Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Graham Bannon - Blog Posts

Graham Bannon

Blog Posts

On Last Week and Performance Art, Gerry Pryor & Zhu Yu; A Criticism

During last week's class, Gerry Pryor, a professor at NYU and an
artist himself, came in to talk with us as well as show us a clip form
a recent performance he put on entitled Chance Running. The visit, as
well as our further discussions on some examples of contemporary art
from the Fuck Off exhibit, got me thinking about the meaning behind
these often seemingly inaccessible "shock" works.

To begin with, I have no qualms with - what I believe to be - the
main focus of these works: that of confronting taboos and absolutes in
our society; things that, no matter our stated beliefs or how open we
may say we are, still make us feel uncomfortable for reasons we can't
fully explain - in fact, I wholly support it. The male nude is one
example, as Mr. Pryor pointed out (though his assertion that no male
nudes appear in western art (with the exclusion of Jesus and Greek
pottery) is not true); why is it that, on a purely reactional/
instinctual feeling, we accept female nudity as acceptable/beautiful/
normal, but the male form (especially the genitals - as opposed to the
female "equivalent") is much more taboo/disgusting/unsettling.
Moreover, what does this say about the subjugation of both genders to
certain roles.

And so, with this grounding, art would seem to be an appropriate
means of addressing these issues. However, I feel the execution is
often times (and this applies fully to Mr. Pryor's work Chance
Running) deeply flawed, often times too caught up in a desire to be
something esoteric and consequently, not quite sure itself what it is
trying to say. First off, if Mr. Pryor were using his art to address
the points I brought up above, he would have used full nudity as
opposed to simple stripping to his underwear. By remaining in his
underwear, I fail to see how he is doing anything more than merely re-
enforcing the same strict gender conforming roles and taboos he claims
to confront: still the male is not allowed to be unclothed, always to
be hidden behind some artificial construction of what masculinity
should be (here I feel I could analyze "clothes" as symbolizing a lot
- with reference to the art piece - about societally enforced notions
of masculinity that males are required to "wear", but then I might
just be going too far). (He mentioned posing nude - or simply
stripping - for his class, did he remove all his clothes?). To me, it
seems that his work is merely taking the symbols of what "radical" is,
but is lacking any of the meaning or bite, being instead, just an
empty husk. The work should make the audience feel uncomfortable so
that they are forced to, at the very least, evaluate (or re-evaluate)
their views. It shouldn't make us laugh at how ridiculous it seems.

What about the other parts of the performance Chance Running? I felt
I was only given vague explanations about why any of the particular
actions he took were taken - a reason that contemporary art is often
derided for: for example, saying, "'X' really shows 'Y'", without
explaining how or why. I'm not sure there was any part of the
performance I found crucial - or for that matter important - to the
work. And I certainly could not have found meaning in it without the
artist himself explaining what it meant (with explanations that often
seem to come not actually from the art piece). The work seemed so
caught up in absurdity, but not absurdity for absurdity's sake (which
is an entirely different movement), but (meaningless) absurdity that
claims with a straight face to be profound.

Zhu Yu

The work "Eating People" by Zhu Yu, form the Fuck Off exhibit is a
work for which I haven't fully settled upon a conclusion - not that
that is necessary, or even desirable. In the work, Zhu takes pictures
of himself eating, what he claims to be, a human fetus. Zhu described
the work as by saying, "No religion forbids cannibalism. Nor can I
find any law which prevents us from eating people. I took advantage of
the space between morality and the law and based my work on it". As a
work intending to be "radical" (a word which is itself rather vague),
it certainly succeeds in packing a punch. Cannibalism is something
that I think almost everybody is disgusted by and the very thought of
it makes us feel uncomfortable and (the work eventually drew attention
from the CIA and Scotland Yard after rumors of cannibalism in China/
Taiwan grew out of hand). At first I was more than skeptical of the
work, to the point of ridicule. But to Zhu's credit, after reading
over his statements on the work, I actually began to turn a much more
appreciative eye towards it. Like most contemporary art pieces, it's
vague, but there is a definite message here, and it does get you to
think about where law comes from and how it relates to humanity and a
sense of some absolute morality. It seems silly to say, but if law
(secular or religious) doesn't forbid something we almost unanimously
agree as wrong, what does it deal with? Is it really connected to
reason, or perhaps - to an opposite end of the spectrum - it is just a
tool, created by men, used for control. The fact that I am still
uncomfortable with how I view the work - as a piece of art - makes me
think that perhaps it really is successful at what it set out to do.

