Tuesday, September 16, 2008

There Is No There

As China steps into the spotlight of art and culture, many local artists are beginning to question their own relationships with their country. Two recent shows highlight this obsession with existence in contemporary China. Michael Lin, who was born in Japan, but spent time in Los Angeles, Taipei and Paris before recently moving to Shanghai, seems to be searching for a sense of place and a place to call home. This feeling of displacement is evident in his new show titled, What A Difference A Day Made. The title is taken from a song of the same title, originally composed in 1934, but used as the theme in renowned Chinese filmmaker Wong Kar-wai's 1994 film, Chungking Express. Like the film, Lin's solo exhibit demonstrates the loneliness of feeling like a stranger in one's own home. The exhibit revolves around various everyday objects all purchased from a local store in Lin's Shanghai neighborhood. The viewer enters the gallery through a cluttered room of supplies that accurately mimics the disorderly shelves of a typical convenient store. As the audience proceeds through the space they are greeted by several large projection screens displaying men juggling a random selection of these household items, selected at random from a nearby table. In the final part of the exhibit, Lin has meticulously organized and displayed the same products in velvet lined wooden crates. A seemingly trivial act of pointless organization, Lin at once dignifies the tools by isolating them, showing their individuality and purpose. Lin ultimately arrives where he started, but conveys an important message in the process: identity is inextricably connected to one’s relationship with their surroundings.

In Yang Fudong’s six-channel video installation, East of Que Village, a similar but less subtle message is apparent. The black and white films focus on the lives of several stray dogs scrounging for food and fighting for survival in desolate rural China. The artist uses the dogs (which he adopted from various places for the film) to present a bleak depiction of contemporary China and the feelings of loneliness and isolation he associates with his childhood. The piece questions the purpose of existence—if any—in Chinese society. Whether a bitter portrait of a barren northern landscape, or an optimistic suggestion of existence in a crowded metropolitan city, both Lin and Fudong seem to be fixated on their individual importance in an overpopulated world, and whether hopeful or grim their undeniably passionate relationships with contemporary China.

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