Sex is messy. Establishing a correlation between high population density and a diversity of carnal urges, “Ten Million Rooms of Yearning. Sex in Hong Kong” is a five-venue show spread across town that addresses an arguably decreasing local libido, through the aesthetics of the crowded and the homoerotic. More generally, it open-mindedly speaks to the nonmainstream practices of BDSM, Internet sex, and paid sex. Works by thirty-nine artists in media including painting, drawing, photography, digital animation, video, sculpture, print, and installation—mostly overtly phallic—give the exhibition a messy, overcrowded thrift-store feel.
Weaving together political concerns, those of sexual identity in particular, there are, for instance, the paintings of Agung Kurniawan and mimeographs of Hou Chun-ming in the Sheung Wan Civic Center. Addressing the tensions inherent to colonial history, as well as issues of national identity, the works employ allegorical, ingenuous graphics to depict fornication between virile, sometimes dismembered bodies. Over in Connecting Spaces, in Roee Rosen’s film Tse, 2010, political extremism is exorcised through willful pleasure: Two members of the Israeli BDSM community engage in flogging, ultimately prompting the sub to spit out quotes by extreme-right-wing politician Avigdor Lieberman. More personal pursuits are also explored. Hito Steyerl’s Lovely Andrea, 2007, a video documenting its subject’s quest in Japan to find a twenty-year-old bondage photo in which she modeled, emphasizes the erotic value of limitations and life’s randomness. Ultimately, the show encourages individuality. In the cheerful video excerpts from The Trilogy of Sinai: Sex Love and Hope, 2013, Dr. Petula Ho Sik-ying interviews Hong Kongers in public spaces: for example, a wife who hopes to dissuade her husband from having sex with her by charging him for it; a recently postoperative transsexual giggling over her new vagina; and a churchgoing man acknowledging the importance of sex for a successful Christian marriage.
Avoiding sensuality, courtship, and sexiness in favor of themes of loneliness, passive violence, mismatched relationships, politics, and freedom of choice, this emancipated exhibition acts as a release, thanks to the liberation only full disclosure can bring.
Banknotes are memories. In “Spring and Autumn,” Shao Yinong and Muchen present part of their embroidered replicas of obsolete banknotes on large-scale transparent black silk that suggest the fleeting nature of power and its effect on collective memories. Varying only in size and color, favoring the golden palette of traditional Suzhou silk weaving (it took nearly ten years to complete the whole series, not entirely on show here), these diaphanous veils are suspended in rows in the gallery, inviting keen observers to study their fine details and ponder the idealized territorial claims and national values manifested by the successive governments who commissioned the originals.
Presiding at the entrance, a large, scintillating portrait of Sun Yat-sen in 1942 10,000 Chinese Note (Dr. Sun Yat-sen), 2004–2010—a replica of a Republic of China banknote—testifies to the ephemerality of governments and the fundraising needs of revolutions. On its right, the only non-Chinese reference on view, 1908 100 German Mark Note (Goddess), features an imperial German Reichsbanknote in which the goddess Freya, as centerpiece, is flanked by female figures serving as personifications of industry and agriculture. Other shimmering magnified reproductions of out-of-print currency promote the finest iconography of Chinese nation-building, such as advancing trains, the temple of heaven, marching people, and healthy multi-ethnic groups enthusiastically united.
By combining an element of the occult with a direct approach to the social anxieties associated with authoritative states and by relying on numismatics and ornamentation, the artists not only extract the essence of historical symbols, but also engage in a spiritual transformative process that adorns the emotional, political, and economic passing of time.
Tsumari, in a remote region in northern Japan where Yasunari Kawabata’s 1948 novel Snow Country (Yukiguni) takes place, remains relatively cut off from progress with its late introduction of major roads and train lines. In their latest exhibition, which offers black-and-white photographs shot in this area, the Beijing-based artist duo RongRong & inri offer an intimacy that also evokes the imagery of pure isolation described in Kawabata’s masterpiece. Since “Fuji,” 2001, a previous series in which the artists declared their passion for each other under Japan’s iconic mountain, RongRong and inri have become well known for their support of photography—for instance, in 2007, they established Three Shadows in Beijing, the first art institution dedicated to the medium in the country. Some of the photographs in their current show were commissioned by the 2012 Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale and are being shown for the first time in Tokyo.