Anyhow, I'd like to hear what everyone else thinks about these two

Xu Zhen

The visits the other week to the two artists' studios in M50 was a
valuable experience to get to talk with artists about how they've gone
about their work. I know Xiaoxia mentioned in the previous post about
exploring some of the artists' works before we go to talk with them
which I completely agree with. Xu Zhen has that exhibit open now
("Matters of Faith") so here are some links to some web-pages about
him and with some of his works (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) When Xu was talking
about his history so far, I was intrigued when he was describing how
he and his group of friends collectively decided to abandon several of
the traditional media of art and focus solely on installation pieces.
I didn't ask him at the time, but I am curious as to the specific
benefits and limitations of each media, as he sees it related to his
work and ideas, and what made the group shift their focus then later,
as Xu explained most of the group eventually did, give up on

I think the "In Just a Blink of an Eye" series is one of the more
accessible collections and, at the very least, aesthetically


Yu Youhan and the Mao Series:

I think Yu's series of pop-art styled paintings of Mao Zedong are very
interesting. What fascinates me about this series, is the
juxtaposition of reverentials. What works about these pieces is their
grounding in the hyper-politicized period of China from the late
sixties well into the seventies - the cultural revolution. Mao's
status became (as it was already becoming), something no longer human.
His image instead took on its own life independent of the physical
Mao. In the pop-art series (the one with Whitney Huston is a great
example) we see this revered image that is so part of the public
consciousness next to and within a style (as well as with the images
themselves) of the new generations revered culture. With the advent of
capitalism, consumerism - as well as Westernism in a more general
sense - these have taken on a sort of quasi-divine status that is
held, by and large in the public conscious, as the new fixation of the
public cult of worship. This fits into the increasingly depoliticized
world that China has descended into (as well as the art scene). The
use of Mao in the art work serves to remind us of the recent hyper-
politicization and where the current political and social world stands
and has changed, with a satiric eye towards the similarities.

Chinese art market in the global scene and it's meanings

I've been reading up about the contemporary art scene and it's
position in the global art and political world and have come across
several interesting things. The growth of importance of the Chinese
art scene upon the global world has walked hand-in-hand with China's
emergence upon the world stage as a major player. I'm curious about
the relation of the two. Is sudden interest in Chinese contemporary
art linked with a growing inquisitiveness about the people behind this
new global player. Does interest into the Chinese art scene correlate
to an attempt by the rest of the world to better understand
contemporary Chinese culture and society as well as the spirit and
feel of the average Chinese citizen. Does insight into the art of a
culture provide insight into the people of that culture as well and
help us better understand the Chinese as human beings?

Or is the interest just another attempt to jump onto the profitable
Chinese-market wagon? Works by big name contemporary Chinese artists
were (and still are to a lesser extent) selling in the millions of USD
at auction. Is this an appreciation of the art movement here or an
attempt at a smart investment? On the Chinese side of it, is the art
movement still connected to its roots or has it too been sucked into
the world of high monetary returns? With the "good artwork" produced,
there has been a horde of "junk being traded as 'meaningful
work,'" ("Chinese contemporary art bubble goes flat") producing art as
a commodity for the sole means of profit. Now however, there seems to
be a burst in the Chinese art bubble pointing to the idea that maybe
all this interest was just an overexcited fad. Or maybe not; works by
the big names, although not reaching Christie's auction expectations,
are still fetching price tags in the millions.
Propaganda Museum

I found the propaganda exhibit to be the most interesting of the
galleries we have visited recently. It was fascinating to walk along
the posters noticing the developments of styles and messages
presented. It is, in a sense, a historical lens into China's recent
history and the social, political and economic desires of the
government. The early posters had a surreal cartoonish style to them
reminiscent of European early forays into the new medium of large-
scale industrial print propaganda. As the Korean war drew to a close,
you can see the entrance of more Socialist-realism influences with the
idealized and heroic workers in their utopian communities. An
interesting side note was the influence of the 1930s Shanghai calendar
girl poster on some of these 1950s posters. The change to the red-art
style of the cultural revolution and there violent and militaristic
themes is a sudden shift that gives the reader some impression of the
mood of the time.

