All posts filed under: Features

Gert & Uwe Tobias

By Diana d’Arenberg Parmanand During the Ottoman invasion of Wallachia in 1462, Sultan Mehmed II, who had marched into the territory with an army of more than 150,000 troops, entered the small town of Târgoviște in what is today Romania to find a forest of 20,000 Turkish men, women and children, all impaled. The perpetrator: Voivode Vlad III Dracula. The carnage earned the ruler the moniker Vlad “Tepes”, or the Impaler, among the local population. A little further afield in England, his numerous acts of heinous cruelty, and his patronymic, would inspire the creation of Irish writer Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. They also sowed the seeds of inspiration for the work of identical twin brothers and artistic collaborators Gert and Uwe Tobias. Born in Transylvania, Romania to a Saxon family, the artists explore their cultural identity through mythology in their woodblock print paintings, ceramic sculptures, typewriter drawings and watercolours. Having spent their childhood under Nicolae Ceaușescu’s rule, the myths and misconceptions of Vlad Dracul, as he is known in Romania, did not initially colour their youth. There …

Catherine Opie

By Diana d’Arenberg Parmanand American photographer Catherine Opie once described herself as a “kind of twisted social documentary photographer”. Born in Sandusky, Ohio, the young Opie picked up a camera at age nine, inspired by the photographs of Lewis Hine, and immediately began photographing friends and her community. Over several decades she has gone from marginalised photographer of the marginalised to a member of the establishment: she had a 2009 retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, is a tenured professor at UCLA and sits on the boards of the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Like Walker Evans before her, and later Robert Mapplethorpe and Diane Arbus, Opie shares an interest in and affection for subcultures, and for individuals and communities overlooked by society. Her early series Being and Having (1991) and Portraits (1993-97) mixed traditional portrait photography with less traditional subjects, depicting her friends in the lesbian and gay community in Los Angeles, transgender women and men, drag queens, and members of the tatted, …

Sarah Morris

By Nooshfar Afnan The Importance of Conversation Conversations and research form the bedrock of Sarah Morris’s artistic practice. The artist conceives most of her creative ideas through conversations, followed by research to give shape to those thoughts, and then even more conversations to realise a work. These conversations involve fellow artists, curators and potential film subjects. But the spark for new ideas for artistic projects most regularly comes from conversations with the group of culturally diverse young professional studio assistants from a variety of disciplines that she surrounds herself with. The New York-based artist was in Beijing in March for the opening of her solo show at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Sarah Morris: Odysseus Factor. Resembling a mid-career retrospective, it is one of her biggest shows to date. It also marks a decade since Morris came to China to shoot her film Beijing (2008) about the Olympics. Ten years is also the amount of time it took Odysseus to sail home to Ithaca and the duration of the Trojan war, hence the show’s title.  Morris is busy …

Leung Chi Wo

By Caroline Ha Thuc there and thenness “Is History not simply that time when we were not born?” asks Roland Barthes, while looking at a photograph of his mother as a child, in his book Camera Lucida. Leung Chi Wo’s process is all too Barthesian: born in 1968, he focuses here on 1967, the year when the most violent riots in the post-Second World War history of Hong Kong took place. In the womb of his mother, the artist could not witness those events, and to recollect today occurrences that are lost forever, he can only rely on archives, found objects and stories. This exhibition could be perceived as a personal museum, another version of the Museum of the Lost project he and Sara Wong began in 2013, but one dedicated to 1967, a year he was not around but tries to reach for – despite the effects of time and subjectivity – through the power of photography and the socially constructed memory of the past. Fraser (2015) epitomises the artist’s practice and concerns. The installation features …

Wolfgang Tillmans

By Diana d’Arenberg Parmanand Although his photographs had graced the pages of magazines like iD and Interview magazine, for a couple of decades it was at nightclub Berghain’s Panorama Bar in Berlin that the work of Wolfgang Tillmans really seared itself on my mind. The work in question, Phillip III (1993), depicted a man exposing his anus with his hand. The Panorama Bar, known for its hedonism, where music, dance and sex dissolve into one another and clubbers can party the night away with complete abandon and without judgement, was the perfect venue for his work. What struck me wasn’t that the work was confrontational or provocative – Robert Mapplethorpe paved the way for works of this nature in the late 1970s and 80s, drawing the sting from homoerotic art. Instead it was the unapologetic directness of the work, the raw honesty and frankness of it, that impressed me most. Throughout his three-decade career photographing a diversity of subjects, Tillmans’ has demonstrated a commitment to exploring and depicting truth, blurring the boundaries between art and documentary photography. Music and clubbing …