While the couple still occupies most of the images, the most moving photographs in the “Tsumari Story” series, 2012, show the artists as parents (they have three children). In one, RongRong holds his son’s hand as they look over a wide, idyllic rice field. In another, the naked figures of mother and children look out over the snowy landscape from a cedar bath. In Tsumari Story no. 2-5, 2012, a snowy forest holds two figures standing close to each other in the mid ground—possibly the artists or their children—with faces obscured by traditional woven straw hoods.
The love and intimacy between the artists and their children presented in the “Tsumari Story” series is one that transpires amid a setting of white snow, farms, and forests. It is in the relationship between all the elements—the family, house, and nature—where beauty is found. The couple wholly invests in the belief that their life is inseparable from their art, and with “Tsumari Story,” their art is inseparable from their awe-inspiring surroundings.
In one photograph from the “Workers” series by Sebastião Salgado, a woman raises a shovel above her head (Worker on the canal construction site of Rajasthan, India, 1990). A scarf with light shining through it is draped over her head and across her body; she wears metallic cuffs with tassels on her arms and more jewelry on her neck, fingers, and nose. Salgado has captured her mid-effort: The scarf billows, and the tassels lift with her movement. The woman’s face is full of strength and story.
Salgado’s photographs are uplifting and grand, evidence of the compassion and wonder with which he treats his subjects and of his readiness to view the ordinary as heroic (in this case, the laborer as goddess). His focus on black-and-white photography adds to the epic feel of his works. By leaving the color of various objects in his compositions ambiguous, Salgado allows for a degree of interpretation on the part of the viewer. So a vibrant scene of a crowd on a platform in Church Gate Station, Bombay, India, 1995, might take on a different significance when the subjects appear to all be wearing white, the color of mourning.
Fifty-three gelatin silver prints are on display at Sundaram Tagore Gallery, spanning twenty years of Salgado’s career, with selections from his latest series “Genesis” alongside older collections such as “Migrations,” “Workers,” and “Other Americas.” The exhibition coincides with a large-scale presentation of 245 photographs from “Genesis” at the National Museum of Singapore. This series is the outcome of an eight-year expedition during which Salgado travelled to some of the most remote regions on Earth to document the impact of globalization on landscapes, human tribes, and wildlife. It is a majestic and soulful paean to the planet.
For the inaugural touring exhibition of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, curator June Yap has brought together nineteen works by sixteen artists and collectives from eleven countries, represented in diverse media such as painting, photography, video, sculpture, and installation. Following iterations in New York and Hong Kong, this final show in Singapore marks a homecoming.
The legacy of certain local historical events, ideologies, and religions has influenced many of the works. The partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 is a recurrent concern, for example, in the work 1:14.9, 2011–12, by Shilpa Gupta and Amar Kanwar’s Trilogy: A Night of Prophecy, 2002. In Norberto Roldan’s monochromatic painting F-16, 2012, the Filipino artist juxtaposes the image of an American fighter jet cruising over modern-day Afghanistan with the unsettling words of US President William McKinley on the colonization of the Philippines: “There was nothing left for us to do but to take them all; and to educate them and uplift and civilize and Christianize them.”
Some of the most compelling pieces also deal with perceptions of womanhood and family. In Kanwar’s meditative film, A Season Outside, 1997, which is also part of his “Trilogy” series, the narrator describes the households he documents in the border village of Wagah as “scenes of unspoken stories.” His own mother told him of the women who, during the upheaval of partition, hammered nails into the windows of their homes to try and prevent the men from coming in.
From afar, Bangladeshi artist Tayeba Begum Lipi’s stainless-steel Love Bed, 2012, is alluring and beautiful. Up close, the viewer can see that the bed, a symbol of rest and comfort, is made of razor blades. Where the mattress would be, small blades have been strung together in delicate chains. The suggestion of violence, both domestic and political, is here made subtle and defiant.
