.

Figure 1: Louis Pierson, The Eyes, c1864.

A mysterious femme fatale of the nineteenth century Paris, Countess Le Castiglione immortalised herself through a fascinating series of more than four hundred photographs taken over a period of forty years, the majority between 1856 and 1865 “at the height of [her] fame and beauty.”[1] Rather than conventional portraits, these photographs record her elaborate performances in which she either restages scenes from her life or plays a variety of mythological and fictional characters.[2] The costumes, the set-designs, and the overall scenarios were all meticulously designed and directed by the Countess herself, the photographer being there as a mere technician.[3] More than a means of self-expression or signs of narcissism, these photographs could be understood as the Countess’ attempt to take control over her own representation and challenge the narrow, patriarchal view of previously assigned identity inscriptions, thus, asserting herself as an autonomous subject rather than a fetishized object of the gaze.

According to theorist of fetishism and photography, Abigail Solomon-Godeau, such a reading of Countess’ photographs is presumptuous because it is impossible for the Countess to occupy a critical position from which she would desire to overturn the patriarchal principles of fetishisation. As she watches herself, explains Solomon-Godeau, the Countess automatically assumes a position of a patriarchal surveyor and can only relate to herself through this patriarchal gaze.[4] From this position, which is tainted by an inherent patriarchal scopic regime, she is unable to radically reimagine herself as anything but an object of sight. Rather than disavowing patriarchal prerogative, she participates in it and even endorses it. Solomon-Godeau writes: “a living artifact, the countess has so fully assimilated the desire of others that there is no space, language, or means of representation for any desire that might be termed her own.”[5] Rather than an author, she is nothing more than “a scribe”.[6]

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Rodchenko’s Twisted Views

A. Rodchenko – V. Stepanova Archive Moscow House of Photography Museum_Pioneer-Trumpet Player. 1930 Vintage Print Collection of Moscow House of Photography Museum: Multimedia Art Museum Moscow

Alexsander Rodchenko, Pioneer with a trumpet, 1930

With multi-story buildings and high scaffoldings, rapid vehicles and airplanes, the early twentieth century urban and technological developments literally revolutionized the way we see the world. Soviet era photographer Alexander Rodchenko maintained that photography must respond to the new reality of urban life and capture images from radically “different vantage points.”[1] Rather than following the traditional belly-button or eye-level perspective (which pictorialist photographers inherited from paining) camera should capture events “from inside, from above down, and from below up.”[2] Only in this way can camera fulfill its task[3] and function as prosthesis of the eye, offering the view that is truer (more objective) than the naked eye could ever capture.[4] Continue reading

A House is the People You Walk With

Nicole Foreshew and Jacob Nash, Hereby Make Protest, 2014.

Nicole Foreshew and Jacob Nash, Hereby Make Protest, 2014.

“Some experience of voyaging and exile is […] necessary for being’s complete fulfillment,”[2] wrote Martinican literary critic Édouard Glissant in his 1990 book Poetics of Relation. Similarly, art historian and curator Miwon Kwon suggests that it is through traveling and being out of a familiar place that one finds him/herself.[3] For Glissant, this newly found self is no longer connected to a single, unitary root. Once determined by geography of our origin and a single culture, our identity is now unmoored, diffused, and characterised by the “errant thought.”[5] We find ourselves in Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome – “an assemblage of connected multiplicities, without center or origin, […] always in process of becoming;”[6] detached, capricious, and able to swiftly shift course. [7] But this fluidity and flexibility in thoughts and actions is both exhilarating and  daunting. Unmoored and unbound, we also crave stability and belonging. Errantry is, thus, paired with melancholia and nostalgia; rhizome experienced as vertigo and tension.[8]

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