Foreign Correspondents

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Organized by Creative Time, Democracy in America is a national-based project investigating democratic tradition in the United States. This year-long umbrella project, curated by Nato Thompson, has several components, among them, a series of national art commissions, some of which were co-coordinated with host institutions, and a New York City convergence center and exhibition. At the invitation of Nato, I curated an international chapter for “Convergence Center” (September 21-27), the project’s umbrella exhibition, which takes place The Park Avenue Armory in New York.

This so-called chapter, Foreign Correspondents, approaches the notion of democracy in America from abroad. It includes artworks by four artists: Erick Beltran (Mexico City/Barcelona), Chu Yun (Beijing), Luca Frei (Malmo), and Magdalena Jitrik (Buenos Aires). The artists contribute works about positions associated to democratic ideals, struggles or sensibilities that have been ultimately put into question. With an emphasis on succinct text-based works, and how these work as image or create an environment, the selected artworks also bring into consideration the relationship between art and propaganda.

Using the space of a banner and leaflet associated to protest as well as promotion, artists Beltran and Jitrik use these forms to re-inscribe a haunting sense of history and present. Beltran prints a blue leaflet in a run of more than 100,000 copies that read “Fear,” which will be dispersed throughout the entire exhibition, carpeting the floors of the venue. More than a word a feeling that is tactically generated to the current state of exception in the US, which not coincidently begins again taking force after the events of September 11, 2001. Jitrik paints a monumental banner featuring a group portrait of the nineteenth century Native American leader Red Cloud with his peers. I posted an image of the work-in-progress, and briefly wrote about it here some days ago.

In different ways, artists Frei and Chu make use of source text now turned historical reference. Frei cites a line drawn from the published letters of the anarchist Nicola Sacco to his son, “In the play of happiness, don’t you use it all for yourself only” (pictured above). Sacco, an Italian who immigrated to the US as a teenager, was tried and executed in Massachusetts in the 1920s. Chu recites a mandatory speech in school about the life story of a heroic Chinese soldier. The recording is originally from 1984, when the artist was a child, and is appropriated by the artist as if were a readymade. Named after the year of its original recording, Chu calls attention to George Orwell’s novel of the same title about an imaginary totalitarian regime.

I will be posting images of these artworks and installation views of the exhibition. If you are in New York during that week, please visit the exhibition. Your comments, much appreciated.

Cultural diplomacy–for some, a curatorial task

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

“Cultural diplomacy–for some, a curatorial task” is the title of the third in a series of interviews with foreign curators working inside and outside of institutions in China and Hong Kong. Each interview has a distinct relationship to China’s contemporary art scene—as well as to ideas of local community building and international cultural exchange. The first interview, “What does it mean to be International Today?” was with Kate Fowle, international curator at the Ullens Center for Contemporary At in Beijing; the second, “A Contemporary Approach to Tradition,” was with Zoe Butt, director of international programs at Beijing’s Long March Project.

This third interview is with curator Defne Ayas, who is based in Shanghai since 2005, where she works as curatorial consultant to ArtHub, a foundation serving China and the rest of Asia, and as an art instructor at New York University in Shanghai. Defne is also curator of PERFORMA, the biennale of visual art performance with base in New York City, where she spends part of the year. These multi-institutional roles, in addition to other cultural projects she organizes along the way, have been shaping her curatorial practice. Born in Germany but raised in Istanbul, educated in America, and now living in Shanghai, Defne has a natural sense for cultural diplomacy—much needed to make projects happen in Asia and the Middle East, two regions she is actively exploring and interested in working with.

I interviewed Defne on June 23, 2008 to talk about her work and interests for setting-up international exchanges within Asia and abroad. The interview took place a couple of days after an extensive trip Defne made in Xinjiang—a historically contested land characteristic for its ethnic diversity. (Click below to read the interview.)


Image: Picture taken by Defne Ayas while traveling on The Silk Road in and around Xinjiang.



A contemporary approach to tradition

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

“A Contemporary Approach to Tradition” is the title of the second in a series of interviews with foreign curators working inside and outside of institutions in China and Hong Kong. Each curator interviewed has a distinct relationship to China’s contemporary art scene—as well as to ideas of local community building and international cultural exchange. The first interview in the series, “What does it mean to be International Today?” was with Kate Fowle, International Curator at the Ullens Center for Contemporary At in Beijing, China.

This interview is with Zoe Butt, Director of International Programs at Long March Project in Beijing, China, a dynamic and multi-layered arts organization founded in 1999/2002 by the artist, curator and writer Lu Jie. Zoe, a Chinese-Australian curator, previously worked at the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia. Since 2007, she lives in Beijing, and travels regularly within Asia.

I interviewed Zoe on May 26, 2008, to talk about her research and travels in Asia, her current work at Long March Project, and particularly how the contemporary art exhibitions and projects she works on relate to tradition and historical legacy. (Click below to read the interview.)


What does it mean to be international today?

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

This is the first in a series of interviews with young curators working inside and outside of institutions in China and Hong Kong. I’ve specifically interviewed curators that are foreigners there, each with a distinct relationship to the contemporary art scene in China, as well as to ideas of local community building and international cultural exchange.

This first interview is with Kate Fowle, International Curator at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing, China, a nonprofit art space founded in 2007 by the Belgian collectors Guy and Myriam Ullens. Originally from England, Kate had been based in San Francisco since 2002, where she established and then directed the Curatorial Practice Graduate Program at California College of Arts. Today, she splits her time between New York and Beijing.