“Secretly, Greatly” presents artworks by the three finalists of the reality-TV competition Art Star Korea, which premiered in late March. The show gave fifteen artists the opportunity to compete for substantial rewards: a cash prize of $93,000 and a solo exhibition at a prestigious gallery in Seoul. The show also set no restrictions on the contestant’s age, education, or occupation, which resulted in over four hundred applicants. The final three—Hyeyoung Ku, Jae-hyun Shin, and Byung-seo Yoo—survived the ten episodes, in which they underwent art-school style criticisms by five judges after each weekly “mission.”
The current exhibition at the Seoul Museum of Art was the site for the concluding episode and features the final three works. Wearing a blood-red chiffon gown and a silver wig, Ku enacted Sincereness of the Tilted Stage (all works 2014) a spectacular performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor. Yet the tilted stage and the muffled sound revealed that she was not actually acting as conductor, only imitating one. Alongside four kinetic installations that addressed both personal and political issues, Yoo offered Artist’s How Are You?, in which he set up a desk and two chairs to discuss the meaning of art in contemporary society with visitors. For Shin’s Trailing: Drawing Performance in Fifty Days, which comprised video, installation, and live performance, he additionally prompted visitors to consider solutions to a nuclear disaster. Hailing from Yangsan, a town near the Gori nuclear power plant in Korea, Shin examined how this decrepit facility represents an immediate source of acute anxiety. On a screenlike piece of canvas, he wrote the names of residents living within an approximately twenty-mile radius of Gori. Yet soon after, the names disappeared as the ink dried out. The work stands as a countermemorial, and, in the end, Shin won the competition.
Ku will perform the piece every Saturday afternoon until the end of the show. Yoo is determined to be present at the desk every day, and Shin intends to keep writing the names onsite while the museum is open and until this exhibition ends.
The Hebrew title of this exhibition (“צעדים בוני אמון”) translates into English as “Confidence-Building Measures,” a term to which the world of international relations refers as CBMs. Developed during the Cold War, CBMs are strategies designed to increase trust between hostile parties through the establishment of common ground. A similar drive to reduce tension between warring factions—with others, with the environment, or within the self—is the basis for this ambitious show. Including thirteen artists and choreographers working from the early twentieth century to the present, “Set in Motion” surveys work that deals with the body as social agent and dance as social action.
The exhibition’s centerpiece is a new commission by Israeli choreographer Yasmeen Godder, CLIMAX, 2014. The three-hour tour-de-force—the only live performance in the exhibition—includes seven dancers enacting a tension-filled, stripped-down group tango that incorporates props from Godder’s previous performances. From this center, the exhibition expands figuratively and literally into other galleries, incorporating a wide, almost unwieldy range of leitmotifs from the metaphysical to the political.
A glimpse into the history of modern dance is provided through video documentation of German Expressionist dancer Mary Wigman, as well as a digital screening of Babette Mangolte’s photographs of performances by Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, and Steve Paxton. Homage takes a twist with Mike Kelley’s Test Room Containing Multiple Stimuli Known to Elicit Curiosity and Manipulatory Responses, 1999, a videotaped dance based on primate psychological experiments choreographed in the manner of Martha Graham. The convergence between amateur dance and popular culture is explored in Dan Graham’s Rock My Religion, 1983–84 and Tracey Emin’s Why I Never Became a Dancer, 1995, as well as in a brief excerpt from the first season of HBO’s Girls, in which Lena Dunham’s character Hannah rocks out in her bedroom. Israeli artist Nevet Yitzhak’s shrine-like installation explores the similarities between the traditional Ivory Coast dance Mapouka and today’s twerking trend, while Alona Harpaz films the continuation of Israeli folk dance tradition in Kfar Saba’s sports arena. Actions in Israeli-Palestinian border zones are encapsulated in Arkadi Zaides’s Capture Practice, 2014. Zaides isolates and reperforms actions filmed by Palestinians of Israeli soldiers in the Occupied Territories. By detaching these movements from their everyday exchanges, he reveals their inherent violence.
In Nadav Assor’s latest exhibition, a trapped hexacopter, hidden behind a black curtain and tied down to the floor, reacts to visitors entering its space by hovering and praying, perhaps crying for help. The drone chants Ezekiel 1 in Yemenite style and catches random broadcasts from the local popular army radio station, Galey Tzahal (Waves of the IDF), all becoming part of Ophan, 2014, the first installation in an Israeli gallery to consider civil uses of drones and the first to involve a drone practicing religious devotion.
