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Almost Avant-Garde, 2013, performance, 23’, exhibition view, BMW Tate Live Performance Room, Tate Modern, London, May 16, 2013
Galerie Urs Meile is pleased to announce the opening of Liu Ding’s latest solo exhibition Three Performances. Over the past two years, Beijing-based artist Liu Ding(* 1976 in Changzhou, Jiangsu Province, China) has been developing a form of art that he terms “weak performance.” The three artworks—I Simply Appear in the Company of… (2012), The Un-erasable (2012), and Almost Avant-Garde (2013)—employ various perspectives to address the links between artistic practice and our experience, consciousness and contexts. Liu Ding’s work explores how these relationships can be perceived, described and expressed in art. I Simply Appear in the Company of… is a staged conversation about Liu Ding’s own practice between a Mr. Liu (played by Liu Ding himself) and two curators. The Un-erasable features Liu and an art historian carrying out a conversation about artistic practice and the experience of perception in a booth built inside the exhibition space. They were surrounded by artworks Liu Ding had collected over the years, which evoked common aesthetic experiences. Without the use of microphones, which was an intentional setup, the performers’ conversation is barely audible, and the audience is only able to grasp fragments of it.
These two performances did not take place in isolation. They both arose out of specific art contexts and integrated themselves into the very circumstances they are situated in. I Simply Appear in the Company of... was a performance that took place in the form of an artist talk that was built into a one-day symposium held at Tate Modern’s Oil Tanks. The Un-erasable was shown at the 8th Taipei Biennial (2012). It was composed of two performances, one on the day before the opening as an integral part of the installing process, and one on the opening ceremony and as part of the opening ceremony. To Liu Ding, “weak performance” is not an art form that requires strict definition. Yet compared with the tradition of performance art, which involves developing highly symbolic personas, Liu Ding’s weak performances tend to involve Liu playing himself and relating his real thoughts, experiences, and frustrations as an artist on camera.
Liu Ding’s work often speaks out about those seemingly self-evident aspects current in our immediate surroundings and our own experience. He seeks to re-examine existing structures, narratives and consciousness, whether they are related to art history or they are those repeatedly celebrated and defined by the industry. Instead of affirming the pre-existing confrontational roles between art and the reality, Liu Ding intends to reconsider the relevance of these real-life relationships towards art. Clues and relationships are like two sides of the same coin in Liu Ding’s works. He often describes his artistic practice as being like a detective at work: a detective should be fully immersed in the act of investigation, and should put oneself in the shoes of the criminal. One needs to break down the power of time, to sharpen one’s instinct and imagination, as well as to shoulder the responsibility in reality. All of these aspirations bring to mind the position and anxiety of a practitioner in the process of creation.
Being invited by Catherine Wood, curator of BMW Tate Live performance series to create a piece for the series, Liu Ding made Avant-Garde, which took place within an enclosed space, and was a live broadcast designed solely for an online audience. In this work, Liu Ding invited art professionals and colleagues of Tate Modern to a party held in a room decorated with cardboard reproductions of modern pieces of art from the museum’s permanent collection. During the performance, a number of baroque soundtracks that Liu Ding had moderated subtly are being played by a DJ. The conversations on set are hardly audible in the film and the shooting was frequently interrupted by streaming of texts on the screen, taken from Liu Ding’s interviews with an older generation of Chinese artists and curators active during the 1990s. In such an environment as in China where the basis for discussions can never seem to be established, things always appear “almost avant-garde”, with newer and newer historical horizons awaiting for us in the distant future. Liu Ding’s work questions this kind of ambiguous and mediocre reality of art and the populist attitude embodied in it. Liu Ding strives to closely survey the reality on a microscopic level, including those that are barely identifiable and hardly sensible at the first glance. Just as in the salon in Almost Avant-Garde, even when we fail to clearly describe what is happening there and then, those lively relationships among what was present still provide an intense sense of time, motivations and the promise of realness.
Over the past few years, Liu Ding has been making new works, curating, publishing, lecturing and actively engaging himself in other forms of theoretical practices, all of which contribute to a multi-faceted and dynamic system of practice. Within the context of the art industry in China, Liu Ding has initiated a critical approach rooted in the history of ideas, to investigate the prospect of artistic practice in the context of art history and in the logic of the art system. In his work, he re-evaluates and reflects critically on the relationship between artistic practice and the value system surrounding it. In 2014, he has been invited to take part in the New Orleans Biennial, for which he plans to create a new work in the line of “weak performance”.
Liu Ding was born in Changzhou, Jiangsu province in 1976. He’s now based in Beijing and is both an artist and a curator. His work has been shown at a number of art institutions including the Tate Modern, Turner Contemporary, both London, UK; Arnolfini – Contemporary Arts Center, Bristol, UK; the Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria; the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, Norway; the São Paulo Museum of Art, São Paulo, Brazil; the ZKM, Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe (ZKM), Germany; the Centre PasquArt, Biel, Switzerland; the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, Italy; the Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul, South Korea; the Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco, USA; the Frye Art Museum, Seattle, USA; the Iberia Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China; the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai, China; and the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, China. He took part in the 2012 Taipei Biennial, the exhibition at the Chinese Pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennial, the 2008 Seoul International Media Art Biennale, and the 2005 Guangzhou Triennial. With Carol Yinghua Lu, he exhibited Little Movements: Self-Practice in Contemporary Art in September 2011 at OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shenzhen, China. In 2013, the work went on tour and was exhibited at MUSEION in Bolzano, Italy. In 2012, Liu Ding served as a curator of the Seventh Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale – Accidental Message: Art is not a System, not a World. Works which he has written and published include Little Movements: Self-practice in Contemporary Art (Guangxi Normal University Press, 2011), Little Movements II: Self-practice in Contemporary Art (Walther König, 2013), Accidental Message: Art is not a System, not a World (Lingnan Art Publishing House, 2012), and Individual Experience: Conversations and Narratives of Contemporary Art Practice in China from 1989 to 2000 (Lingnan Art Publishing House, 2013).
