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A Stitch in Time

2020-02-10 04:03:13 《China Pictorial》 2020年1期

by Yi Mei

An old English saying goes that “a stitch in time saves nine.” The maxim has a general and clear point: Acting early to fix something may save more costly intervention later.

An exhibition organized by Today Art Museum in Beijing, the 4th Todays Documents: A Stitch in Time drew inspiration from the saying through work from 37 individual artists and artist groups from different countries and regions across four themes – “Hybridity”,“Chaos”, “Trans-experience” and“Ascending.” Each endeavors to explore the maxims literal and metaphoric meanings.

Todays Documents

The Todays Documents exhibition series has established a specific cultural orientation since its first show in 2007 by constantly fostering the experimental nature and academic value of contemporary Chinese art from the perspective of the national condition, while perceiving the movement of international contemporary art in a global vision.

“After 12 years of practical experience, the precise cultural stance and scholarly persistence of Todays Documents have had an extraordinary impact both locally and internationally,” remarks Gao Peng, director of Today Art Museum. “It not only presents the art theory and practice of China, but also reflects the latest tendency of art in Asia and the rest of the world.”

Todays Documents is now a permanent international triennial considered significant globally due to its attention on the worlds contemporary art production inspired by regional and international issues, including impact of globalization processes and events on societies, people, culture, the environment and natural resources worldwide.

Hybrid Chaos

The focus of the 4th Todays Documents exhibition is split between globalizations recent traumatic difficulties and the innovative, hybridizing ways that artists “stitch together” and articulate materials and ideas to make sense of the world. For instance, a featured video installation by American artist Mark Boulos simultaneously displays two highly contrasting aspects of the capitalist industrial-financial system. One screen shows traders of oil futures at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in the early days of the financial crisis of 2008, while the other displays Nigerian tribal warriors who fight the corporate activities that destroy their environment and stand against those who have colonized and impoverished indigenous people with the blessing of the Nigerian government.

The tension and incipient threat become palpable across the two screens and the two realities. Being worlds apart yet part of the same system, the people form two predominantly male “communities” within the dominant system controlling both the Global North and the Global South.

“The work is a particularly vivid example that juxtaposes filmic depictions of the ‘civilized, ‘first world Chicago Mercantile Exchange with the visceral threat of ‘third world oil extraction in the Nigerian wilderness and the attempts of local people there to resist the encroachment of multinational corporations,”explains Dr. Jonathan Harris,co-curator of the exhibition and the Research Professor of Global Art and Design Studies at Birmingham City University.

The broader historical and social context of the exhibition incorporates the entire era of global industrialization and related processes of extended and sometimes forced urbanization. Chinese artist Tian Longyus series Things Triggering and Curing Sadness focuses on urban changes caused by rapid economic development. Towering buildings compose a cold, hard steel jungle. Excavators unscrupulously clear away obstructions as they perform a melodic process of “dig,” “push,” and “hit.”The integration of construction and destruction is a metaphor for rapid and irreversible development in urbanization and the problems and realities created by the process.

“This installation suggests the co-existence of construction and destruction, growth and extinction,”explains co-curator Huang Du, art critic and professor at the Institute of Sociology, Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts. “Tian has interwoven the process of social and artistic production—he borrows the articulation between machine and architecture to make a satirical analogy about human desire and its fragility.”

Trans-experience Ascending

“Trans-experience” is an interdisciplinary concept of art that embraces multiple ideas and notions. It is the aggregation of artistic genealogy and the idea of others in an inter-cultural, inter-regional and inter-contextual scenario. “Transexperience” embodies artists concepts and principles in regard to the significance of practicing while taking in the ideas of others. Therefore, “trans-experience” not only enables self-focus in reality and life, but also allows the adaption of others.

Wonder Beirut: The Story of a Pyromaniac Photographer is a photographic series by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige that represents a major artistic examination of the Lebanese Civil War(1975–90). The artists invented a fictional photographer named Abdallah Farrah who was commissioned in 1968 to take postcard pictures of Beiruts attractions by the tourism board. When the civil war broke out in 1975, he began to burn his negatives to reflect the surrounding destruction. The actual artists present the work as prints from the fictional photographers damaged negatives.

“Employing a fictional photographer to present damaged negatives makes for a dramatic conceptual work,” remarks Jonathan Harris. “The reproduction of postcards implies the temporal significance of the incident. It also suggests that the outcome in Beirut was due to interference by different forces while tracing the history, memories and trauma of the past.”

“Ascending” refers to upward movement. To “ascend” is to articulate and undertake the heritage of idea, culture and art by rising to a new height through integration and transfiguration to eventually achieve metaphysical manifestation of images, concepts and facts. In the era of globalization, the scope of human understanding of the world has changed in terms of time, space and geographic boundaries.“Ascending” is a reference to history and more importantly the articulation of past and present.

Larissa Sansours 2013 video Nation Estate imagines an ambiguously utopian and dystopian“Palestine” in a futuristic skyscraper with its “cities” accessible on different floors. Art can be contemplative and commemorative. It can feature historical reference and remembrance of adaptations to wider traditions of ritual, convention and myth to “stitch together” new means of access to ideas and ideals from the past and create projections into the future or different potential futures.

“The objective of this exhibition is not to inform people of what the world should be like, but to reconsider our personal situations, challenges and problems,” adds Gao Peng. “Whether were talking of idealistic curators or artists with realistic and conceptual viewpoints, the collective goal is to aggregate the current conflict, hope, imagination, reality and criticism into a powerful force worthy of showing and sharing.”