By Tobias Berger
Everybody talks about China but what is China and how does it work? China Works brings together a selection of videos that challenge our imagination of China and its celebrated work ethic. Often forgotten in today’s global craze with it’s economic growth is that China consists not only of The People’s Republic of China, but also Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao and the millions of Overseas Chinese living around the world. China Works can only be small teaser in the amazingly complicated and contradictory life of modern Asia. It’s astonishing pace and paradoxes make it impossible to define or even describe a singular identity or way of life, any presentation can only question and document small pieces of a larger equation. Yet it seems as if art, especially in contemporary Mainland China, is one of the few ways to critically explore this current state of affairs.
In Chen Chieh-Jen video, Factory, we see that even countries like Taiwan are not immune against relocation of work for economic reasons, while the artist Mai Ou uses the black and white stop-motion technique to elaborate on racist and misogynist violence in man/woman, master/slave relationships. Cao Fei’s more humorous and sarcastic approach takes on China’s office environment. Her actors, dressed in Burberry outfits mimicking dog-behaviour, perform daily office routines from morning to midnight. Lin Yilin laboriously and ritualistically moves a wall, brick by brick, across a street in front of a huge construction site in one People’s Republics fastest growing cities, Guangzhou, the capital of the Pearl River Delta.
Yuk King Tan takes a more geo-political approach by documenting over sixty mainland Chinese construction workers that were sent to a small island republic in the Pacific to build the island’s national courthouse, a “gift” to secure the People’s Republics (and not Taiwan’s) good-will of even the tiniest UN member. Cedric Maridet uses the signs of Chinas growing trade, it’s giant container ships, as a backdrop to his intriguing sound art. These artists examine, with widely different perspectives and trajectories, China’s shifting shape and ambitions towards a modern world.
Chen Chieh-Jen, Factory, (2003, 30:50 min.)
Yuk King Tan, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation Island Portrait, Rarotonga, (2004, 7:00 min)
A group portrait of the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation living in Rarotonga, capital of the Cook Islands situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. These 61 Chinese workers from one of the world’s largest construction company are currently building Rarotonga’s courthouse. This national courthouse—where Cook Islanders will go to speak their constitutional rights and sign the documents of their lives—is designed, constructed and funded completely by the Chinese government.
Mia Ou, Evidence,(2002, 5:02 min.)
My work will explore my identity as [an Asian] a woman, and the concept of gender, in modern society where Western traditions are awkwardly juxtaposed and superimposed over Asian traditions.
In a similar vein to Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills (1980) – a series of self-portraits where she photographed herself as a human chameleon – my work will show that paternalistic constructions of female identity obscure [diverse and complex] individual (female) identities. I will place this in the context of contrasting and competing Asian and Western constructions of gender to examine how this impacts on my identity as an Asian woman living in a Western country. Through self portraits and animations I will express a sense of powerlessness against traditions, ultimately raising the question: “who am I?”.
This body of work will give a satirical account of gender constructions, highlighting the complexity inherent in the merging of Asian and Western conceptions of (female) identity. While somewhat pessimistic, this work provides a humorous insight into the contradictory and confusing nature of multi-cultural female identity and questions pervasive gendered stereotypes in both cultures.
Cédric Maridet, Huangpu, (2005, 20:38 min.)
This video is an audio-visual exploration of the river Huangpu flowing NE past Shanghai into the Chang Jiang at Wu-song. It is a major navigational route and shows an intense traffic of vessels of all sorts. The sound/images not only reflects a reality of the environment (i.e. barges, cargoes, motor sounds, sounds of workers, etc) but their transformations create another dimension built on the new topological and spatio-temporal perspective. In this piece, the original sound of the video is a main source for the creation of the music and it has been processed to compose experimental/concrete influenced track. Based on the concept of synesthesia and on a model of trans-sensory perception that claims that each sensory channel not only conveys dimensions that belong to this channel, but also other dimensions from other channels, this work is an attempt to investigate the questions of grain, texture, density, rhythm, and color through audio-visual data. The result is a dense, textured work which explores micro and macro aspects of this environment through a constant dialogue between sound and images.
