Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Late Review of the Shaghai Contemporary Art Festival

I had high hopes for the ShContemporary festival. Many of the galleries exhibiting I had been previously familiar with and I thus overestimated the quality of work at the show. The venue (Shanghai Exhibition Center) was really interesting, as the building is a completely evokes the days of Maoist China when everything Soviet was all the rage. Rather ironic, considering the marketability of contemporary art. However, venue and organization aside, the fair was disappointing. I felt that much of the art was merely mediocre. The following were a few artists that I considered to be the highlights, and only one of them is Chinese.

Chen Qiulin
(b. 1975, Hubei Province)
Chen Qiulin is from small town on the Yangtze river which was submerged by the Three Gorges Dam. Much of her work responds to this tragedy, as well as the phenomenon of growing up as an intelligent woman in an increasingly westernized China. In Hometown (pictured,"Ellis's Series No. 2"), Chen is dressed in white, like a western bride, sitting at a dressing table while food is being thrown at her (she doesn't appear to notice). This scene takes place amidst the the rubble of the destruction of a presumably Three-Gorges town. She presents the viewer with a contrast of beauty and construction, juxtaposed with vivid suggestions about her character and identity. She is perhaps suggesting her own fears not only as a woman facing the age when one is expected to get married, but the increasing invasion of Western culture into China (symbolized by the wedding dress). (Biography:
Chen was represented at ShContemporary by Max Protech (New York). He had several striking photographs exhibited, two of which are pictured at left and below.

Garden No. 7, 2007

Garden No. 1, 2007

Ken Kitano (b. Tokyo, 1968)
Ken Kitano's work was the most innovative I saw at the festival. From Osaka, Japan, Ken's
portraits have an eerie, other-worldly quality to them.

Kitano achieves these effects by layering dozens of photographs of people on top of one another. Of his unorthadox methodology and the idea behind it , Kitano explains in his artist statement,"The more faces get printed, the more the contours of an individual become blurred and the expression and age more ambiguous in the final portrait, which I call 'Our Face'. The contours of an individual become blurred in a 'Portrait of Our Face' but it expresses 'time and light', which should be unique to the particular group. Needless to say, there is no ranking of the cultures or people. The project intends to link people of various positions horizontally, without regard for rank or importance, as if each one was a part of a continuous chain. It is like a big circle of images of people with no center. " The issue of globalization and global unity seemed to permeate many of the works exhibited at ShContemporary, but I particularly admired Kitano's approach in tackling what is clearly a deeply complex subject. Whereas many Chinese artists are feeling defensive of their culture and history in light of globalization, Kitano sees it as an opportunity to emphasize the likeness between all humans. He hopes that in light of recent blendings of so many different cultures, mankind will finally be able to set aside its differences, culturally or otherwise. Kitano's work can be seen here.

Isa Lorenzo (b. 1974, Manila)
Lorenzo is the creative director of the Silverlens Gallery in Manila. She is also a fantastic photographer, creating dreamy collages from bits of photos old and new. I found her photographs to be a mix of nostalgia and tranquility. The images shown are easily dated, they can be easily tied to a specific time or place. However, the feelings they evoke are universal and timeless.The works of her latest exhibition, "Isa Lorenzo, 003: The Moro Negatives," which opened last week in Manila, employ the same technique. The Moro Negatives (named after her Moro Lorenzo) is a series of photographs chronicling the life of her late father in Mindanao, Philippines. The negatives used in this exhibition span three decades of her fathers life and tell his story by visually piecing together the different stages of his life. Details on her work can be found here.

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