Curator Helen Kaplinsky, undertook her residency with 501 Contemporary Art Centre in Chongqing and invited London based art group psychoanalYSL to make a new work, while Laura Yuile was artist in residence with Red Gate and Art Channel, in Beijing.
H: The main street where the Sichuan Fine art Institute is located has two iconic cooling towers, one of which has the date 1984 painted on it. I saw the tower feature in a few paintings and there was this definite sense of artists producing the Orwellian vision of China, which sells so well in the West.
Most commonly those depicting the urban landscape lean toward a dystopian vision, with the other response being to nostalgically hark back to traditional Chinese culture. The practice of artists narrating their urbanisation is strikingly modern.
PsychoanalYSL had called the project Mega Modern before we knew what the work would be, this was partly because modernism is such a hip point of reference, but also because we had discussed the modernisation of China, we knew what to expect.
L: My practice is preoccupied with questions of time, value and artistic labour. Creating work for the demolished village allowed me to consider these questions in relation to China’s current stage of economic and social development. My work relates to bodies moving through a city space that is in constant flux; creating tensions through the dichotomy of appearances vs. reality and the spectacle of excess next to destruction.
Wishing to place something faux-distressed into this chaotic, deconstructed environment, I chose to work with exercise mats - their cheap, mass-manufactured appearance representing a quick-fix western approach to self-improvement, framed within a throwaway culture.
I picked apart these exercise mats until they became frail and worn, in an attempt to falsify a suggestion of the body engaging in painstaking exercise and movement, but meaning that my own body had to engage in a different kind of painstaking exercise – time-consuming artistic labour.
Rather than pain and effort being saved (or anything gained) by this 'faking' of an appearance; the pain and effort is simply shifted from one place to another. This echoes the pointlessness of shifting rubble from one point to another, and the preoccupation with appearances that seems to play such an intrinsic part in the transformation of cities, and in the creation of art within cities.
H: The element of satire in psychoanalYSL’s work was lost on some visitors, they see so much work that looks the same, (conventional painting being the most common), audiences in Chongqing welcomed work which broke this convention.
This was great as people were open to viewing new work, but it also made them complicit in the spectacular nature of the installation, and the fetishisation of western art.
I discussed art education a lot in China. Whereas psychoanalYSL have pointed out that the word we use to judge the merit of artwork; 'criticality', doesn’t even make grammatical sense, in China they differentiate between 'form and content', many stating that there is not enough 'content' in Chinese contemporary art.
This is part of an over-identification with appearance, which many see as a problem which originates with the academy system. I quoted Sontag in the press release for the exhibition and seminar: “practically all metaphors for style amount to placing matter on the inside, style on the outside. It would be more to the point to reverse the metaphor. The matter, the subject, is on the outside; the style is on the inside” (Susan Sontag, On Style, 1965)
I talked to teachers and students about this essay and many had read Sontag, however they still insist on a distinction between form and content.
L: The exercise ball that I covered in tiny rhinestones became part of a performance involving a muscular male model. The model carried out a series of exercises and poses at the site, using the ball. Made to resemble a fallen disco ball, eventually the rhinestones started coming off and sticking to the model's skin.
The ball revealed its real self and stopped reflecting the light as the model became covered in the tacky, glitzy material excess, and he began reflecting the light himself. This acts as another small shift within a densely chaotic environment that again facilitates a change that was not intended by the original product. My work is about the changes, spaces and by-products that are created by the gaps between intentions, processes, and outcomes.
©Helen Kaplinsky and Laura Yuile, November 2011
RESIDENCIES: Two Views on China by Helen Kaplinksy and Laura Yuile, commissioned by Axisweb.org is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Helen Kaplinsky on Axis
Laura Yuile on Axis
Red Gate Gallery Artist Residency
Helen's blog about her residency on a-n
501 Contemporary Art Centre in Chongquing Residency