I was most interested in he collection of big-character posters
(dazibao) tucked away in the back room. These posters to me are the
most powerful work of the cultural revolution. Each poster is so bound
up with fear, violence, paranoia, and chaos with students denouncing
teachers for being reactionary because they actually believed or they
were too scared not to attack and look like a rightist-sympathizer.
The mention of these works of calligraphy on paper as art pieces in
themselves (as opposed to historical documents) brings up ethical
considerations about what art can be used for and what it can do. Many
people's careers (and more) were ruined by such posters (it is
possible that someone's life was ruined by one of the posters on
display). And yet many of the posters were imaginative creations,
bearing almost no link to any truth, standing as works contained only
within themselves yet still having such a real ability to drag the
physical world into the reality of their illusions

366. New China and Old Nostalgia

There were several pieces from the exhibition, Interlude: Art and Life
366 at the Zendai MoMA that I found to be interesting. A common theme
that i found interesting in many of the works is the changing nature
of life in Shanghai, and China as a whole. The work "Line of Sight,'
by artist Maldev Lopez took the approach of examining the increase of
advertisements upon the city's visage. In the work, Lopez set up a
several large orange panels that, when observed at a certain angle,
blocked out all of the surrounding logos and advertisement. What i
found fascinating about this piece is seeing a side of China that is
not wholly comfortable with the sudden onslaught of capitalism that
has taken hold of China, especially Shanghai. There is a whole
population that has come, and is coming of age in a China so radically
different from that of their parents. This generation has no
connection to the communism of the past except for a vague and often
mythicized history that frames the past in a reverent tone that is
often off limits for discussion. A sense of nostalgia for a past many
never lived seems sprout up every now in then when listening to he
younger generation that is mistrustful of free-market, anything goes
capitalism, which they often see as cold and uncaring

The piece "Echo," by artist Huang Dehua provides an interesting
viewpoint to this. The work is an artistic recreation of old cheap
floor tiles from the '70's and '80's that have entered the collective
memory of an entire people. This memory, and this nostalgia, remains
as a constant in so many as the world around them is razed block at a
time as new rows of high-rises spring up at a dizzying rate. There is
a comfort in those old floor tiles and a pleasant notion that one
didn't have to worry as much about their place in the world, about
being left behind - there is a comfort in living in the past, a past
removed from reality and hardship, and idealized into a dream.

Shanghai Ballet

The Shanghai Ballet, this weekend, put on a performance of several
mainstays of the Western classical repertoire as well as several
pieces by contemporary Chinese choreographers. The production value of
the performance was on the whole, rather low. The music was not live
and was of a noticeably poor quality projected through the speakers.

Of the pieces performed, the contemporary Chinese pieces were the most
interesting, the Western pieces feeling uninspired and unsure of
themselves. The show opened with a piece by a contemporary Chinese
choreographer performed with a solo piano accompaniment, the dancers
making use of simply brightly colored outfits telling a tale of
courtship of the single female dancer. The finale was a choreographed
version of the final movement of Beethoven's ninth symphony. This
piece above all was a poor choice of closing, though it is an
interesting selection in what it is. The performance was meant to
showcase the range and depth of ballet and the classics, bringing in
the Western classics to give an unfamiliar audience a taste of Western
ballet. As such, that they picked Beethoven's 9th – arguably the most
famous piece in all of Western music – is rather funny: showing off
the best there is to offer. The problem being that piece is not a
ballet, but a symphony, and the pinnacle of the form, and so any
choreography comes up as wholly lacking compared to the music. It came
off far to gaudy and inappropriate to the piece, the dancing more akin
to a poor Hollywood production.

One piece worth mentioning however was a contemporary Chinese dance
piece performed before the finale. The piece incorporated Chinese fan
dancing but in a much less traditional way, utilizing modern ballet
techniques combined with a decidedly more Chinese feel.


The Belgian futurist architecure/visual design duo "Speedism" on
Saturday gave a preview of their work as part of a symposium on
futurism and architecture in Shanghai held at Lounge 18 on the Bund.
The duo presented a computer rendered tour of a strange model of a
future (and possibly futurist-based) Shanghai. The piece, while quite
colorful and at times intricate, was overall much too silly to really
have a point. I was reminded more of small games and movies I used to
make using Flash that, while fun to make, weren't really worth much
more. And though the panel gathered for the occasion repeatedly
informed us audience members that this duo was doing some really
"provocative," "daring," and "new" designs that are "leading the
architecture world forward" and that will surely have "a lot of
influence in the architecture world," I never got the answer of what
exactly it was about their works that were these things, or for that
matter that this stuff really even had anything to do with
architecture, and not just some guys creating weird looking things, on
their computers.

