Oct 19
Thomas J. Berghuis

I, Zhuangzi, once dreamt that I was a butterfly fluttering about. I did as I pleased and knew nothing of Zhuang Zhou! Suddenly I had awakened a Zhuang Zhou with all his usual trappings. Now I don’t know whether I am Zhuang Zhou dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who is dreaming he is Zhuang Zhou. There must be a difference between Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly, and this is meant by the saying that things undergo transition.

Zhuangzi, The Book of Zhuangzi, Chapter 2, “All Created Equal” (Around 300 B.C.)


The first time I saw the work of Ma Yongfeng was in 2002 at his former home in Tongxian, 19 kilometers east of Beijing. At the time Ma Yongfeng had just completed his video-work The Swirl (2002), which depicts the life cycle of a school of six goldfish tossed around in the confined space of a domestic (top-loader) washing machine. As a child I had once heard the story about a small kitten that had crawled inside a front-loader washing machine to take a nap on a pile of towels, ready to be washed. Seeing the work brought me back to this story, and for a moment my thoughts were with the kitten as it got taken out of the washing machine. Surely these fish will be able to survive their ordeal, right? Soon hereafter the spinning cycle was completed and a loud click of the dial prompted the draining of the water. I found myself looking at the fish floundering at the bottom, gasping for water. A brief silence marked the repeat of the DVD.

The second time I watched this video work I began to consider the composite cultural and artistic layers that this work intends to offer the viewer, especially when considering the cultivation of precious koi in fishponds that adorn numerous temples, teahouses, and even private mansions. It has become one of the symbols of Chinese traditional culture to keep these types of goldfish that signify having lots of good fortune. They come to symbolize the way Chinese culture incorporates animals as symbolic representations of the conversions between the natural world and cultural realm. Hence, Chinese cultural tradition (with its foundation in an agrarian state) places much emphasis on the notion of ‘animal culture'. At a time of great economic prosperity it may not come as a surprise that animals are once more placed at the forefront of Chinese cultural expression.

In recent years Ma Yongfeng has managed to provide an alternative discourse of cultural expression that is capable in drawing away some of the attention that is given to discussions of ‘humanism’ in Chinese contemporary art during the post-Mao reform period. Instead, Ma has chosen to expand his practices into a realm that deals with cultures of ‘animalism’: a term that brings forth the notion that (even in contemporary society) animals play a crucial role in the dissemination of cultural identity.

This can certainly be seen in the video installation Beijing Zoological Garden (2004), which takes on a prominent position in the current solo exhibition of Ma Yongfeng at Platform China, after it featured in a group show of Chinese video art, held earlier in 2006 at the PS1 Gallery in New York. The 27-minute work draws the viewer into the gazing lens of a digital video camera, as it encapsulates the movements of various animals that are kept inside the Beijing Zoological Garden. Drawing from the Lacanian notion of the gaze as the mirror stage, the human agency of the viewer replicates itself as the captured animals at the Beijing Zoo, and therefore we turn to the Deleuzian concept of ‘becoming animal’, as we are captured in our own cage of the exhibition space.

I first saw Beijing Zoological Garden on a television set at Ma Yongfeng’s new home in Huajiadi, located in the northeast of Beijing. At the time Ma explained to me that the entire work consists of a large video installation that is made up of 3 projection screens, which are carefully placed in a darkened exhibition space; thereby allowing viewers to be brought much closer to the full scale of the work. What struck me were the multiple layers of complexity that this work offers, including in the usage of different stylistic discourses and artistic techniques. For example, this can be seen the gentle reference to the hand-made qualities of digital video, whereby the entire video is shot from a hand-held position, and sometimes we even get to see the reflection of the camera lens on the window of the animal cages.

At the same time, the work incorporates references to sphere-shaped bird and flower paintings that were particularly popular during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). In fact, as can be seen from artist statements several of Ma Yongfeng’s works deal with the discontinuity of traditional cultural practices with the arrival of contemporary art. Hence, we learn how, according to Ma, his video work The Swirl also contains references to intellectual debates on “ the decline of traditional values in modern China.” The conceptual approach to working with video, as a form of ‘new media’ practice, is further ridiculed in the most recent video work Storm Model (2005), which will also feature in a group show of Chinese video art, titled Video-Real, which takes part in the 3rd Israel Video Art Biennale – Video Zone that is to be held at the Center of Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv (December 2006).

