Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My First (un)Fashion article, about my androgynous son of course + Shanghai, A History in Photographs, and other busy bees

Yessum- very long time no see. So much has happened. I am now, like always, gonna desperately try to kick-start my arse back into the blogspot... but then again my silence, has a lot of course has to do with my accessibility behind The Great Firewall of China which is only penetrable with this here vpn... but don't tell anyone. China will surely blast these vpn's into bits before you can say Facebook!

Anyway whilst I have the access:
Shaway Yeh the chief editor of  Modern Media's Modern Weekly (all very modern here)  ran into me at the launch of Shanghai, A History in Photographs- Penguin's new mammoth coffee table book by Karen Smith and Liu Heung Shing in which I have one beautiful photo (an excerpt from the billboard piece I did for Zendai's 366 ... why they chose this image is beyond me) ... and Shaway said "why don't you write a fashion article for us about: double breasted suits, military inspired fashion, androgyny , or sleeveless?" I said pardon moi but I don't know what you're talking about, ahem, despite my handsome Old Navy hat, I know nothing about fashion my dear.... she said well that's the point- we want something personal.. so I wrote about my son, Rui, of course. When she received it she said "its interesting...not what i expected..." So alas my foray into fashion criticism or journalism or autobiographicalism or... something unexpectedly interesting on the fashion front-below.

Stay Tuned for The Asian Art Archives epic 1980's project, The World Expo Sculpture Exhibition documentary film and everything else that's happened in the last half year.. including the birth of my other bee.. I mean son, I mean he's as busy as a

The New Androgynous Military or my cross dressing son

My two-year-old son is frequently mistaken for being a girl. At first I thought it was his longish hair. Since his birth we deliberately didn’t cut it, leaving him with a floppy mane of golden locks that gave him that 70’s surfer look, and revealed his true free spirit. Unfortunately his, over-protective, and less aesthetic obsessed, grandmother took it upon herself to redesign his fleece, in order, she justified, to keep it out of his eyes. The haggard bob that she sculpted from his once beautiful tresses horrified us into taking him to the barber for a real boy’s cut, which I thought would inevitably change people’s perception of him. But it didn’t. People still continue to mistake him for a girl. Now I tell him that he should just drop his drawers the next time a 老太太 pinches his cheek and calls him a 小妹妹.

My son’s hair and charismatic cherub-like lusciousness aside, he was almost always sporting at least one article of camouflage clothing during these confrontations. A pattern, I presumed, that would invariably signal a sense of belligerence, machismo, maleness, virility, and ultimately of being a BOY. Furthermore he has not one pink item in his wardrobe, a color that somehow, has become the international signifier of girl-ness. However you interpret basic dress codes between the sexes I was sure that camouflage and pink would stand at opposing ends of the spectrum. Yet, it’s curious to imagine that at the turn of the century in America this rule was flipped. The Ladies Home Journal of 1918 advocates that “pink, being bolder, is more suitable for the boy.” And certainly men have been wearing pink in surfeit since Miami Vice [1]made it masculine again, after a half-millennium hiatus, in the 1980s. So as I witness the indoctrination of my little son into socially prescribed, sexually–correct clothing conventions I realize that they are more than ever blurred, not only by the schizophrenic nature of history or the rapid and ultimately recurring cycles of fashion, but by a larger movement in society towards the unisex.


While I presumed my son’s camouflaged canvas shoes would keep him out of the girl’s room it has become increasingly difficult to decipher the boundary between men’s and women’s fashion. The overwhelming identification of China’s post-80 generation with Chaonv’s tomboy Li Yuchun seems to have signaled a developing sense of the androgynous in society. Boys and girls sport the same eye flap hairdo, pencil pants, sharp angled tops, and new wave accessories.  Along with attire, attitudes and physiques also veer towards the center. There is something post-sexual about it, perhaps zenlike, with Yoga and Pilates shaping the bodies and spirits of both sexes. It’d be interesting to see this widening of the boundary between sexes as an anti-marketing, anti-capital trend. A egalitarian way to snub the noses of fashion houses bent on making two separate lines of clothes, and campaigns to market them. But what exactly is the prescription inherent in this androgynous trend? Certainly my wife wears my sweaters, but how can I get into her summer dresses? Is the dynamic of androgyny a one-way road? Women become manlier but men can only become so feminine without stepping completely out of convention… for now. Either way, like my son - mistaken as daughter in camouflage, the recent trend of military inspired designs for women probes this movement towards the middle.


Writing this I cannot help but think of the never-ending controversy in America of gays in the military. It was never a question of how to be feminine while wearing a uniform. A female officer, and moreover one holding a rifle, evokes a strong sexual charge.  But it’s peculiar that this current surge in military informed fashion comes at what may be the most peaceful time in recorded human history. Certainly the hippies of the 1960s would wear army clothes in protest of armed conflict. But then again, is this current trend, in some psycho-obsessed way, a manifestation of desire for armed conflict or at least the signification thereof? Or maybe it’s the excess of information in our media obsessed times that makes the presence of violence, military violence, echo from every corner of the planet; seeping into our subconscious and channeled into our fashions. The winner of this year’s Oscar, Hurt Locker might be the next cue for fashionistas worldwide. Watch out next winter for ballooning, bomb squad, jump suits for women. Certainly my son will be wearing one. 





