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Three To See: Storytelling, Space Art, and Terrible Photoshop

Curating the curators. Here's some art shows you don't want to miss this summer.
2016-06-21 14:57:17
From spinning yarns at Rockbund to visual poetry at OCAT and some hilariously bad Photoshopping at MadeIn, here's three art shows to see in Shanghai this summer.

1) Tell Me a Story: Locality and Narrative @ Rockbund Art Museum


Let the Water Flow, 2016, Field Recordings

Runs: 10am-6pm, Tue-Sun Until Aug 14
Price: 30rmb

Group exhibition Tell Me a Story tells 11 tales from Asia, visualized through film, photography, installation and performance. Spanning history and ritual, current issues and mythology, the show’s definition of story is pleasingly broad, merrily blurring fact, fiction and allegory to put artists’ interpretations front and center.

Fireworks (Archive), 2014, Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Take the show’s opener, Fireworks, by Thai artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The magical realist film charts a night time journey of a man and a woman on crutches through an unnamed temple. Camera flashes, torches, then fireworks momentarily illuminate eerie surroundings. There’s something unnerving about the statues too: teasing glimpses of jeans-clad stone figures and gun-toting dogs throw even the work’s setting into doubt. The crackle of fireworks -- usually something celebratory -- is laced with sounds of gunfire, alluding to the region’s history of violence.

Hong Kong is Land, 2014 - 2016, MAP Office

Elsewhere, Taiwanese artist Su Yu-Hsien builds a story around ritual and the trappings of tradition. Hua-Shan-Qiang plays out inside a funeral paper house: kitted out with a paper KTV machine, paper TV, and paper balcony, it has every mod-con the film’s protagonist, "the spirit body," could need in the afterlife. From gaudy LED lights and crushed foil ‘wallpaper,’ through to ash dancing like flies after the home’s ceremonial burning, it’s beautifully shot and definitely worth seeking out.

Untitled, Watan Wuma

Films are particularly strong and include Field Recordings’ Let the Water Flow. That weaves various narrative strands to tell the story of those eking out a living chugging goods up and down the Huangpu River to the East China Sea. The work charts both the history of water-based infrastructure in China, as well as the human face of life on the waves: grannies knitting, families and colleagues preparing lunch, or hanging out their undies. The artist collective includes Li Xiaofei, he of those exquisite Assembly Line factory films. This one bears his hallmark style: sensitive, comprehensive in scope and intimate.

A Ship Believing the Sea is the Land, 2014, Haejun Jo + KyeongSoo Lee

Good for a pan-Asia lens across issues national, regional and personal, do go see.


2) The Distant Unknown @ OCAT


Stones Against Diamonds (Ice Cave), 2015, Isaac Julien

Runs: 10am-6pm, Tue-Sun Until Aug 28
Price: Free

A veritable Brit-fest, The Distant Unknown showcases works by five top-notch UK artists: Issac Julien, Cornelia Parker, Katie Paterson, Susan Philipsz and Ben Rivers. All about closeness, proximity and departure, here those themes manifest themselves in geography, time and astronomy, the real and the unverifiable.

You Are Not Alone, 2009/2016, Susan Philipsz

Taking pride of place is Julien’s five-screen work, Stones against Diamonds (Ice Cave). In keeping with the kind of visual poetry the London-born filmmaker is best known for, this one’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Featuring an ethereal-looking woman gliding through an icy landscape with magnificent glaciers slowly melting around her, the work was inspired by a letter from Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi in which she praises the beauty of nature over precious stones. The film was shot in Vatnajökull region, south east Iceland, and made its global debut at last year’s Venice Biennale .

Candle (from Earth into a Black Hole), 2015, Katie Paterson

Katie Paterson, meanwhile, considers the kind of distance most can only imagine: outer space. Case in point, Ancient Darkness, which is just that -- a one-minute TV broadcast of the furthest point of the observed universe, 13.2 billion-years ago. It’s… dark. Paterson has form here: her beautiful Earth-Moon-Earth saw Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata sent in Morse code from earth, reflected from the surface of the moon, and then received back on earth.