The inclusion of a central biblical chapter of Jewish mysticism, which has also been interpreted as an encounter with aliens, uncovers an ominous spirituality in the interactions between operators and their machines. In the chapter, the prophet charts a vision of a chariot of god, appearing from a fiery storm. Ophan, which translates as “wheel” in Hebrew, is an angelic, mechanic entity of a wheel within a wheel, controlled by the spirit of another angel. Here, this description of the “Ophan” signifies the complicated emotional relationships between a machine, its operator, and its creator.
Assor’s video Lessons in Leaving Your Body, 2014, further reflects on these relations of vision and power. The work’s protagonist, Jake Wells, is a DIY drone builder, First-Person View hobbyist, and Remote Control Minister. He is pictured in the film building a drone while preaching its use as a means for hope and an extension of bodily experience. In Wells’s world, drones allow him a divine perspective, to conceive existence as an all-seeing, all-knowing being. In society’s posthuman condition, illustrated through Assor’s work, civilian operators turn the machine unto themselves, unraveling the inherent failure of belief in finding a spiritual relief in machines of war and surveillance designed to survey, gather information, and control their movements.
Rounding out the third edition of Ashkal Alwan’s experimental art school, “A Museum of Immortality” is the last in a series of exhibitions anchoring a curriculum developed by the artists Anton Vidokle and Jalal Toufic. The show is based on a concept by Boris Groys, and actually tries to realize the Russian philosopher Nikolai Fyodorov’s wild notion of “The Common Task,” whereby a heady, hallucinatory mix of science, technology, political circumstance, and spiritual fervor reimagines the museum as a space for resurrecting the dead and immortalizing all mankind.
With the help of more than fifty fellow artists, Vidokle and Toufic have created a muscular, mazelike installation of stacked and angled boxes, display cases doubling as glass-capped wooden coffins. The range of people, ideas, and things offered for eternal preservation here is broad, uneven, and dazzlingly inventive in terms of materials and forms. Jessika Khazrik’s My Body If Only I Could See You (all works 2014), for example, pays tribute to the eleventh-century polymath Ibn al-Haytham and his Book of Optics by placing a pair of identical light fixtures face-to-face. Daniel Barroca assembles seven vellum sheets, among others, scrawled with notes and astral drawings in Alberto Caeiro to conjure the spirit of the titular Portuguese poet, who was, like Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos, one of Fernando Pessoa’s great literary heteronyms.
Inevitably, perhaps, several artists plumb their own autobiographies. But where Lynn Kodeih’s broadcast of 147 hours of psychoanalysis, Untitled, 8820 Minutes Ongoing seems excessive and self-indulgent, Tony Chakar’s How to Say Goodbye, a collection of at least as many cassette tapes, speaks beautifully to a time of loss and a sense of longing whose resurrection can only ever be painfully incomplete.
“Superlatives and Resolutions,” the latest solo exhibition (and first show in Brazil) by French-Algerian artist Neil Beloufa, speaks of a world full of promise yet lacking in solid achievements. It reminds the viewer how today we have access to limitless information that seems somehow to hem us in. We are addicted to being online, yet, despite the vast possibilities of the Internet, we feel like we live in bubbles that are as impermeable as they are invisible. The show offers various works in different media—painting, sculpture, video, and installation—all evoking the vicissitudes of contemporary life and underscoring the complexity of our desires for continuous connection.
Beloufa’s new paintings are made with MDF and metal. Some of them feature electric sockets embedded in their surfaces—occasionally with a power cord plugged in. One such painting powers the projector and the audio system of the large-scale installation People’s passion, lifestyle beautiful wine, gigantic glass tower, all surrounded by water in Judgement scales, 2014. This latter work is a modular structure made of a diverse array of materials, including paper, plastic, speakers, a video projector, and an iron grid. A ten-minute video in the piece presents interviews recorded in Vancouver, Canada, while a pleasant sound track plays in the background. In the interviews, people describe an ideal life from the Western—that is, North American and European—perspective, and the nonexistent utopias of their imaginings meld with a documentary form. In this way, a discourse constructed by Western society finds itself rooted in subjectivities.
Translated from Portuguese by Wendy Gosselin.