In 1997, Yan Lei quite literally made a name for himself in the art world as Mr. Ielnay Oahgnoh, a pseudonym derived by reversing the name of the artist and that of his coconspirator Hong Hao. This mysterious Mr. Oahgnoh mailed out over a hundred invitations to participate in Documenta to a sizable chunk of the Chinese art community, in an action later known as Invitation Letter, 1997. Fifteen years later, Yan Lei himself was asked to show at Documenta 13, where he further scorned the conceit of the “successful artist” with the Limited Art Project, 2012: a salon-style hanging of 377 oil paintings executed by amateur artists, who embellished upon digitally printed canvases. Each day, a handful of the works would be sent to the nearby Volkswagen factory, where their surfaces were coated in car paint. The freshly monochromed canvases would then be returned to the exhibition.
If Limited Art Project questioned the distinctions between artmaking and other forms of production, this retrospective presentation makes the equation of art and manufactured goods shamelessly explicit. Those monochrome canvases are here hung salon style along two long corridors flanking a central gallery where a massive carousel of two overhead conveyor belts slowly rotates an additional selection of paintings while a series of car parts occupies the wall space in an installation titled Rêverie, 2015. If, as Yan claims, art-making benefits from its own industrialization, then the assembly line should be welcomed as an evolutionary step. But given the Chinese art scene’s functioning examples of this model (think Dafen Oil Painting Village) and the artist’s own acerbic humor, Yan’s thesis itself may be just another deliberately amateur copy.
The Beijing-based artist Xu Qu’s first solo exhibition in Shanghai delves into violent realities—animal, mineral, and social—with unflinching sangfroid. A video of an upturned turtle toyed with by a human foot (Custom II, 2014) signals control and helplessness. In Longevity, 2015, minimalist metallic pillars are seemingly held apart by fragile spines of umbrellas, which were collected last year by the artist during Hong Kong’s “Occupy Central” protests, which unsuccessfully called for universal suffrage. The imagery is fairly obvious—a frail opening between almost immovable blocks—but anything more would cross red lines, as news of the protests are heavily censored in Mainland China.
Violences of other sorts show up in the video Zebra, 2015, in which a human hand patiently pulls strips of hide off a dead horse, down to the subcutaneous fat. The result resembles the stripes of a zebra and enacts a literalist, violent shaping of reality into a preconceived idea; one can only wonder if the artist is also commenting on art’s overall potential to murderously mold reality. One could furthermore read a certain “tradition” of gruesome endurance and mutilation in performance art in China—and even find references to hoary stereotypes of Chinese culinary peccadilloes. Yet viewers who do so would miss out on the artist’s practice of exploring the limits of forms and structures by imposing literalist interpretations on a given reality, whether playfully futile—such as when he threw coral back into the South China Sea to symbolically dismantle the boundaries of islands artificially formed via land reclamation—or, here, grisly and clinical.
An axolotl—a Mexican species of salamander—swims at the center of this peculiar exhibition, along with upturned umbrellas, fallen soju bottles, discarded floor panels, and various locally collected objects, all paving an indeterminate pathway through the venue. A recent recipient of the Yanghyun Prize, Abraham Cruzvillegas presents his first show in Korea, filling the galleries with his newest “Autodestrucción” series.
Autodestrucción8: Sinbyeong, 2015—the eighth iteration of this artist’s ongoing series—transforms the space into a collage of found objects gathered with the help of the curators and exhibition team. Remnants of demolished buildings—including bricks, pipes, and roofing—queue one after another, with the large and heavy items intermittently punctuated by smaller and acutely personal oddities, such as pink rubber slippers, a broken guitar, and a chamber pot. The environment is impromptu yet emotive, taking cues from the artist’s childhood home on the Southern outskirts of Mexico City, which, like the artist’s sculptural practice, was patched together with improvised materials, techniques, and aid from members of his community.
Cruzvillegas’s new work here draws attention to the body in space and time as not only a physical being but also a psychological, social, and political one that will perpetually undergo metamorphosis. The subtitle of the show, “Sinbyeong,” is appropriate then, as it refers to a Korean word indicating a pain or illness that one has to pass through in order to grow.
In April 2014, Israeli artist Roi Kuper began working on a series of panoramic photographs intending to capture the city of Gaza from the direction of the four winds. Shot from six different locations, including Kibbutzes surrounding the Gaza Strip, one of which the artist was born on, the resulting series “Gaza Dream,” 2014, manifests Kuper’s signature style, with each panorama as a bisected horizontal landscape. In the lower half of the photographs are fields, dunes, or hills, and in the upper half there’s a clear blue sky, making for a serene view. The images’ foregrounds are Israeli territories—detailed and focused—while out in the distance is Gaza, blurry and gray. The city appears as a sort of mirage, possibly a metaphor for the limited view Israelis have of their neighbors.
