Sunday, April 08, 2007

Interacting with the Mentally Retarded: When Viewers Approach Interactive Exhibition “Remote/Control,” Shanghai MOCA Spontaneously Fills with Garbage.

Jin Jiang Ho’s interactive tyrannosaurus rex bizarrely titled “Farewell My Concubine” would be a spectacular way to greet patrons entering Shanghai MOCA’s interactive exhibit Remote/Control, were its voice and accompanying gestures not too feeble to achieve its intention of frightening the viewer. In some sense it is clever to use an inanimate object one would normally encounter in a natural history museum and turn it into something interactive, but, ultimately, its lack of effect mortifies one more than the work itself, a somewhat interesting concept undermined by incredibly poor execution.

Altitude Zero by Hu Jie Ming consists of a series of ship parts with porthole shaped flat screens which display a partially submerged view that fills with floating garbage when the viewer approaches. This piece, or better yet, this spectacular piece of shit, worth no more than the floating garbage it displays, could not fail more abysmally to live up to the exhibit’s theme, “an investigation of the presence of technology in contemporary art today, and the fraught encounter between these art objects and today's ‘multi-medial' spectator […] an examination of various perceptual systems, processes, narrative structures, and aesthetic strategies that focus on the question of agency.”

The Doorway to Hell

In Alexander Brandt’s “The Next Second”, a series of flat screen televisions display scenes of domestic violence (entirely in Chinese). Whichever screen the viewers stands before shifts from grey scale and mute to color and full volume. I was neither impressed nor offended by this work -- in fact, it failed to produce any reaction at all.
This was not true of Brandt’s second piece, “Brainwashing Machine,” which consists of four DLP projectors
mounted above a bunt cake shaped structure made of partially transparent plastic inside which resides a single chair resting on a merry-go-round. When the viewer climbs aboard and buckles his safety, the platform begins to spin, an eerie hypnotic humming starts and projectors bombard the capsule with a spectacular barrage of frame-fuck edited image combinations of everything from step aerobic home videos, to J. Pop stars, to staged family photos, wedding photos, news anchors, shirtless greased men, meat products, I Agree signs, religious iconography, street signs, documents, diplomas, excel spread sheets, political rallies, classroom photos, office photos, children being socialized, martial arts spectacles, beauty advertisements, pledges of allegiance, hideous faces, civil service scenes, et cetera. This carousel from hell accelerates, pronounces, and intensifies already occurring phenomena, not unlike what one would experience in our increasing created environment oversaturated with media, and ultimately results in a vertiginous nausea. As long as the viewer struggles to process the images, the piece is extremely jarring to the senses. When the viewer lets go, stops processing, and allows himself become habituated to the bombardment, the experience becomes a sort of intellectual and sensory anesthesia through synesthesia. I couldn't help but think of something Walter Benjamin said in his seminal essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction": "During long periods of history, the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity's entire mode of existence. The manner in which human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it is accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well." Upon exiting, certainly disoriented, one hears a cryptic voice says the ridiculous message, “the program has completed, you are now a good person.” The artists’ inclusion of intention within the experience (and within the title) is as blunt and heavy handed as the images that bombard the viewer. If it were not for the parallel between the artist’s clumsy intentions and those of the people who created the images he displays, that is to say, if it were not for the irony that the piece engages in the kind of brainwashing with its sophomoric message that it criticizes with the very same message, the piece would undoubtedly be a more elegant success, but not the somewhat more interesting failure that it is as a result.

I once listened to an episode of This American Life in which French poet and painter Breyten Breytenbach described his incarceration as a political prisoner of South Africa’s apartheid government and the complete sensory deprivation he experienced in solitary confinement for six years. He faced the same grey wall, day in and day out, he heard the same silence, and when he escaped he was debilitated by the amount of visual and auditory information that bombards one on a daily basis. He commented, voice wavering, that people don’t understand how much they encounter. It was terribly interesting. This piece is the converse of what he described. I imagine his day to day life now as something like being in the brainwashing machine.

Listen here In Act Five. Color Bar.