Reach out – Ai Weiwei, 2013, bronze, concrete, edition of 3, 12 x 25 x 30 cm (bronze), 100 x 27 x 32 cm (plinth)
Russian-born, Berlin-based artist Anatoly Shuravlev (*1963) spent several months at the artist’s studio at our gallery in Beijing to prepare his exhibition Reach Out – China, just as he did in 2007 for his previous show, China Connection. And indeed, the current exhibition pursues the topics of the earlier one, with its similar title and its focus on China. Here, though, the artist takes self-referencing even further. In preparation for his 2007 exhibition he made a series of all black c-prints.1 Each print contains a tiny white dot in the center, which, upon closer inspection, turns out to be in the shape of Japan, Great Britain, India, the United States, or China. Shuravlev actually revised one edition of this series by engraving slogans and drawings into the acrylic glass over the original images. Although this seems like a rather brutal act at first sight, the artist regards it as a refinement. He reworked the prints in accordance with his personal development, just as one might re-read a book several years later.2 Moreover, by physically altering them, he turned one set of the former edition of three into unique works. The missing depth of these linear engravings is contrasted with the viewer’s reflections behind them. The observer can never look at the work without looking at himself. Shuravlev even engraved some words and images mirror-inverted, so that the viewer’s alter ego inside the work would to be able to read it.
Shuravlev tries to do something similarly impossible with the bronze handprint Reach Out–Ai Weiwei.3 This intention is not rooted in coquetry but in his true conviction that art can make things happen, which in other contexts are utterly impractical. With this work he made a “third, free hand” for Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who is famously not allowed to leave his home country. The handprint is in contrast to its original able to travel. But this is not the only potential it provides. It also gives visitors access to the renowned personality and the opportunity to “reach out,” whether they want to show their solidarity by putting their hands in Ai Weiwei’s, or whether they are just curious.
The political implications that arise first in the mind of a Western observer are secondary to Shuravlev. He is more concerned with philosophy than plain politics. Therefore, it is also purely accidental that the monks who created the large map of China4 in the next room are from Tibet. The confrontation with the borders of China is, of course, a painful topic for the Tibetan religious community, whose leader, the Dalai Lama, does not miss a chance to protest against the Chinese occupation, as he calls it. But for Shuravlev it was only important for the religious people to create the mandala and thus perceive it through their outlook on the world. For them the completion of a mandala is a religious ritual and means something totally different from what it will represent to the visitors of the exhibition. Shuravlev was looking for this confrontation between religious and artistic language. In a religious setting the mandala would be destroyed immediately after being finished. Contradictorily, in an art context the work would not be destroyed after the end of the exhibition. The artist does not abide by both sets of rules; the mandala will exist for the duration of the exhibition and afterward be available for sale, but in another form: the sand will be sold in bags, as pure material, which is never to be spread out again.
The light-absorbing qualities of the black sand make the mandala look like a black hole, which symbolizes everything and nothing, not only in Tibetan culture. Such a paradoxical connotation also seems a fitting allegory for Shuravlev’s question of “What is this China?” He considers it so gigantic, diverse, uncontrollable, and contradictory that it is fundamentally incomprehensible. Again, a viewer trained by Western media has to discipline himself not to think too much about the notion that “nothing ever comes out of a black hole,” because Shuravlev has a longstanding preoccupation with radically black imagery. He often refers to Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square and its double entendre as radically reductive gesture in the art context and as manifestation of spiritual energy, similar to Buddhism’s idea of the oneness of everything. Likewise, Shuravlev’s exhibition is best absorbed with a broad view. The formally minimal works are actually totalities. A Kalachakra mandala, for example, represents its creator’s concept of the world and is traditionally conceived as a map of the mandala palace surrounded by the perfected universe. The handprint is a strong pars pro toto. An image of a hand forming a victory sign, for example, gets a message across without showing the whole body. In Catholicism a relic such as a drop of blood or a piece of cloth, which has had contact with the body of a saint is thought to bring the believer closer to God. The hand- and footprints of celebrities in front of the Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles are visited by thousands of tourists each year, who want to compare themselves with the beautiful and famous. A similar kind of self-reflection is seen in the revised c-prints: an artist looks back at his work and himself several years later and asks the same self-scrutiny of the viewer. The outcome is not overly positive; sentences such as, “Note to self: you are a fucking idiot,” “Fuck You,” or “I can’t save you from yourself” make it clear that there is “No art comfort here.” Maybe that is true, but instead there is a surreal, grand idea of what art can do on display.
1 Big India, Big China, Big USA, Big Japan, Great Britain, all: 2008, c-print, edition of 3, acrylic glass, 179 x 124 cm
2 New Old Big India, New Old Big China, New Old Big USA, New Old Big Japan, New Old Great Britain, all: 2013, c-print, hand-engraved acrylic glass, 179 x 124 cm
3 Reach out – Ai Weiwei, 2013, bronze, concrete, edition of 3, 12 x 25 x 30 cm (bronze), 100 x 27 x 32 cm (plinth)
4 Universe of China, 2014, black sand, unique, 580 x 711 cm
Galerie Urs Meile Beijing
D10, 798 East Street, 798 Art District
No. 2 Jiuxianqiao Road Chaoyang District
100015 Beijing, China
Galerie Urs Meile Lucerne
6004 Lucerne, Switzerland