[1] Miami Vice  a TV show popular in the US in the 1980s

Monday, June 15, 2009

Why so small Ramrod man? a brief literary detour while I figure out a way to put up some images

As I mentioned below the pinkos have blocked my blog and many others along with it leaving me the arduous task of meandering through a proxy site to post entries.
I have yet to figure out how to upload images this way and suspect that you cannot. So I am taking the opportunity to publish a poem that I have been working on for some time.
It is composed of spam email subjects. Yea it's not a novel poem writing strategy but it's a good one.
The Fluxists would have been proud

Why so small ramrod man?
My Edwarrio
Re: My Edwarrio
Say “I want to make love all night long!”
A kiss so gentle
I he devastate
Of bartend of attract
Is the ethology
A septum as chaise
In athletic as baseline
But rudy it Bantus
To marie my cellophane
Or cinquefoil the espousal
Or Aubrey it colonnade
As Minnie he audition
The is chamber
He Vernon go bullhide
To the delusion
As twirl do rockies
To be cindy
It samarium be pyrolyse
He salesian he milord
Go eccles my dewar
Do severn go scathe
In in quint
It dissuade a retrieve
But is wad
Have of exhibitor
On centerpiece so barefaced
No seeing as debussy
On churchgoing it refer
Which no fiftieth
Which detonate do attendee
Recite scrap
Acute blank check
Found it here
On it such
Thank you so much for oing through the trouble of painfully spelling out how Spiderman gets his powers when IT’S NOT EVEN TRUE!
Preeminent less antonym
It all sounds tricky but it is not rocket surgery
It is to occupant
To anything privately
It caribou it cyanate
However, I do include abs-specific exercises into the routines generally about twice per week

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dong Wensheng, another Changzhou-schmo and the continuing global shrink wrap project

So I am not going to make a truckload of excuses as to why I haven’t blogged here in a while. You all are very busy people- albeit with an occasional Facebook habit that wastes much of your precious time- and you know that it’s hard to do what you want to do in the face of all that you must do to maintain what you have. But here I am, a momentary lapse in responsibility and writing again. This lapse is due in part to the infinite variables of CMYK– i.e., I am sitting at the printer’s in some bumfuck, paved-over corner of Shanghai sucking ink fumes as I wait to approve another page in my ongoing Learning from Hangzhou epic. YESSIREE still beating that dead horse so late in the game… six years down the road - Ouch –I must say it all looks super fantastic – you know one of those books that jumps off the shelf and humps your leg! The making of an urban theory/photo archive legend for sure. Keep your eyes peeled for this beauty in August. Don’t let them fool ya - It’s more significant than ever. Even Rob Venturi’s office keeps emailing about the release dates.

Before I get going- I'd like to add that this blog along with all blogs have been blocked in China for at least 3 months (as has youtube and a host of other public access sites- but oddly enough my favorite porn sites are fully accessible)... so once again I'm a renegade blogger behind enemy lines shooting from the hip (but somehow can't upload images...) damn, Does it get sexier than this?

So as I sit here dying of boredom and bad lighting I wrote a catalog essay for Dong Wensheng’s exhibition at the Iberia Center in Beijing, which is not a not for profit whether or not they say it is. I mean it’s hard to tell, like most of these spaces, where the money comes and where it goes… All’s I know is that they’re trying to save most of it on my writer’s fee and accommodations.
Dong Wensheng lives in Changzhou and all along writers and critics placed his work in that Southern city’s rich, Jiangnan cultural context. He wanted to be placed in an international context like most megalomaniac artist types do (only kidding Dong is a reserved, thoughtful dude trying to do his very best) so he hired me- big nose and all-to find that international soft spot for his oeuvre to call home… but lemme tell its hard to do when Taihu Stones and pagodas appear in every piece. Just the same his work has a certain gothic sensibility and, if you read my essay below, will find has references to some very classical Western motifs… which at this point in time belongs as much to Dong’s as it does me as it does some pea farmer in Columbia.
So I went to Changzhou to see Dong, his studio and chat about what it is that he’s doing and why… Criticism (if it even should be called that) is a service industry for a visual system whose self-confidence wrests on the written word … not that anyone besides the artist himself will ever really read those words anyway. Nonetheless, I have attached what I have written below for your reading pleasure.
I’ve actually been meaning to go to Changzhou for about 3 years now because the city is not only home to Dong but to Hong Lei as well. According to the two of them there is no one else worth visiting in the city – that is- there are no other artists in this city of 4million… except if you count the old farts who paint traditional Chinese paintings… then you’d probably count at least 100,000 or so because that’s the kind of town Changzhou is- people are proud of their cultural roots- I mean, even if they did bulldoze over every building that had an ounce of authenticity and erect a bunch of big blue boxes in their place, they still love that old time, follow the master-flower and bird stuff.
Hong Lei is an old friend- stretching back to’95 when he lived in Beijing for a stint to escape his wife for a while and ran into me one rainy night at Han Lei’s Alienation opening in Ritan park. Hong Lei is one of the pioneers of the conceptual photography movement in the mid/late 90’s employing conceptual strategies to classical themes. He was (one of) the first to use the circular print technique to emulate the Chinese flower and bird painting tradition. But Hong’s birds were almost all dead, laying in pools of blood, crushed, strangled by pearl necklaces, deserted dead birdies. Like Dong (who was a student of Hong Lei’s) Hong’s work is most usually and accurately framed in the Southern classical aesthetic and tradition that is called Jiangnan (lit. south of the river – greater regional Hangzhou where the capital moved in the late Qing Dynasty after the Mongols bombarded the hell out of Kaifeng). Hong Lei himself plays up his literati affections, sometimes a little too much – text messaging in complicated characters, practicing calligraphy, growing bamboo, reading ancient poetry and drinking copious amounts of tea. Besides all that he’s just another shaved head, black Tshirt wearing Chinese artist.
Changzhou is one hour and 15min south of Shanghai by fast train. It lies between Suzhou and Nanjing, two distinctly Chinese cities that are known for their history and/or charm. But the whole Yangtze River Delta to which these cities belong, is an accelerated organism, urbanizing at 40% annually. The entire hour+ ride was paralleled by continual construction out both sides of the window: bridges, buildings and factories slowly engulfing what was once fertile farmland. Inside the train a couple on my left was wavering between sucking on some XLarge Fantas and pushing mayonnaise steeped, KFC sandwiches into their faces. On my right a young man was giggling along to an episode of Friends on his laptop. I sat there reading about Jiangnan culture and trying to figure out where the hell am I? Where the hell am I going? Where the hell have we been?

