Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Exquisite Corpse Will Drink the Young Wine

The Exquisite Corpse Exhibition was by far my most favorite exhibition throughout this whole semester. A major component of this is because we had the most amazing curator ever! He was the first curator who I learned anything substantial from, especially in comparison to the Shanghai Biennale’s curator, who I felt had no idea what she was talking about and hesitated every time she tried to explain something. This guy, on the other hand, took such a meticulous and passionate effort to take Val and I through EVERY single photography work, explaining not only the background of the artist and where he is from, but also what he thinks about the artwork, what he thinks the artist was trying to express through the photography, etc. He also made a lot of opinionated commentary about why he loved certain aspects of the works, which I loved because it showed his passion towards what he was promoting.

I was intrigued by his explanations. I know that if Val and I had been left alone there and he had not walked up to us, we would have missed a million beautiful concepts. First, I loved how the exhibition was named “Exquisite Corpse.” Turns out that it originates from a game first played in France in the 1920s in which artists will write down a word, fold it, and pass it to the next person, who will then write down another word not knowing what the previous person wrote and so on. The first round result of this game was “The exquisite corpse will drink the young wine,” thus the name of the exhibition. This game was significant because some people believed in the subconscious element of it—the working together of everyone’s individual subconscious thinking. Thus, much of the photography I saw today contained a lot of surreal, subconscious aspects to it, which were embraced to show the 20 different artists’ unintentional but poignantly collective subconsciousness spoken through their works.

The part of this Exquisite Corpse Exhibition that thoroughly intrigued me was that although there were twenty completely different artists, who had no relation to each other whatsoever, their photography pieces were intentionally and deliberately positioned in an order that creates this one collective state of the subconscious. In other words, an aspect or idea of one work somehow connected to the next work and so on. Let me give you an example. First observe these four photography pieces each created by a different artist. Hong Lei’s “I Dreamt I was Hanging Upside Down While Listening to Emperor Song HuiZong Playing Guqin with Chairman Mao” is followed by Mao Yu’s “Tree of Man.” The connection? The concept of a human hanging from a tree. Then Mao Yu’s “Tree of Man” is followed by Sheng Qi’s “My Left Hand, Skeleton.” The connection here? Mao Yu emphasizes the color red on the body wraps as well as the naked skin color of the man underneath the tree. The color emphasized (by the background) of Sheng Qi’s work was also red as well as the focus on the naked, hand. Then, Sheng Qi’s work is followed by Bai Yiluo’s “Destiny No. 2” The connection here? Mao Yu’s hand is holding a picture of a skeleton, which logically connects to Bai Yiluo’s skeleton photography piece. The ENTIRE Exquisite Corpse Exhibition is deliberately positioned to relate to one another—maybe to again, emphasize the collective, subconscious circuit of energy even from unrelated artists and artwork.

I had two favorite photography pieces.

One was Liu Ren’s “Someday, Somewhere #1.” I loved this piece because it had such a fantastical fairytale-like character to it, which I love. I love the capabilities of digital photography, because this technology makes it possible to create such surreal, timeless, dreamy worlds and capture it in a way that makes it look real. The artist herself is the central figure. She is standing in the middle of a beach shore with calm waves coming at her feet, but with the help of digital photography, she merges the Beijing Train station right at the horizon. Dreamy purple bubbles are airily floating around everywhere around her with little fairy tale figures in them. There are soothing pastel-colored bubbles afloat everywhere. I love this piece not only because of the dreamy, fantasy-like world she creates so naturally, but also because she uses the element of putting herself in her own artwork and juxtaposing herself with the greater society to make a point, whatever it may be. This also emitted an aura of the younger generation’s approach to art.

My other favorite was Lu Jun’s “Chinese Real Estate Dream #15.” There was such a calm and soothing fusion of traditional Chinese characteristics and China today’s modern characteristics—I think he couldn’t have chosen a better symbol for this: real estate. Despite the clashing ideas, such as traditional ink and ancient trees verses modern buildings that are being built in the blink of an eye, Lu Jun somehow fused these two quite beautifully. I also loved his emphasis on mix media. I felt like the other ones had the main focus on letting their art work be just photos, but his focus was a mix of so many things. For instance, the curator explained to us how Lu Jun used this method of dripping ink in the water and then photographing this reaction from the side. There was such a unique and weirdly soothing aura about this work of art.

The curator and we also discussed some interesting topics. He pointed out that if he had to guess a rough figure, around 50% of the artists featured in the exhibition are not experts on photography—meaning a lot of them don’t know much about the techniques of photographing. Instead, what makes these artworks so beautiful is concept—the right capturing and expression of the concept the artist wants to portray. I loved that idea.

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