In preparing Storm Model Ma Yongfeng spent several weeks working on a large model of a Chinese mountain-village that is struck by a severe storm, complete with torrential rains, floods, and combining sound, and light-effects. After the video was produced, Ma Yongfeng proceeded to destroy the installation. This work sets out to challenge the relationship between digital video, installation, and the common practice of model building, particularly in natural history museums across China. These man-made constructions pay reference to the mock-up residues of the real world, where everyday life becomes transported into the realm of simulacra.

The concept of simulacra is also imbedded in the creation of the photograph-series The Origin of Species (2005) that are featured in the second part of the solo exhibition at Platform China; thereby contrasting the video installation Beijing Zoological Garden. These photographs draw attention to the residues of artificial cultivation, by depicting man-made mock-ups of biological habitats that are stripped of their natural inhabitants. These virtual panoramas of simulated environments produce an uncanny sense of what the future will hold if mankind continues to project its own creation onto the natural world. Indeed, as Ma Yongfeng states “This is perhaps the scene that precedes the ‘origin of the species’ or the aftermath of biological extermination.”


Thomas J. Berghuis has recently completed his PhD dissertation on Performance Art in China at the University of Sydney (Australia), following an MA in Sinology at Leiden University (The Netherlands). During the past 10 years he has frequently traveled to China for his research, and from 2003 to 2004 he was a visiting scholar at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Besides his academic career Berghuis was also involved in several curatorial projects, most notably as Associate Curator for the 6th Sharjah International Biennale, United Arab Emirates (2003); Chief-Curator for the 1st Dashanzi International Arts Festival, Beijing (2004); and as Associate Curator for the 3rd Israel Video Art Biennale – Video Zone, Tel Aviv (2006). His writings have been published in various magazines and art publications, such as Art Asia Pacific, Artlink, Mesh and positions. His book, Performance Art in China, will be published in October 2006 with Timezone 8, Hong Kong.
Oct 14
Ma Yongfeng

From 2002 to 2006, I have created a series of video installations and photographic work relating to aspects of animal culture, man-made environments and topographic modelling. In my video installations and photography of recent years, I have proceeded into more interdisciplinary, multi-domain exploration and research, ranging from natural history to animal culture and fossil archaeology in combination with long-term observation of biological habitat restorations, archaeological simulations, geographical models and displays in natural history museums. I have attempted to discuss “the status” of humans and animals, the relations between them, how the animal culture affects the human self and the relationship between artificial environments, natural habitats and aesthetics. Have humans become the Earth’s most formidable drive in species evolution?

In "The Origin of Species", a photographic series from 2005, I captured some scenes from the zoological garden and reconstruct them. These photos were of the man-made backgrounds of simulated biological habitats consisting of waterfalls, rivers and the woods but in the middle is a composed environment of dead trees, stone, sand, string and guano illuminated under a gloomy natural light, giving an atmosphere of bewildering dispiritedness, bearing a sense of tragic beauty. In the photos, all the animals have vanished, leaving behind a scene of solitude and suspension. This is perhaps the scene that precedes the ‘origin of the species’ or the aftermath of biological extermination. All signs of bodily life have disappeared, including human ones. My other photographic series in 2006, "Ideal conditions of a Weather Forecast " shows pre-made topographical models which I drenched in heavy rain for a very long time and then photographed with a digital camera these imitations of geomorphological terrains. What results after the digital processing is a return another kind of ‘reality after reality’, strongly resembling the effects painting or drawing.