I was going to Changzhou to see both Dong and Hong. Hong, being the elder, insisted that I spend most of my time hanging in his studio, which was fine for me and for Dong too because we were both dreading the dire task of trying to be intelligent enough to figure out what his art what about. Hong’s studio was in a three-story villa (an independent western style house that, situated in a complex with other such houses, very much resembles any Southern California suburb) but Hong’s studio only occupied the ground floor, leaving the palatial upper floors empty. Even after renovating the entire house, complete with cast iron bathtubs and tiles imported from Spain, the man chose to leave the upstairs vacant... Anyway as I was getting high on all the red tea that Hong Lei was pouring and listening to a story about a semi famous writer friend of theirs that went mad and attempted suicide twice- the 2nd time she had second thoughts, hanging there on the noose, and proceeded to use her cigarette lighter to burn the rope and her face along with it and now she’s scarred for life- I noticed that Hong Lei had a Zhou Chunya print, slipped down and slightly warping out of the frame, and little dog sculpture which sat next to a miniature Duchamp bicycle wheel and a small Taihu stone on a long shelf. The conversation about the writer continued – she was once at a party wearing a black armband to commemorate her mother’s death. When asked how her mom died it turned out her father beat her to death with a hammer. It turns out that semi-famous writer woman bedded a bunch of famous Sichuanese painters whose names and record-breaking auction prices will not be mentioned.
Later that night at dinner we were accompanied by a surprise guest- a new acquaintance/friend of Dong’s who he met during his opening at in Beijing. The friend was a lawyer who consulted large companies during the day and practiced human rights in his spare time. He was enthralled with the contemporary art world and wanted to join along in the fun. He made a special trip to Changzhou to discuss his master plan with Dong and, inadvertently, us- The idea was that he was going to commemorate the fate of Yang Jiia who has become a hero for human rights in China. The official story is a bit convoluted. After being detained and allegedly beaten by cops for riding an unlicensed bike Yang went on a stabbing spree leaving 6 cops killed and four wounded. Somehow he has become the poster boy for police injustice in China.
Anyway our lawyer friend thought that if made a plexiglass sculpture of himself kneeled down like a prisoner in custody, and place this sculpture in front of the police station in which all of the above atrocities occurred, that somehow it would affect change in police tactics and civilian awareness. We –Dong, Hong and myself- all uniformly agreed that lawyers should have a surfeit of other, more compelling, devices up their sleeves than this very fart of an art idea. As the conversation continued art seemed more and more impotent in the face of stark social/political realities, but this guy’s enthusiasm for making a sculpture- an inanimate hunk piece of plastic- was astounding. Frustrated artists abound while the pleased ones persevere in vain.
That night Dong and I stayed up late in interview mode: why, what, who, etc. Drinking way too much tea for a good night’s sleep and way too many details for an essay that I already knew what I would write. Then we went to eat again, which is the usual nightlife custom.
The next day, while Dong and I waited for Hong to get his ass out of bed, we stopped in one of the last remaining Qing dynasty gardens in Changzhou. Albeit a bit dilapidated and unkempt, the place brought you into a zone far from the fluorescents and KTVkids that peopled the eatery were in last night. In one of the rooms of the courtyard homes flanking this garden was a Guardian Auction office run by a friend of Dong’s. They had just had a bunch of auction items on exhibition from the Ullens collection, mostly classical pieces -which came as a surprise to me that Guy and Miriam had the foresight to collect (and then subsequently auction) classic Chinese works. Apparently classic Chinese is a difficult field not because of the high stakes but because of the huge number of fakes that circulate the market. Apparently half the stuff out there is bogus. Anyway the moral of the story is that there are auctioneers everywhere, even in Changzhou.

Dong Wensheng: Corporeal Archeologies
Mathieu Borysevicz
Not yet originally published in a slightly edited form in Iberia Center’s Dong Wensheng Catalog; Yishu Journal July 2009; Contemporary Art Magazine, Shanghai

An artist’s body of work is like an ongoing conversation between the artist and himself, his interests and the world. Each piece is an utterance in a sequence of descriptive allusions. As time goes on and the conversation evolves, old territory is retraced and rendered new. Dong Wensheng’s conversation is continually expanding and retracting like a chest cavity sucking in and exhaling the air of life. Yet the gist of the conversation is one that the eavesdropper can deduce only from subtle and evasive clues. The conversation wavers between the poles of local tradition and universality, between nature and man’s desire to possess it, between past and future. His speech is borrowed from a myriad of periods and places: the idiosyncrasies of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, with its biological experimentation, shares metaphorical space with medieval alchemy, an imaginary future, and the profound rift between southern Song dynasty and contemporary China, poised at the brink of globalized hypermodernity. It is Dong’s dubious relationship with the past—at once sentimental and resentful—that gives vitality to this conversation, to his work. Whether he chooses to set his work in a time long ago or in an apocalyptic future, Dong’s works, with their enigmatic arrangements and characters, carry a sense of prophecy, posing unsolvable riddles for the viewer like soberly reconfigured Tarot cards.


