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Intricate Affairs

By Nov 17, 2008 Arts & Stage

It had been a while since I'd been up to Moganshan Lu, and taxi-ing through the smashed concrete, slums, and shit, I thought to myself, 'hmm, I must come back here more often.'

Of course, M50 is a well-manicured oasis in the industrial squalor of the area and ShanghART's H Space is at the centre of that. I was there for "INVOLVED," H Space's first joint exhibition of Chinese and Western artists, and I'm more than pleased to announce that it was a wonderfully depressing experience -- lots of doom and gloom, with proper existential angst, right miscommunication, and feelings of futility experience by all.

Curated by Philippe Pirotte, a slightly absurd opening quotation from the Belgian art critic sets the tone of sombre inscrutability:

"The Western misconception of the historical condition of geopolitical initiative today combined with a fascination and urgency to participate in the Asian economic hyper growth forms the background of the artistic project here."

The historical condition of geopolitical initiative. Participation in Asian economic hyper growth. And then right next to this is a short video by Knut Asdam depicting a close-up of a man peeing his pants ("Untitled-Pissing," 1995).

As you enter further into the space, the booming of Kafka's The Castle being read in various languages becomes audible (it's what's coming out of Pavel Buchler's horns in the main image with this article) and you're assailed by the candy-coated grotesquery of Armen Eloyen. Eloyen paints these mesmerisingly greasy acrylic cartoon characters in excessive amounts of acrylic paint, bringing the vulgarity and distorting nature of the "painterly tradition" to the fore. They ended up being my favorite, and the digital depiction included here don't really do them justice.

Perhaps video is the medium most overly represented, and works from Shi Yong, Miroslaw Balka, and Coret McCorkle will compete for the opportunity to dishearten you, demoralize you, or to just make you feel a little weird.

Another standout, and the piece that will keep you talking after the show, is a work by Xu Zhe called "Just Did It" (2008) that is comprised of a microscope and a speck of dirt. The dirt has a tiny little imprint on it resembling the famous footprint on the moon left by the first American exploration there in 1968. The piece builds on the mythology that the moon landing was faked to offer a radically different and facetious recreation of one of history's most famous images.

In contrast with the usual celebration of the "points of contact" between east as west artists, the crux of "INVOLVED" exhibition is it's heterogeneity and incommensurability with itself; Chinese, European, and American artists are grouped together and each seems to be involved in differing conversations and arguments within various spheres -- social, political, aesthetic -- and the media in the exhibition spans the range of painting, sculpture, video, and installation. There is some really good thing going on here. And it's depressing, manipulative, negative, ironic, and provocative. Don't miss it.

Involved runs at ShanghART's H Space until Dec 15.


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