Ink Art at M+ Pavilion

By André Chan As early as the Spring and Autumn Period (about 771 to 476 BC) and the Warring States Period (about 47 5 to 221 BC), people in China began to use ink as a writing tool. For the next 2,000 years, ink became the preferred creative medium in the Chinese cultural sphere, including much of Asia. In those 2,000 years, ink – more precisely, shui mo, water and ink mixed together to produce the full spectrum of colours – has become a genre of art based on a particular medium, with its own rich history and philosophy. However, as contemporary artists try to bridge the gaps between different media, we enter a post-media era. M+’s collection policy is that art should transcend media and geographical origin. At the beginning the museum decided to make shui mo one of the categories of its collection, becoming the first contemporary museum dedicated to the study of modern and contemporary shui mo paintings. The first shui mo exhibition from the collection at the M+ Pavilion, The Weight of Lightness, was in three …

The Un/Safe Reading of Spectrosynthesis – Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now

By Anthony Leung Po Shan Spectrosynthesis – Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei in September proclaimed itself to be Asia’s first “LGBTQ art” exhibition at a state-owned museum. In addition to being the icing on the cake after Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage, it also marks the homonormative order finally gaining acceptance in its political, economic, social and cultural aspects. Although successful in its scope and accessibility, the exhibition failed to explore a more creative/destructive gender imagination, and inevitably felt too safe to an audience familiar with gender issues. The exhibition took three years to prepare, with curator Sean C S Hu classifying all artists that belong to the politically marginalised or the non-heterosexual mainstream as “tongzhi”, a collective term that usually encompasses lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The inclusive definition of the term was an attempt to efface the question of who does and doesn’t qualify, plus some works of unspecified gender orientation also helped to dilute the stereotypical image of “tongzhi art”. Although the 44 works from 24 …

Howie Tsui

Retainers of Anarchy By Elliat Albrecht There was a time when lawlessness was king and opposing forces lived, plotted, colluded and fought out their differences without the intervention of authorities. Virtue was valued but bravery and resourcefulness were crucial above all else. Such an anarchic atmosphere was characteristic of both the now-levelled Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong and the stories of wuxia, known in Cantonese as mou hap, a genre of fiction centred around martial-arts figures in ancient China. Hong Kong-born, Vancouver-based artist Howie Tsui drew from both for his solo exhibition Retainers of Anarchy at the Vancouver Art Gallery. His was one of three presentations in Vancouver by Hong Kong artists that marked the approach of the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from the UK to China in 1997; in addition, the Vancouver Art Gallery also hosted group show Pacific Crossings: Hong Kong  Artists in Vancouver, and Tsang Kin-Wah presented three public works around the city. The centrepiece of the exhibition was the eponymous Retainers of Anarchy (2017), a 25-metre-long digitally animated scroll …

Rachel Kneebone

Ovid in Exile By Diana d’Arenberg Parmanand British sculptor Rachel Kneebone forges the human condition out of clay. The great meta-narratives of humanity – creation and destruction, life and death, renewal, love, suffering, heaven and hell, the limitations and possibilities of the human body – are all tackled in her sculptures. It is a biblical, monumental endeavour. Aptly named, Kneebone creates architectural structures of white porcelain resembling towers or sculpture-like crypts of small bones, or tangles of roots or vines. The violent entanglement of limbs might be ripped straight out of Dante’s Inferno. She turned porcelain – a material associated with the decorative figurines and tea sets of the bourgeoisie – into the boundary-defying installation 399 Days at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London this year. The colossal sculpture, her largest to date, is a towering, epic explosion of limbs, flowers, spheres and genitalia. Fragments of the human body are intertwined, clambering and cascading down. They recall Rodin’s The Gates of Hell – her work was exhibited alongside the artist’s in 2012 at the Brooklyn Museum – or an erotic Tower of Babel, …

Lee Kit

Something You Can’t Leave Behind By Charlotte Chang The introduction to Lee Kit’s first solo show with Massimo De Carlo Hong Kong, Something You Can’t Leave Behind, opens with a lengthy quote containing sentence fragments and abrupt imperatives that is at once baffling and transcendent. After a series of disjointed declarative statements – such as “there is a movie in every corner”, “a bus ride might make you smile” and “our time has gone” – Lee commands viewers to “mute the voiceover”, before ending by saying “something you can’t leave behind”, the show’s titular reference to elusive and ineffable but persistent traces of life and memory. The intimate narrative of the show, composed of eight site-specific works with complex combinations of projections and Lee’s characteristic mixed-media paintings and drawings, is as much a stream of consciousness as the quote. While the show’s “something” seems intertwined with Lee’s individual consciousness, manifest in ghostly imprints of mundane objects, disembodied gestures and idiosyncratic expletives, the multifarious interplay between tangibility and intangibility, light and shadow, sharpness and blurriness, and contrasting scales brings out something more universal: that, in myriad ways, …