In the sculptural work ID Verification Needed (2009), a headless figure, part plaster and part skin, is sitting with his arms resting on his knees. The suggestion seems to be that an archeological dig in the future unearthed twenty-first century man and his body has been recomposed based on its shattered remains. It is an allegory that imagines post-historical humanity reassembling its own recently exhumed swatches of skin. This work is positioned far ahead on the timeline, in the future looking back towards the present, as if it were an omen, inevitability, or anticipated sense of déjà vu. Entwined in Dong’s elliptical sense of history is a decelerated, suspended notion of time. All of his works are moments, fragments in a long, perhaps infinite, narrative. Figures sit turned away from us as if they are in a state of eternal deliberation; a crocodile is suspended in a booby trap that will never be lowered; skulls doubling as planters grow fresh weeds, little by painfully little. The works are like meditations, zones in which the viewer is invited to enter, contemplate, and cease contemplating. Perhaps this sense of slow motion is born out of the southern somnolence that is particular to the Jiangnan region Dong calls home. Perhaps it is the artist’s way of making us pay attention, a way of distracting us from our exceedingly information-saturated environments and getting us to ruminate on the prospect that time itself may no longer be a viable system.


Yet throughout Dong’s work the mark of time is inscribed as a way to remind us that life is inclusive; it is not always about the new and now but equally about the past. Our hopes and dreams indiscriminately mix with memories and experiences. Dong’s recurring motif of the tattooed man is one means through which time becomes figuratively written in his works. Perched on boats in rivers, ruminating in ancient gardens, and sitting together in conference, the illustrated backs of these stout men stare out at the viewer as illegible, iconographic maps. These men are not only emblazoned with marks of social identification—the misfit, the derelict, the criminal—but their bodies are tablets inscribed with forgotten historical legacies. Just as in his earliest photographic experimentations, the artist photographed the limbs of teenagers, self-afflicted with scars, here, body writing is used as a carefully conceived nuance that expresses both personal psychology and communal myth. In Ray Bradbury’s science fiction classic Illustrated Man, one man’s tattoos metamorphose into stories that probe the psychological effects of technology. In Dong’s world, the tattoo is an added subtext to an already perplexing story, often pitching forgotten but still-relevant legends to a modern audience.


The Taihu stone is another reoccurring motif in Dong’s oeuvre, and, like the tattoo, manifests time’s imprint upon an object. Long exposure to Lake Taihu (Jiangsu province) currents has sculpted an infinite maze of tunnels and indentations onto these solid masses. The resulting beautiful and complex forms have made these stones a muse to many throughout history. The Taihu stone is also Dong’s muse. Held in a skeletal hand, enclosing a meditative man in a garden, floating abandoned on a boat or on the back of a tortoise, the stone makes appearances in Dong’s images like a character in a play. Seen straightforwardly, the stones symbolize traditional Chinese culture with its artistic aspirations fixated on the intricate beauty of nature. However, in Dong’s compositions the implication is unclear. Rather than celebrate the aesthetics of this rich heritage, they seem to bemoan its historical weight, even accuse it of hampering ideological advancements. In a Lonely Rock (photograph, 2006), a vast lake frames the Taihu stone as it floats aimlessly aboard a wooden boat. It is a dream space anchored by the traditional connotations of this cultural icon. But look again far into the distance, and modern civilization, in the form of a telephone transmission tower, pokes gently into the clouds. In a similar composition based on the Hieronymous Bosch drawing Ship of Fools, a head surrounded by rocks floats on an ancient boat. In this composition the ship drifts forward, seemingly lost, without a sense of purpose. Aboard the ship the bodiless passenger is impotent, incapable of exercising control over his destiny. Bosch’s Ship of Fools was a playful work, showing the ship’s oblivious passengers en route to the “paradise of fools,” but Dong’s ship seems to have taken equal inspiration from Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, which claims that these ships were used as primitive concentration camps to dispose of people with mental disorders. Dong’s vessel floats endlessly from port to port, a human head locked out at sea bounded by the confines of tradition and his own confounded expectations.

Throughout Dong’s series of Taihu stone images, an internal narrative emerges whereby the stone’s cyclical trajectory—wrested from nature and returned back again—is traced. In the image A Day of No Significance (photograph, 2008), hands thrust a rock above the surface of a lake as if it were a sacrificial offering to humanity. Elsewhere the rocks are objects of human fascination, study, obsession; they even become surrogates for the human mind (Allergy Patient, sculpture, 2009 sticking out in place of a cranium and grey matter. In Dong’s video The Moment of Stone Sinking (2007) the Taihu stone travels aboard a boat, which the weight of it, eventually sinks both the boat and stone. The stone plummets to the bed of the lake, returning to the natural surroundings from which it was taken, like a caged animal released into the forest.

Dong’s latest video, Turtle’s Road to Homeland (2009) seems as if it is a sequel to The Moment of Stone Sinking. In this mesmerizing video the stone reemerges from the depths of the water, this time carried on the back of a small turtle. The turtle struggles out of the water and onto the shore as if at the end of a long journey. Yet the journey isn’t over and perhaps never will be. The turtle looks in vain for a place to rest its weary legs, passing through countryside and then the constructs of civilization, all along bearing the weight of the stone. The video recalls Sisyphus, the Greek god condemned to a lifetime of carrying a stone up a hill, only to have it roll back down again. In Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus, the futile, endlessly repeated task symbolizes modern man's search for meaning in the face of an unintelligible, mechanized world. Dong’s video evokes a similar connotation. As the turtle passes through the grim, almost apocalyptic, surroundings, it stops to rest against the backdrop of the space shuttle taking off in the distance. Here, the space shuttle represents an accelerated future while the turtle, bearing the weight of traditional culture, can no longer move. This juxtaposition, perhaps a cryptic nod to the folktale “The Turtle and the Hare,” pronounces both disillusionment with the state of the world and reckless abandonment of tradition.


Dong’s ambiguous relationship with classical culture was established early on in his photographic works, which often saw figures situated in the Ming dynasty gardens of Changzhou. He used these gardens, customarily considered miniaturized and idealized universes, as backdrops for his surrealist narratives. In the current work, Dong abandons his role as director and directly enters that of gardener, cultivating his own small patch out of human remains. Part biological experimentation, part mysticism, these works speak to a time long ago when the pursuit of scientific knowledge employed methods that were at once magical, horrific, and barbarian. In the photographic works Yidam (2007) and A Study of The Phenomenology of Spirit (2008), unearthed skeletons are reburied by fresh overgrowth. Here the artist directly shows us evidence of corporeal inevitability while simultaneously pointing at life’s cyclical nature. Just as Yorick’s skull, accidentally dug up in the graveyard, arouses memories and a morbid preoccupation with death in Hamlet, the skull in Dong’s work frequently prompts the eternal question of life after biological death.