A completely different conceptualism manifests in my video installations. From the single-channel video “The Swirl” in 2002 to the three-channel installations of “Beijing Zoological Garden" (2004) and "Storm Model" (2005), they all present complex relations with the Chinese tradition of drawing. "The Swirl” is a significantly conceptual work, where several goldfish are thrown into a whirling washing machine as though the literary intelligentsia were dejectedly discussing the decline of traditional values in modern China. But "Beijing Zoological Garden" utilises the filmic language to resurface the human constructedness of animal culture and the spirit of Song Dynasty Chinese painting. In the more recent "Storm Model", I constructed an installation model of a flood scene and videoed it under changing lighting conditions and artificial flashes in my studio. It was then projected onto a wall as a video installation, which I then termed an ‘installation after installation’.

In the above two photographic series, I have attempted to bring into my photography elements drawn from installation and painting, seeking a kind of harmonious ‘non-realism’. These scenes and environments which I have actively represented are a form of alternative reality. The falsity of an artificial environment prompts us to ponder about what is the concept of ‘the real’? In the video installations, the tendency is towards a form of ‘remediatisation’, amalgamating the filmic language and mobile environments, ideas that are continued into my present video works.
Oct 10
展览曾在纽约现代艺术美术馆引起关注

  本报讯 (记者李健亚)7月22日,“今日中国影像”从美国纽约P.S.1当代艺术中心“移师”北京站台中国当代艺术机构,展出了12位艺术家的22幅影像作品。

  高楼耸立起来了,生活其间的人的心境又是怎样?

  马永峰、崔岫闻、孟谨等12位艺术家用影像的方式记录了今日中国的种种变化。艺术家孟谨的作品《十四间房》,3分钟内呈现了特定空间下的不同建筑结构。孟谨表示,“现在社会的变化带来了建筑结构中秩序的变化,建筑能通过结构、摆列言说出这种改变。”至于缘何采用影像的方式,孟谨指出影像能直接、客观地表现出个体在现代生活中的种种感触。因此,相对于新媒体艺术注重与观众的“互动”来说,此次展出的作品更注重表达自己在当下生活中的感受。

  对此,策展人孙宁表示,尽管采用新媒体,但此次展览更注重客观记录当代中国的改变。这十几位艺术家在一起,每个人都有自己独特的视角,能比较客观地还原出今日中国的真实面貌。

  今年2月26日至5月29日,纽约P.S.1当代艺术中心曾展出过“今日中国影像”展览。这是美国最重要的纽约现代艺术美术馆(MoMA)有史以来第一次大规模的有关中国艺术家的群展,引起国际艺术界关注,被认为是中国当代艺术的一次全景呈现。

www.thebeijingnews.com · 2006-7-25 9:27:34 · 来源: 新京报
Aug 18
Thirteen

Review of Chinese multimedia art show in New York © Andrea Donderi

Thirteen, a collection of videos by Chinese artists (thirteen of them!), recently ended its run at PS1 in Queens.Like Reprocessing Reality, Thirteen -- a group exhibit of videos from Chinese artists at PS1 in Queens

Like Reprocessing Reality, Thirteen -- a group exhibit of videos from Chinese artists at PS1 in Queens -- closed a day or two after I was there.

At the time, PS1's entrance contained a sort of teaser for the exhibit: to the sound of vicious, howling wind, a video mounted at painting height next to the reception desk panned over a black-and-white map tagged with flickering orange and grey dots.

Entering the exhibit itself, the first thing you see -- shown in darkness, alone in its own room -- is a red-orange lantern carried through streets at night, seen in fragmentary glimpses. This lulls you into a predictable lush orientalist mode, so that once you're into the next room and onward you're slammed into a different world: koi snuff it in a washing machine, newscasters ramble, subways rumble, a cheerful, manic-looking tap dancer and martial artist is ignored cruelly by the people he dances for in the park, but doesn't seem to mind. Black-and-white characters flick ashes into their open flies, a detached, deliberate-looking gentleman carefully arranges filmy strips of pink fabric in a forest and hangs himself from a tree.