Antonioni’s 1975 film The Passenger centers around a British born American journalist who while reporting in North Africa assumes a dead acquaintance’s identity only to discover the acquaintance’s part time employment as a gunrunner for a unspecified guerilla movement. In the film’s amazing final long take, he relates a parable about a blind man who regains his sight late in life. At first the man is elated. He can’t contain his joy. Shapes, colors, faces, all amaze him, but slowly, he begins to notice the world is much poorer than he imagined, people much uglier. Three years later he kills himself.

In Iranian director Majid Majidi’s (مجید مجیدی) spectacular film, The Willow Tree, the protagonist, a blind scholar in Tehran, learns by chance that his eyesight can be restored through a corneal transplant. He travels to France for the operation and returns to Tehran with his eyesight. At first he is amazed, but eventually he becomes embittered towards Allah for making him pass his life thus far in darkness. He sinks into a deep depression, burns all of his work written in brail, quits his job, disowns his wife and daughter, and eventually rejects the transplants.

Piacere Fabrica’s piece, a sort of never ending story of an installation, presented an interesting concept; a camera which video taped a three second clip of the viewer as he stood before the piece and then added it to the end of a continuous loop of such clips playing from a DLP projector above. Ultimately I did not enjoy the experience of viewing jackass in a series of three second installments, but the piece nonetheless ultimately problematizes notions of the act of completion in art; the boundary between subject, artist (who I believe is the first clip to play), and audience; and art as intangible experience versus commodity.

Iland6’s playful “Light Activated Faces Interactive Faces Installation” by far entertained the most out of any piece in the exhibition, though it would be easier to engage with if the six people it took to make this piece didn’t use photographs that look like something a fourteen year old Asian tween took in his bathroom mirror with a 1.0 megapixel camera for myspace.

Another piece in the show was the intentionally non-interactive,“Birds & Airplanes” by Belian artist Heidi Voet, which displayed two birds in a cage on a flat screen television against a painted sky backdrop. The piece contained a heavy handed childlike statement which was at total odds with the theme of the exhibit.

Likewise the video installation of the dog licking Chinese characters off of a wall in reverse seemed to have little to do with the exhibit’s theme. Perhaps this is what the brochure meant by “examination of narrative structure.”. I suppose it’s always interesting to consider causality principle being violated.

Upon approaching each piece I was eager to see how it would interact with me. No piece disappointed more in this respect than FCT’s “Send SMS.” It consisted of three or four plexiglass slabs etched with single line drawings of rock associated images (think dayglo colors or the opening credits of Saved by the Bell) which upon being text messaged bounced up and down an inch more or less. That’s all I’m going to say, sometimes stupidity speaks for itself.

I found the two hologram pieces an interesting rethinking of the concept of the exhibition, but of the two only “Anthroposexomorphic” merited viewing (for cosmetic reasons -- “Space in Motion” was too hideous to look at).

What’s new, unusual, or interesting about this exhibit? Let’s revisit the late 1960’s, early 1970s. Robert Rauschenberg creates a series of installations consisting of a successive layering of images screened upon plexi-glass plates mounted in sequence on a base that allows the audience member to rotate each plate in order to create the image he wants, rather than the image Rauschenberg wants him to see. Rauschenberg later creates a maze of sliding plexi-glass doors (like those at the entrance of a convenient store) upon which images are screened. As the viewer walks through the maze, the doors open in response to his action, and it is his actions which ultimately create the combinations of images he sees. With respect to the aforementioned pieces, how does Rauschenberg differ from every single artist displayed in Remote/Control? Rauschenberg differs on three key points, Rauschenberg:

i) is not a hack.

ii) has original concepts.

iii) creates aesthetically sound experiences.

Just because some coked out director at some Podunk museum selects a piece, just because some douche-bag with a lot of money is willing to pay 250,000 RMB for a piece, does not legitimize any of this. When Art calls it hollers. In the case of these works, the cat caught its tongue.

How does that saying go -- working in the contemporary art scene in Shanghai is like running in the special olympics, even if you're at the top of the game, you're still retarded.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

New Media, whatever it is we can only keep discussing and guessing (a good one for you to tackle ;), is a challenging one, and I am afraid I agree with you that MOCA has taken it too much at face value, rendering it solely to binary and gimmicky displays, if not flat, senseless yet rebellious gestures such as Voet's.