In another work the artist, taking inspiration from an antique death mask found in a flea market, sculpted a “death face.” Traditionally, the mask is meant to immortalize the appearance of its owner as the body decomposes, yet Dong’s frighteningly realistic depiction is served on a platter and overgrown with weeds. Allusion to John the Baptist’s severed head and a preoccupation with metaphysics are combined in this almost gothic presentation. John the Baptist’s head is referenced frequently throughout Western classical art, signifying his martyrdom and the absurd abuse of power that killed him. But in No World View for the Face (photograph, 2008) the head is anonymous, the signification unknown, prompting the viewer to construct an independent narrative that inevitably mirrors his/her own mortality.

This mirroring is something that Dong exceeds at. Each work acts as a mirror intended for the viewer to examine. Like Ophelia in Hamlet watching flowers drop into the water in which she will drown herself (or Dong’s video Jingzhe, 2003, where a noose of flowers is delicately constructed for the same purpose), the mirror, like the conversation, has many elliptical connotations.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Skype Portraits, An old feeling in a New Year

So the baby's been sick, I've been spending lots of money and not making any, the landlord is trying to kick us out because he needs to sell the place so that he doesn't go bankrupt, it's been raining for 40 day and 40 nights, and most of the phone calls I've gotten lately are advertisements, BUT, all things considered, life is beautiful in this stinky year of the OX

Above are some selections from a series I've been working on -
SKYPE Portraits

These are some of the the people
that have kept me psychologically, creatively and emotionally in tact for the last 9 years of my life

They all live in NYC and
SKYPE is the only way to see and talk to them these days... 13 hours apart, usually late at night or early in the morning, in the intimacy of their own homes, pajamas,hangovers, hangups, etc... mediated by a pulsing cross continental spaghetti wire mess that turns us both into pixelated pumpkin pies

Jean Christian Bourcart is a photographer/
filmmaker/artist whose work has been shown virtually everywhere on the planet to much critical acclaim, including an upcoming show in Shanghai which I have to get busy arranging

Marcus Burnett is one
kickass cinematographer who, despite his serene calm persona has shot some mean television docu+drama, commercials, features and, once in a while, under the influence of his goodforniothing artist friends, some super experimental shorts.
Clients include:Ralph Lauren, National Geographic, and God herself

When Shanghai is still pulling itself out of one sopping post new Year melancholy - I go Skype... to NY where the weather and mood is just as sweet
as always... click to enlarge 

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Exquisite Corpse, China Surreal

I'm trying to wrap up all those leftover 2008 project entries before we get too far into 2009. "The Exquisite Corspe, China Surreal" is a show I recently curated along with m97 Gallery in Shanghai. It is an exhibition of photographs from Chinese artists and photographers that describe the surreality of this here country. It started out as an attempt to recycle an older exhibition but just expanded and expanded... some 40 artists later... The critics loved it. The Chinese version of Art Forum, listed it as a Critic Pick... totally unbeknownst to me, I swear That's Shanghai said "Every now and then an exhibition pops up to remind us that there is more to curating than simply hanging pictures on walls. Such is the case with Exquisite Corpse... Outstanding!" Furthermore 艺术当代 Art Contemporary magazine asked me to further float my boat by writing a curator's statement for their magazine. Here it is below.

"poetry must be made by all and not by one." - Comte de Lautréamont

According to legend, and the reasonable trickling down of historical record, the Exquisite Corpse was born around a table of poets and artists in France, 1925. Amongst this flamboyant group was the painter Yves Tanguy, the poets Andre Breton and Jacques Prevert. The game was a variation of an old parlor pastime and began as a way to fill the blanks of what was usually a lively discussion. Among the topics often discussed by these young intellectuals, who were already disillusioned by the so-called progress of a relatively young modern era, were the writings of Freud. Freud’s practice of psychoanalysis, dream interpretation and other explorations of the human subconscious helped these characters to foster the Surrealist movement. Surrealism was thought of as “a means toward the total liberation of the mind and of everything that resembles it…" , It was the mind that ruled reality, they suspected, and yet the mind itself was a deep mystery. While each of the original Exquisite Corpse players were involved in their own independent explorations of the mind at the time, the game relied on the group to collectively disrupt any sense of rationality in the world.

The game was played in an improvisational, lighthearted way and the rules were simple. A phrase was written on a piece of paper; folded to conceal most of its content and then passed onto the next player. Using the exposed word as a departure point the next player would continue to write. That player would then conceal most of his text and pass the paper along until everyone had completed his or her turn. In the end the unfolded paper would divulge the abstract sum of the players’ contributions. As the story goes one of the first rounds of the game produced the results, “The exquisite/corpse/will drink/the young/wine” and hence the name of the game. The sentence’s strange evocation was a utility of its contradictoriness. It was a complete, random chance that brought these words together. "Corpse" implied death; "young wine," fresh life. The beginning and end were united, and the polarized associations of each word came together like unlikely lovers. The strange, often nonsensical results that the game yielded delighted the participants who thought them to reveal the "unconscious reality in the personality of the group" or the group’s collective subconscious. Max Ernst identified these subconscious outcomes as the result of the process called "mental contagion." Not only did this activity help to reap strange collaborative possibilities but it also proved to be one of art history’s first flirtations with undermining the traditional concept of the independent author and thus helped to usher in the era of post modernity.