Last summer, Israel initiated Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip with an aim to destroy the Palestinian underground tunnel system—which penetrated beneath the Israeli fields and Kibbutzes pictured here—used for making cross-border raids. As the conflict settled, Kuper returned to the same locations to finalize his series. In Ein HaShlosha, 2014, Gaza appears just below the horizon, still distant and obscure. The Israeli fields in the foreground are dry and the vegetation burnt, yet the land is newly plowed as if to conceal and move on from what has recently occurred above and below ground.
Ignas Krunglevičius’s work focuses on unmasking how language is marshaled into the service of power, from political rhetoric and demagogy to psychological persuasion. Interrogation, 2009, for instance, is a two-channel video installation based on an interview transcript from a 2004 murder investigation in the United States in which a woman was suspected of killing her husband with a shotgun. Similar to the way an interrogation room generates a power dynamic and tension from the moment a person steps inside, the layout of the installation is designed to maximize viewers’ discomfort.
Upon entering the piece, visitors hear a harsh and incessant pulsating sound composition, which is synchronized with the interview dialogue projected on two screens in bold white text on black backgrounds. One screen features the police officers’ vexatious questions, the other the answers of the suspect. The authorities use interrogation tactics such as psychological manipulation, confrontation, and even empathy in order to gain trust and obtain a confession. Throughout, the accused person’s responses read as overwhelmed, as if they are unable or perhaps unwilling to remember or articulate their thoughts. Delays in replying translate into bursts of red, blue, or white flashes on the screens, accompanied by the no less irritating buzzing of electronic music. The persuasiveness of this work relies on the viewer’s exposure to constant noise and flashes of light—which are not coincidentally methods also used for “enhanced interrogation”—leaving one with a strong sense of stress, suggestibility, and vulnerability. This is a visceral experience of the exercise of language as a coercive power, as if one’s self were the very same subject of inquisition.
Books fly through the air and enormous bookcases twist around overhead in Laura Lima’s exhibit of her 2008 work El mago va desnudo (The Naked Magician). At first visitors might think they’re in one of those installations that make use of so many objects taken from daily life that the space is hypersaturated with bric-a-brac—nothing new there. But a magician—actually, four performers working in shifts throughout the show’s run—lives in this hodgepodge of old junk, along with clothes, makeshift beds, remains of food, and flies that hover in the stale air. The performers don’t talk with the audience much, busying themselves instead with idle tasks. They might approach you , though, if they think you’ve crossed a line. While these magicians are generally easygoing, that does not mean they aren’t territorial.
This piece goes beyond installation and performance and becomes a kind of ecology. While the staging of this work partakes in fiction, as would be the case in all museum spaces, it is still a presentation of humanity. During the course of this exhibition, Lima’s film Cinema Shadows Segundo, 2012, is also on display at the nearby Teatro Margarita Xirgu. The video running up to 100 hours long, viewers can walk in on the screening after it has begun and decide for themselves when to get up from their seats and leave the theater. In both these works, the artist creates a universe, a determined yet ungraspable set of things working in relationship with one another—something we can experience but that will most certainly continue without us.
Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.
Most of the works in Nelson Felix’s first retrospective exist on a continuum, as if they had no ends or beginnings. Some of the series took more than a decade to complete; others seem they will never be entirely. Gathering fifteen pieces including sculptures, drawings, and installations as well as nine videos documenting his ambitious site-specific works, the survey, curated by Rodrigo Naves, smartly avoids a chronological approach, letting a notion of temporal fluidityinform the very structure of the show.
An artist who combines different kinds of materials that eventually will be affected by their interaction, Felix has always been interested in depicting the passing of time. This is revealed in the video documenting his “Genesis Series” (1985–2014), in which he inserted diamonds and gold into living organisms, such as a dog or a tree, and then waited until they assimilated the materials. Or in the marble spheres, spiked through with metal pins and abandoned in a specific location of the northeastern Brazilian coast until transformed by oxidation (Void Heart Coast, 1999–2004). This and other works seem reminiscent of Land art experiments by artists such as David Nash.
For an artist whose output deserves more attention than it has recently received,
probably due the difficulties of displaying his large-scale works, the survey’s merit is that it shows somefor the first time, or after years without being displayed, such as his crucial installation of bronze, wood, and olive oil, A Kiss for Magdalene, 1998.