Dutch Pavillion for Expo 2010

On Saturday at Lounge 18 this past weekend, the architect, John
Körmeling, of the Dutch pavilion for Shanghai's Expo 2010 gave a short
presentation of his upcoming work as well as talked about his
experiences as an architect and as an architect working in China. An
interesting note about his piece for the Expo 2010 is the fact that
the entire pavilion is lacking doors and is meant to be experienced as
a single entity, as opposed to a series of rooms. The pavilion is
built on an elevated spiraling road with buildings almost hanging off
the edges. The overall effect looks something like a mix between
Shanghai's elevated highways and a 17th century traditional Dutch
styled town. Of note in Körmeling's talk was a statement that China
provides a level of freedom and experimentation to the architect (and
not to mention the commissions).


The exhibit Blackboard held in Shaghai's M50 district at ShangART
asked artist to create works around the central theme of the
Blackboard, a tool that has played such a large role in the
development and education of an entire country and that holds such a
definite place in the collective conscious of the Chinese people. Many
of the artists took radically different approaches to the task
producing works as varied as: neon lights shaped like the outline of a
blackboard to a small garden attached to a physical blackboard. Of the
exhibit, one specific piece worth mentioning was one in which several
large pieces of a computer hard drive were attached to a board and
spray painted black to look like a traditional blackboard. The work
points out the changing structure of the modern classroom with
electronics playing an ever larger and larger role, pushing out the
traditional tools such as the blackboard. The piece succeeded as well
in retaining an aesthetic balance, the black spray paint at first
making the complex and intricately designed computer chips look overly
simple from a distance, yet at close range revealing the true, and
beautiful, nature of the sight.


Zhang Liaoyuan's new video installation Titanic, presented at the
Shanghai Gallery of Art (Three on the Bund), shows three videos of
people performing everyday activities (shopping for groceries, at a
library, eating at a restaurant) while water sprays at them. The
effect is supposed to call to mind the Titanic as it sank, sprouting
high-pressure leaks as the ship's hull was breached. The point of the
work is supposed to be a comment on modern society, as if we are like
those passengers of the Titanic. However, where the actual passengers
of the Titanic were surely fleeing for their lives, the actors in
Zhang's work remain calm, as if to say our society is trying to
pretend that those life-threatening leaks in our world don't exist.
The problem with Zhang's work is it is too blunt, to clichéd, and too
simple without enough context or explanation. Sure he thinks our world
is going to Hell. Why? He could explore why the people aren't fleeing
for their lives, but he doesn't. He could explain what those "leaks"
in our society are, but he doesn't. In fact, he doesn't even make an
attempt. The work is overly vague and ultimately meaningless, coming
off as more pretentious than anything else.

Daily Rituals

This weekend, on May 23th, Shanghai Art Gallery opened up a new
exhibition entitled Daily Rituals, with works gathered from previous
exhibitions. The exhibit's linking theme is that the works all are
explorations by the artists of the everyday. It seems like a very
broad definition and it is. Works range from Zeng Li's photography of
Chinese streets to Qiu Shi-hua's abstract lanscape paintings to Zhang
Liaoyuan's "sculpture" piece of public lockers (meant to "question our
desire for security in public space and the way in which we accept and
comply with a synchronized order in return"). One of the few
noteworthy pieces at the exhibition was Yang Jiechang's "100 Layers of
Ink." Yang, trained in traditional Chinese ink paintings, in "100
Layers of Ink" does just as the title suggests, puts 100 layers of ink
on paper. As the ink dries, it constricts, crinkling the paper. When
the work dries, the cracks and stretch lines present an abstract image
– a newly created aesthetic from an old medium.

Video Gaming in Art

The idea of video gaming in art presents an interesting new range of
possibilities in the interactive, individual, unique, and random
nature of art. In works we have seen in class, video game technology
has been used to allow the audience the ability to affect the art as
it is going on. This creates a new dynamic where the art becomes more
fluid, and the audience becomes part of the art. This is an idea that
has been firmly entrenched into contemporary art theory over the past
40 years, yet has new means of exploration now. Other fields opened to
this are the roles of chance now opened up into the artworks. Like the
aleatoric music of John Cage, video game technology allows new ways
for chance to be written into the "score." I would be curious to see
where these developments lead and to what degree they will be
connected with the world of video game industry, which has a major
step forward in the range and depth they can create in a program.

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