The game was soon adapted to the visual realm and included freeform drawing, collage as well as a version that left each player to imagine the human figure in its component parts of head, torso, waist, legs and feet. André Breton spoke of these games as "…the most fabulous source of unfindable images…" Some of the better-known players of this game were Jacques Hérold, Yves Tanguy and Victor Brauner whose renditions exposed, like psychotherapy itself, the participant’s subconscious sexual desires and perversions. Since its inception The Exquisite Corpse went on to take on many other forms including film, sculpture and theatre, each producing endless associations and collaborative possibilities. The influence of the Exquisite Corpse and other Surrealist modes of expression still persist in contemporary culture; China’s visual arts are no exception.

In 21st century China there is a surfeit of surrealistic inspiration that artists have and continue to draw upon. Rapid sociocultural transition in conjunction with extreme economic and psychical transformations has left a plethora of loopy phenomena and ideological fusions throughout the country. The undeniable psychological toll of nonstop “reform” mixed with an influx of outside influences and an increasingly conflicting economic and generational divide have made for some interesting conditions. Standing in the wake of these changes artists have attempted to deduce what little sense might be made from their metamorphosing environment. Photography, traditionally used as a tool to record social change, has been employed by many of these artists as a way to render the affects that these changes have had upon them. In the exhibition Exquisite Corpse, China Surreal an eclectic array of photographic work by artists of different generations and backgrounds expose the “mental contagion” in today’s China. It is a contagion whereby culture, tradition, the body and imagination have all been hijacked by rapid transformation.

Inevitably, artists working within the same environment have drawn similar conclusions. Many artists’ works unintentionally inform, influence and question one another’s. One need not look too hard to see shared influences and themes throughout China’s visual arts. However, the links between these autonomous works and the potential sum of their total equation is what interested us most as curators. In composing this exhibition the question of how to explore the imaginary possibilities of a collective subconscious in the context of today’s China became the key issue.

While the works in the exhibition weren’t the result of a group activity, like the original Exquisite Corpse had been, they were chosen for their inherently surrealistic content. As the entire exhibition formed a delicately composed sequence of non-sequiturs each of the works themselves presented an independent enigma to contemplated. Hong Lei’s “I Dreamt I was Hanging Upside Down While Listening to Emperor Song Huizong Play Guqin with Chairman Mao”, a digitally composited image that shows a man dangling upside down from a tree while an ensemble of historical figures play musical instruments, is a surreal composition in itself that evokes a compounded sense of history and the artist’s own dream life. But pair this image with Mao Yu’s “Tree of Man” which shows six figures wrapped in red blankets hanging like pods from a tree while below the artist himself lays face up, naked and the Exquisite Corpse begins. As a series of stand-alone subconscious expressions each work in this exhibition is linked to the next by visual or conceptual themes, sometimes subtle, sometimes explicit, to produce one communal Exquisite Corpse.

Some of the artists have constructed neurotic testimonies to the growing sense of historical amnesia and individual alienation in today’s society. Han Lei’s alarming portraits of rural folk actors being punished by severe blows to the head follows Chen Wei’s “Sand and Nobody, No.1” which shows a man surrounded by stacks of manuscripts with his head buried in a sink. Both of these compositions, that posit the human head at the center, come as the afterthought to Bai Yiluo’s “Destiny No. 1”, a montage of thousands of faces that create one larger than life size skeleton. Nearby Zhang Dali’s “Demolition 1999101A” shows a simple head carved out of the ruins of Beijing hutong while behind it looms a glossy new office building. Urban transformation also becomes the metaphorical crux in the action-flick inspired works of Li Wei that shows a woman floating high above a construction site anchored only by a team of workers. Architecture is presented as a fictional, dream space in the works of Meng Jin, Sun Ji and Lu Jun. Liu Ren’s image of an apartment complex being hit by a huge tidal wave is placed above an image from Yang Yi’s series, “Old Town of Kaixian”, which illustrates the submerging effects that the Three Gorges Dam has had on his hometown; while in Wang Ningde’s film-noirish “Someday No. 33” a 1960’s-era character is pictured from the rear rowing a boat with a collapsed woman in it. Placed nearby is “A Missing Person’s Back” by Dong Wensheng showing a bearded head upon an ancient boat that floats slowly through the water.

Several other artists posit the figure at the intersections of nature, myth and imagination to produce results that are sometimes violent, disturbing and mesmerizing. In Yu Ji’s “Fang and Fang’s Doll” a naked pregnant woman stands in the middle of the road, while off to the side, an inflatable sex doll falls from a smoking car. Ma Liang’s quirky portrait of a bride and a man in a pig outfit seem to nod at Zeng Han and Yang Changhong’s medieval costumed players that stand defiant, yet incongruous against the industrial backdrop of Chongqing. Sheng Qi’s iconic “My Left Hand” shows the artist’s pinky-less hand holding an image of a skeleton. Here the artists’ wounded grip acts as a metaphor for personal and political anguish while at the same time linking us back to “Destiny No.1” Bai Yiluo’s imposing collection of identity portraits.

Through pictorial and thematic clues we can see the common traces of China’s collective subconscious emerge- where a schizophrenic sense of history puts the past in front of us, waiting to be contended with; in an environment where the cycle of demolition and construction seems to spin endlessly, rendering everything in its path continually obsolete; and where the human figure becomes a means to explore changing social behavior and the substratum of corporeal existence. It is a succession of oracular truths that only China’s present reality could have shaped and which, in the end, yields only more enigmas.