Revisiting the theme once again at OCAT is Candle (from Earth into a Black Hole), a 23-layer scented candle representing a journey through space. Those layers span interstellar clouds (which smell like “mothballs,” apparently), the stratosphere (“geraniums”), and the sun (which spans scents of “a room when the sun has been pouring in” to “welding a motorbike”).

There is a Happy Land Further Away, 2015, Ben Rivers

Elsewhere, Ben Rivers’ There is a Happy Land Further Away documents life on South Pacific volcanic archipelago, Republic of Vanuatu -- significantly months prior to the islands being slammed by Cyclone Pam in 2015. It’s confusing: a stop-start female voice -- alongside that of the artist -- reads words by Belgian poet Henri Michaux, all set to bubbling lava, gasses and jungle. The distance of this almost ethnographic work becomes two-fold -- it’s a remote place, where livelihoods and traditions are still reeling from the natural disaster, and perhaps lost forever.


3) Miao Ying: 'Content Aware' @ MadeIn Gallery


Content-Aware, 2016, Miao Ying

Runs: 11am-6pm, Tue-Sun Until July 17
Price: Free

At MadeIn's current show, visitors could be forgiven for assuming the gallery has temporarily rented out its M50 spot to organizers of some mind-numbing convention -- possibly linked to real estate -- that promises all kinds of harmoniousness. In fact, those exhibition stands, PVC hoardings and flat screens are all part of Miao Ying’s attempts to elevate the kind of shoddy, mediocre imagery that’s become a hallmark of commerce, media, and advertising to an art form in its own right. The show's called Content Aware: Half-Assed Aesthetics in the Age of the Sub-Amateur, and is a major highlight of Moganshan Lu's current offerings.

Golden Formula, Edge of Footage, 2016, Miao Ying

The gallery is filled with poorly Photoshopped scenes of lurid green grass beneath fluffy white clouds, inexplicably jumbled fonts, and cheap materials, all carelessly thrown together to create the stuff of graphic designers’ nightmares. A kind of litany of awfulness, Content Aware has it all: idealized stock imagery, jingly music, faulty equipment, and plenty of gaudy visual signifiers, now replete with deafening connotations brought about by their sheer ubiquity. How, for example, to read a mash-up of Jack Ma, a computer, Earth, lightening, and Mona Lisa? Unmistakably, the hybrid monstrosity not so subtly screams KNOWLEDGE, even if the Mona Lisa depiction in question is actually endorsing a toilet brand.

#mybootleg, 2016, Miao Ying

A nice touch: nothing here works properly. That the scrolling light box in Golden Formula, Edge of Footage gets stuck between rotating ads, for example, only reinforces the empty clichés of recognizable yet vacuous stock images: pretty people inexplicably laughing over some new, unfunny product, gamboling pups, sunsets, and so on.

A funny, sardonic and smart summary and questioning of a perversely powerful visual language of now, Content Aware will make you laugh and despair in equal measures. Go see.


And also…

1) If you’re planning on checking out the MadeIn show, stop by Chronus Art Centre for the last few days of Thomas Feuerstein's Psychoprosa. That sees the space transformed into something Willy Wonka would be proud of, with tubes, pistons and pipes of bubbling goo and unidentified liquids, poltergeist fridges and more. Ends June 26.

2) Right next door at ShanghART’s H-Space is Zhang Qing’s Boundary. Addressing issues of surveillance, exhibits span voyeuristic to awkward to poignant. Don’t Be Too Bizarre, for example, films grown-ups babbling, cooing and peek-a-booing, viewed from a baby’s perspective. Elsewhere, apparently mundane footage of pedestrians in 886 Boylston Street, Boston was filmed from the same location as the surveillance cameras that tracked the Boston marathon bombers in 2013. Go see.

3) Over at Red Town’s Minsheng Art Musuem, Zhou Xiaohu’s been working with the Zhejiang Taishun Puppet Theater for his current show, Chimera. Right outside the main hall is an army of wooden, neon bright puppets, shuffling around the space like sentries. Inside, films of weirder marionettes still acting out interpretations of the 4th century BCE Zhuangzi allegories sit alongside clever shadow play and more life-size puppets. Highly recommended.

For all of that and a whole lot more, have a peek at our Art Calender.