Cao Fei, Rabid Dogs, (2002, 8:00 min.)
Courtesy of the artist and Lombard Fried Projects, New York
We love whips; we need to bite; we dare not bark. We work tamely, faithfully, and patiently like dogs. We can be summoned or dismissed at the bidding of our master and understand his intentions clearly at once. We are surely a miserable pack of dogs, and we are willing to act as beasts that are locked in the trap of modernization. When will we be daring enough to bite our master, to take off the masks, to strip off the furs and be a real pack of rabid dogs?
Lin Yilin, Saely Maneuvering Across Lin Ye Road, (1995, 90:00 min.)
By Michael Connor
The Neighborhood of Make Believe was the name of a special segment of the children’s TV show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. It would begin with a trolley journey, leaving the everyday world behind and journeying to a land of talking animals with complex emotional lives. The trolley journey created an important separation within the show, between the realistic part, in which Mr. Rogers addressed his remarks directly to the camera, and the fantasy part, where the ‘fourth wall’ of the audience was never acknowledged.
This physical separation between everyday behavior and play-acting is not incidental. In his book Homo Ludens, Johann Huizinga observes that play tends to happen within a limited territory, whether it’s a boxing ring, stage, or casino. By drawing a ‘magic circle’ around a play area, we invest playtime with a feeling of extraordinariness, a sense that life has been temporarily transformed. Each of the three videos in this program takes place within a magic circle—a nightclub toilet, an elevator, and a bouncy castle—using play to raise questions about the everyday world.
The Neighborhood of Make Believe allows us to play out issues we have difficulty understanding, bringing them into clearer focus. On Mr. Rogers’ show, this usually meant Daniel Striped Tiger wrestling with his fear of Santa Claus. In this exhibition, the issues are slightly different. A ballet dance highlights the play-acting of business world etiquette. A children’s bouncy castle brings to mind the pomp, circumstance and artifice of political power. A public toilet becomes a stage where the transgressions of armed conflict are translated into sexual transgression. Play is a metonym for wider issues in everyday life, and the imaginary lines that divide fantasy and reality can be as hotly contested as any national border.
Special thanks to Cecilia Andersson, Kevin Connor for his help with the text, Paul Domela for showing me Beyond Guilt #1, and especially to Lauren Cornell for her advice and support.
Ruti Sela and Ma’yan Amir, Beyond Guilt #1, (2003, 28:00 min.)
The series Beyond Guilt addresses the undermining of the power relation between photographer and photographed, men and women, the public domain and the private sphere, object and subject. As the film’s directors, Sela and Amir take an active part in the occurrence. They seduce the interviewees on the one hand, and turn the camera over to them, on the other, as part of the aforesaid undermining of power relations between photographer and subject.
The choice of pick-up bar services or hotel room as shooting locations strives to represent an underworld with its language and signifiers.
The quick encounter before the camera calls to mind the ephemeral nature of intimate relations, but most of all the works allude to the influences of the occupation, terror and army as constitutors of an Israeli identity even in the most private moments, The sexual identity and the military-political identity seem intertwined inseparably.
Werther Germondari, Internal Conflict, (2003, 1:00 min.)
“If such a thing as the short film actually exists (something I am not too convinced of) then Germondari would certainly be the most orthodox of its exponents. Many of his micro-narrations have meaning only if read through the notion of duration. Duration, not in terms of length, but in the sense of structural intensity. The complexity of their duration makes his experiments extensions of a radical minimalism. A duration, not “bright idea”, already inherent in the image. Viewing Internal Conflict, the spectator expects a gimmick at the end, since the short format, often in its most banal forms, has taught us to expect this. Yet here there is no narrative turn-of-events. What we see is already a stunt-image in two ways: Germondari has limited himself to shooting it, in front of Elsinore castle in Denmark (Hamlet’s, in other words), just as it appeared before his very eyes. It is an image that is self-sufficient and already complying, is a lucid replica of the one in stone in which one of the greatest tragedies in stage literature took place. It is only a parody shifting, a transfer of meaning, a miniaturization: not only is the duration of the work reduced, but the dimensions of the castle and the tragedy are also down-sized. The action captured by chance by Germondari’s video camera—compressed in a fixed shot to repeat in a loop also in the form of an installation—becomes a funny allusion to the events at Elsinore. With no blood, no deaths, but also without sounds, without swords, without cries” (Bruno Di Marino, 2003).