Mathieu Borysevicz 12.08

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Twas the night before the night before Christmas... Commercial Video Killed The Air Space above Shanghai

It was the night before the night before Christmas
and all through the house
several creatures were stirring
including a flatulent mother in law
as I sat re-reading Joyce's 'Araby' in an old text book compilation of English literature that somehow stuck with Yan through all these years
Yan, sitting next to me, suddenly jumped up and exclaimed "我的天what the hell is that?"
As I peered out our fabulous 14th floor wrap around window that overlooks the exhaust choked city of Shanghai ...
I saw something that I had never seen before
Flying directly over Huashan Park was a dark mass that on one side emitted an array of flashing lights
Was it a Bird? A Plane? a UFO, yes finally they have come! but wait, no
Dasher, Dancer!, Prancer and Vixe, Not really
It's a
It's a goddamn flying television!

A floating Flatscreen, an electronic sign machine high in the sky, A video blimp
Not only are commercial video screens installed in taxis, in front of and in elevators, on boats and buildings, bathrooms, behind counters, and everywhere else in between in this advertisement soaked city BUT
now they are, up high in the sky
Air rights for sale!
I suppose it was inevitable... but what next?
One day will we open a shower tap and bathe in a stream of video-ified water?
The future is now and now again
and 'public space' in every direction is being filled in
meter by meter with advertisements
And as the video Blimp flashed 'a unidentifiable array of white smiley faces and products into the Shanghai night , I heard it exclaim
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Happy (hopefully videoless skies) 2009!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A brief not exactly about about 'Surfacing' + 2008 Micro Macro Mine, In No Particular Order

Phil Tanari wrote me and said

"Do you have any interest in doing a year-end "top ten" for the .cn website? I am trying to organize a half-dozen or so of the usual suspects to write up their picks a la the mothership so that we have some nice nuggets to feed into Angle for the holiday season. This would be somewhere between 600-1000 words total, a list of your top picks for exhibitions/artists/incidents/etc in 2008, accompanied by some photos."

The cn website is which, as I found out this past weekend (at the opening of "Surfacing" - a group painting show at the Shanghai Gallery of Art - ) actually does get read, and not only does it get read but the forum section, where a zillion Chinese art world blogs are linked, gets this here rad-ass blog some eye-action as well! Chen Jie, a young super funk painter dude from Beijing (via Sichuan where he studied with Zhang Xiaogang-who gave him and his lovely, equally as funked out, wife Li Shurui - who's also in the "Surfacing" show- a Blood Line lithograph for their wedding.) actually saw and read this blog- in particular, the Chinglish entry which may have been interpreted as being semi-critical... which in fact it might have been given my part time status as "CRITIC"

Anyway, The SGA show is very clever and
circuitous, in a David Chan kind of way, with painting looking as relevant as ever... or trying to look relevant, in that 'take me home and have your way with me', kind of way . Chen Jie makes one helluva departure from his earlier, more precious, Gerhard Ricteresque, KOK paintings. Here he's on a more rule-based, mathematical, formalism trip. One might even use the Zen word if they were that type of person. There's also some very enigmatic, very stuccoed, post impressist work by yet another painter's painter outa Shenyang - Wu GuangYu ... and they served hot-mulled wine at the opening, y'know for Christmas
Here is MY 2008 list which I'm not sure ever made it to the cn website

2008 Micro Macro Mine, In No Particular Order
Mathieu Borysevicz

Trying to mine ten memorable “art experiences” out of 2008 is not only arduous but something that misses the expansive points that contemporary art has been trying to make for the last forty some odd years- that life is far more interesting. One of the grand curatorial conceits of this year’s Guangzhou Triennial, Farewell to Post Colonialism is the fact that art practices today are endangered by a reality that is increasingly fanciful, increasingly confounded by an ever-expansive mass media and proliferation of nonlinear technology, something that curator, Gao Shiming identifies as the virtual world colonizing the real world. In my very non-linear list below, some of the entries are events that belong to this greater communal reality. While they are not art events per se, they are some of the most spectacular, image driven, cultural experiences that I (and you and everybody else) have witnessed, and which undoubtedly will influence the pristine domain of the art world.
Another point I’d like to make in compiling this tableau of events is that art, no matter how you play it, is a subjective game that ultimately resists quantification or qualification. There were countless events in 2008 that were important and influential but did not make my list because either I didn’t see it, didn’t want to see it or saw it and didn’t like it. Any notion that I will reinforce your own convictions of taste will be disproved by this very biased list. My 2008 was indeed just that, mine, like it or not.

2008 in no particular order:

Baby Rats
2008 was the year that I, and many others in the Chinese art world became parents. While procreation encompasses a surfeit of physical, emotional and psychological experiences that contemporary art will never achieve, it will certainly inflect the practices of these new parents with a more life-affirming, humble, and purposeful approach to things. Stay tuned for enlightened changes from: artist, Yang Zhenzhong and writer, Lu Lei; artists, Xu Zhen and Feng Zhengjie; the Beijing based German photographer, Roland Fischer; Continua Gallery’s Qiu Keman, curator Tang Xin and artist/designer Xie Wenyue; critic, Carol Lu and artist, Liu Ding, and the countless others who became parents in 2008. Viva Procreation!
.... and WAIT this just in - Michael Lin and Heidi Voet just had twins!!!! Yahoo join the club

The Sichuan Earthquake was a humanitarian disaster that spectacularly mobilized millions, the art world included. Not only did several artists (including myself, Ai Weiwei, Zhao Bandi, Hu Xiangcheng and Luo Ping, etc.) personally visit the devastation but countless money was raised by impromptu art auctions and other art world contributions. From a formal point of view the media’s role in galvanizing the masses was epic. The grand, theatrical narrative of devastation, conspiracy and bereavement played out for months across a myriad of media in China and around the globe. On televisions, billboards, and the internet real life tragedy was transformed into fiction and vice versa. Premier Wen Jiabao cried, heroic soldiers rescued and countless victims were and are still mourned.
In this accelerated age of incessant media clamor and digital instantaneity the world, and hence our consciousness, overflows with photographic images. It would be impossible to estimate the amount of photographs that are produced everyday or even every second on this planet. Biz Art’s Hipic takes an imaginary stab at this enigma. Hipic is a computational machine that recycles digital images as a communal, time based, artwork, both online and in public, one minute at a time for the rest of time... or as long as participants contribute to the piece. At the time of writing this, Hipic was one year, three months, nine days, fifteen hours and seven minutes old- or close to 600,000 images long. Online or in public installations Hipic’s images progress in an illogical, though steady stream, one minute at a time, forming an ambience of constantly changing vistas.