Artists are 8gg (team consisting of Jiang Haiqing and Fu Yu, Beijing); Cui Xiuwen (Beijing); Dong Wensheng (Changzhou); Cao Fei (b. 1978 in Guangzhou, lives in Guangzhou); Hu Jieming (Shanghai); Huang Xuaopeng (Guangzhou); Li Songhua (Beijing); Liang Yue (Beijing and Shanghai); Lu Chunsheng (Shanghai); Ma Yongfeng (Beijing); Meng Jin (Chong Qing); Xu Tan (Shanghai and Guangzhou); and Xu Zhen (Shanghai).
Aug 18
录像方便面:中国和澳大利亚录像艺术放映活动
Video-Easy: video art from China & Australia
哈特艺术中心,798 大山子艺术区,北京
Hart Center for Arts, 798 Dashanzi Art District, Beijing


Fri 26 May 06
2006年05月26号

晚会:澳大利亚录像艺术放映The Late Sessions: Australian video art screening
策划Curated by 苏打_急拉 Soda_Jerk

Sam Smith, Passage, 2006, 6:30 min
Emil Goh, Trailer (SPEED), 2006, 10:00 min
Matthew Tumbers, Six Degrees of Seperation: Screen Culture, 2006, 10:00 min
Soda_Jerk, Pixel Pirate 2: Attack of the Astro, 3:31 min, Elvis Video Clone (Trailer), 2006
Brendan Lee, Out of the Blue (from the series True Blue), 2006, 6:21 min
Grant Stevens, The Switch, 2006, 3:13 min
Stephen Fox, The Birds, 2005, 8:30 min
David Lawrey & Jaki Middleton, The sound before you make it – video remix, 2006, 0:40 min
D aniel Askill, We Have Decided Not to Die, 2004, 10:00 min
Ms &Mr, The Wedding Video, 2006, 3:30 min
Wilkins Hill, Sunny, 2006, 4:00 min
Tara Marynowsky, The Apple of My Eye, 2006, 4:00 min


录像方便面:中国录像艺术放映Video Art from China
策划Curated by汤伟峰Thomas Berghuis

马永峰 Ma Yongfeng 北京动物园 Beijing Zoological Garden, 2004, 27:00 min
邱志杰 Qiu Zhijie 山水·江湖 Mountain, Water, River, Lake,2005, 9:00 min
赵亮Zhao Liang 城市长影 Cityscene,2004 ,23:00 min
乌尔善Wu Ershan 脱口而出Put a Foot in the Mouth,1999, 10:00 min




Sat 27 May 06
2006年05月27号

电极放映:电极边缘新媒体艺术节2003年-2004年
ElectroProjections: highlights from the Electrofringe Festival 2003-04

Tim Parish, Spaceship Earth, 7:00 min
Antuong Nguyen, Once AceVer 2, 6:00 minCattram Nguyen, Nigel Brown, Peter Volich, Michaela Coventry, Are we there yet?, 7:00 minKate Murphy, & The Fondue Set, Luke Stacey, Ectoplasm from Earth, 1:40 min
Anto Skene, Pills, 2003, 8:00 min
Cameron Foster, Formulated Vocal Line, 5:40 min
Khaled Sabsabi, Try, 1:06 min
The Contextual Villians, The Sad Little Girl, 3:11 min
Scott Morrison, 8914 distances, 6:12 min
Miranda Burton, Telephone, 3:50 min
Qing Wang, The Way, 8:00 min
tanya V, Blow, 1:05 min
Daniel Green, This is more, 2:11 min
Sumugan Sivanesan, The Bedroom, 1:00 min


录像方便面:中国录像艺术放映Video Art from China
策划Curated by汤伟峰Thomas Berghuis

倪柯耘 Ni Keyun 爱情计划 The Scheme About Space,2006 ,12:00 min
陆春生 Lu Chunsheng 化学使 History of Chemistry,2004,29:00 min
吴玉仁 Wu Yuren 火星计划 The Sparks Program,2006,15:00 min
胡昀 Hu Yun 姿势 Pose, 2006 , 20:47 min


Supported by the Hart Center for Arts, Asialink & the Australian Embassy, Beijing.
Half Dozen gratefully acknowledges the ongoing support of the NSW Ministry for the Arts and the Artist-Run Initiatives program of the Australia Council, the Australian Government’s arts funding and advisory body.
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