“A one-minute loop sequence shows an inflated bouncy castle with red towers. The way the castle is moving gives an Idea of what is happening inside: it IS wobbling to and fro. The soundtrack suggests interpretations as well: children’s voices mingle with a rushing noise and other sound. The steady sound level and monotonous image shift towards paralysis, constant repetition drains all meaning away.” (Viper, Basel, 2004)
Saki Satom, From B to H, (2002, 14:00 min.)
In this work From B to H consist of 2 major elements which are back ground music in a lift and to show outside momentary from inside when the door open.
We live daily life surrounded by sounds and music. It sometime calms us down and give us richer mind, but also society in a city there is a role for erasing disturbing noises. For example famous Japanese sounds erasing device “Oto Hime” (sound princes) in toilet and listening music from earphone in a crowded train. The former one trying to erase own sound, but the latter one erase or distract from others existence. Same way, or more extreme way in a lift where the “minimum individual” gather, and because people there might be related each other to the business, this “minimum individual” become the minimumest; people become uneasy not can speak private or confidential talk, major movement or expression. The music try to relieve this in-between situation in this non-place. Although suddenly this space change the situation when nobody around. It become a space where half public and private, and also become momentary own space which free from society. In From B to H, I try to show the experience of the moment (about 50 seconds) journey from basement to top floor out of the in-between space.
By James Pei-Mun Tsang
Stories Die Hard considers three videos in view of political theater. Bertolt Brecht said, “Theater remains theater, even when it is didactic theater; and if it is good theater it will entertain.” There are a variety of activities that incorporate this kind of approach regardless if its stakes are professed to be political. I am more interested in the effect of engagement, if it serves as a means to categorical demands, or simply makes a mockery of our ideals by complication.
Let’s keep our definition of theater open. Any event of collective production is an arena of potential drama—manifest, for example, as a story; a mission; a community. Theatricality can reveal itself through the act of documentation, or the excesses of pedagogy. To read self-organization as a narrative is to address the ways that we express (perhaps to extremity) the demands of the group.
Political theater evokes a historically instructive practice. Here, these videos persist with the political as a kind of engagement. The results are more particular: the effect of what stuck after incantation; the evolution of more than a decade of practice; the ingenuous or faithful conclusion, depending on how you view it. Think of engagement as a combative process, without necessarily an end goal. This process is not scripted by pragmatism, yet is driven by palpable investment. This kind of theatrical movement has potential for both agenda and for revelation.
Math Bass, Chickens’ Feed, (2004, 3:28 min.)
Math Bass’ Chickens’ Feed is a sacrificial performance. Materials include chickens, news paper, a cape, chicken feed and a ladder.
Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn, Homer, (2006, 7:43 min.)
Lois, on shooting high.
The Radek Community, Manifestations, (2002, 05:43 min.)
Moscow, the pedestrian crossing on Sadovoye Koltso Street. In the morning you can see masses of people here, who are waiting for green light to cross the street, to reach their offices. Crossing takes a maximum of thirty seconds. It is necessary to make several slogans on red cloth, and in the moment when green light flares unexpectedly, to unfurl them above the pedestrians’ heads, and reach the other side of the street with everybody. All indications of a demonstration are manifested: masses of people, slogans, a central street, traffic is stopped. Marx’s thesis about the genesis of the self-awareness of the revolutionary class, in action. Production by Prometeo Arte Contemporaneo Lucca, Italy.
Matthieu Laurette, Apparition: The Today Show, NBC, 31 December 2004, (2004, 2:30 min., looped)
Ed. 3 + II A.P
Courtesy Matthieu Laurette and Yvon Lambert Paris/New York
4th Floor Gallery