2008 Olympics
Looking back it’s funny how much a thing of the past the Olympics are now. Was that August or 1999? Now matter how much we’d love to forget the Olympics, it has became an integral part of contemporary culture, not only in it’s employment of some of China’s most famous artists but in its omnipresent hold on our consciousness’. While the pre-Olympics Olympics formed an ideology based on magnitude, national pride and promise, the Olympics itself, from the architecture to the over anticipated, super elaborate, CG embellished opening performances to Liu Xiang’s tragic Achilles heel injury - which threw the entire nation into a psycho-analytical blame game, to the surreality of its closing ceremony- accented by Led Zeppelin’s aging guitarist, Jimmy Page playing “Whole Lotta Love” atop a transforming double-decker bus, the Olympics were truly a feast.

Comfortable Show, Shanghai
The critic Gao Minglu in his Inside/Out exhibition, identified a movement within early nineties Chinese art as “Apartment Art”. No matter how well this label fits the work of artists who basically had no other venues at the time, Shanghai was host to its own version of apartment art this Autumn. Amidst the hoopla of the Shanghai Biennial and the second incarnation of SH Contemporary, artist, Jin Shan and others organized a small but very refreshing exhibition inside an old lane house apartment in Shanghai’s French Concession. The exhibition seemed to begin well before reaching the venue itself, in the laundry-strewn alleyways and slightly dilapidated halls that doubled as communal kitchens. The event’s casual, DIY strategy was antithetical to the other art events in the city at the time. An installation of visitors’ shoes (Lu Yonglei) greeted newcomers to the exhibition while people dressed only in red imitation Calvin Klein undies and printed white t-shirts (Alexandre Ouairy) lounged about everywhere. An air conditioner unit installed inside out heated up the space and leaked water all over (Jin Shan), while in another room a floor of cushioned tiles (Tang Dixin) made walking impossible. The lived in, funhouse aspects of this exhibition gave the participant a feeling of being part of a teenage fantasy experiment rather than an exhibition.

Playing the Building, David Byrne’s Creative Time NY
David Byrne is one of those artists who traverse different mediums and forms with exquisite ease. With operas, films, music production, music curating, books, blogs, furniture, photography and The Talking Heads behind him what else can he possibly do? This summer as part of Creative Time’s ongoing series of public works, Byrne transformed lower Manhattan’s Battery Maritime Building into an interactive musical instrument. Opening at the same time as Olafur Eliasson’s much hyped, 15 million dollar waterfall installations, Byrne’s piece instead used low key, lo-fi technology to magically resuscitate a dilapidated building. The piece was composed of a reconfigured antique organ from which plastic tubes strung out in an elegant web and attached to various parts of the cavernous building. When the organ’s keys were pressed air pumped through the tubes eliciting various clanking or blowing noises from the building’s nineteenth century structure and delighting participants.

Intrude: Art & Life 366, Zendai MoMA
Zendai Museum’s Intrude: Art & Life 366 series was a little too ambitious to really succeed. The project’s goal was that for the 366 days of 2008 a different artwork would intervene in Shanghai’s public realm. It was an earnest attempt to cross breed reality with the esoteric realm of contemporary art, to infiltrate new territories and reach new audiences. Art & Life 366 was a good idea but very difficult to manage, promote, document or realize in general. Having said this, 366 saw a formidable slew of local and international artists working in areas that they have hitherto never been for audiences that never expected it. Some of Intrude’s highlights included Vibeke Jensen’s nighttime video projections on Shanghai’s cultural institutions, Bai Yiluo’s oversized human heart being driven around on the back of a tricycle cart, Yoko Ono’s Instructional pieces and Yang Yong’s photographs as subway posters, Utopian Group’s museums in private homes project, etc., etc.

The US Presidential Election and Obama Mania
Need I say more?

Learning from Hangzhou at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, NYC
I play many roles in the art world: critic, curator and artist. In the age of plurality multitasking is certainly allowed. I approach each role with equal vigor and try my best to avoid collisions. Oddly though, as a critic I am constantly asked which artists I like most. I have pondered this question many times but always draw the same conclusion… me. If I didn’t think this I would probably not make art anymore. I told you that I was biased, didn’t I? But in compiling this list as a critic I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t include the installation, Learning from Hangzhou at Storefront for Art and Architecture in NYC. Learning from Hangzhou is a case study of urban phenomena, especially as it concerns the relationships between construction, advertisements and architecture. It just so happened that Storefront was renovating its façade this summer and the piece, which consists of thousands of images and text, was mounted as a billboard on the 140foot long construction blind. The opening was held inside the blind and on the street, literally in the transitional zone of construction site and public space (exactly the crux of the project), which along with the proximity to New York’s Chinatown heightened the work’s sense of site-specificity.

East of Que Village, Yang Fudong at Shanghart
David Velasco in writing about the same exhibition for the same publication called East of Que Village “a ravishing study of antagonism on the fringes”. MoMA curator Barbara London confessed in conversation that she thought that the piece was the artist’s most political and personal to date. After seeing Yang Fudong’s East of Que Village I’m still not exactly sure what either of these comments mean, but somehow they both seem accurate. Wild dogs are the protagonists in this bleak, six screen, video installation. While a pack of dogs scrape the sustenance out of a dusty, barely populated northern town, an oddly hierarchical group dynamic emerges amongst them. Perhaps the dynamic is one that we project upon them, as survivalists ourselves.