I interviewed Kate in May 2008, a little over a month after her first exhibition at UCCA opened, and still less than a year since her arrival at that institution. This interview touches on several subjects, but particularly curatorial processes that engage in the formation of artistic communities and new audiences, and specifically as it relates to Kate’s work in China today. (Click below to read the interview.)


“Tricksters or fakes, assistants or ‘toons, they are exemplars of the coming community.”

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Since the publication of his Autobiography of Howard Hughes in 1972, the life of writer Clifford Iriving has been nothing but adventure. That book was a “fake” and unauthorized biography of the eccentric aviator and film director Howard Hughes (1905-1976), an American tycoon billionaire who died in 1976 after being in reclusion the last years of his life. The so-called autobiography, a creative concoction of Clifford Irving and his conspirator Dick Suskind, caused a scandal when the reclusive Hughes declared it a hoax, ending in the imprisonment of the authors.

In an attempt to revisit the process and controversy of the book’s making, or say, the life of one its authors, Clifford Irving himself, Miramax produced the film The Hoax. Lying somewhere between dramatization and fictionalization, this film is loosely based on Clifford Irving’s story, narrated first and most accurately in a book by him with the same title. The film was released in 2007; the book published in 1981. Not surprisingly, the film is far from and adaptation of his book, and Clifford Irving claims it a hoax in itself.

Fakes. Hoaxes. Cons. Doubles. Re-makings. Multiple narratives. These are also the subjects of Orson Welle’s 1974 film F for Fake, wherein Clifford Irving plays himself—or not. Finally, we can get to know. This year, his autobiography, Phantom Rosebuds by Clifford Irving was published by Dexter Sinister and this along with the exhibition as event as book tour with the savvy title The Clifford Irving Show is produced by curator Raimundas Malasauskas. To date, it has been presented in California at New Langton Arts in San Francisco and at the Museum of Jurassic Technology in collaboration with Art 2102 in Los Angeles.

I had the luck of sitting next to Clifford Irving on an air-flight to China some weeks ago. It was a special flight, indeed, filled with coincidence and surprise. It was the perfect way to meet the man. Inspired by the writer’s lifetime and work, as well as by the self-designated Fake Market and shadow economies that I experienced while traveling in China, I interviewed Clifford Irving some days after we met on air. Click below to read this interview and to get more details on Phantom Rosebuds and The Clifford Irving Show.


Camps—a nature-lover’s home, a temporary solution, a politically grounded space, an architectural structure of this century

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

I took the photograph above last month in Beijing’s popular art district, Dashanzi (a.k.a. 798 for its main street address), with the intent to share it with artists Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, whose art project Camp Campaign (2006) I had worked on some years back. The image shows three of dozens and dozens of camp tents lined in 798. These are the temporary shelters and homes for construction workers that are quickly working on beautifying the city for this summer Olympics in China. Construction apparently has to be completed and tents removed by June 1st; and workers sent back to their villages and homes soon after. With the devastating earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province, it is unclear how reconstruction of that area will affect the building developments and urban renovations in Beijing. What seems clear is that shelter tents and temporary homes of this kind will take a whole different meaning right now in Sichuan than in Beijing.

In early 2005, when Ayreen and Rene initially discussed and sketched the ideas for Camp Campaign, they had drawn a travel route across the USA with stops in campsites primarily used by and for the military for detention and training. The travel itinerary also included stops at national parks with camping sites and visits to cultural institutions with summer camp programs. The artists were doing an expansive research on the variety of existing campsites in the country, and along the way campaigning against the most opaque and unpopular of them all, the one in Guantanamo. During their planning, Hurricane Katrina struck in New Orleans that summer, and the course of their future trip changed. Ayreen and Rene re-sketched their more than forty-day cross-country road trip, drawing a route that would also take them to this affected region, and to the different areas where relief camps had been installed and to buildings, like Houston’s Astrodome and Reliant Arena, that had provided temporary shelter for evacuees who had lost homes or were affected by the hurricane’s flooding consequences in New Orleans.

All this came to mind when I saw photographs of other, more temporary forms of camping—or, well, of an area at Sangatte in France’s Pas-de-Calais, where a refugee camp once used to exist. The photos were part of a series made by Bruno Serralongue’s Calais, which I accessed yesterday in the archives of his gallery Air de Paris. Closed in 2002 by France’s Minister of Interior of the time, the camp at Calais opened in 1999 in a building once storing machinery used to create the English Channel. (Calais borders the North Sea, and is the French port city closest to England.) The camp was managed by the Red Cross, and housed up to 1,200 illegal immigrants at once, mostly from the Middle East, on their way to England. At the camp’s closing and with no formal housing solution for the migrants that arrive to Calais, makeshift shelters have been appearing in the city’s surrounding area. Bruno Serralongue’s photographic series, which he began in 2006, has been shot in these so-called wastelands over the course of two years; you can see a selection of these photographs here.


To help support the relief efforts in China, or other regions in need, visit Global Giving or Doctors Without Borders.

Guest in Training

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

She spoke in a Cantonese dialect. He responded in Mandarin. I just babbled in English.

– Dog or lamb?
– Lamb, of course.
– We ate chicken intestines just days before.

I remember this odd conversation we had earlier today while I lay resting in some structure reminiscent of a bed that feels far from it. In the wall across me hangs an original artwork surely done in one of the many painting factories around here. It’s a generic landscape. A beach, some bay, the view of any country seaside. Recognizable even while it’s hung upside down.

At Guangzhou’s Sun Yat-sen University Training Apartment Hotel, the receptionists, concierge, maids and every other employee are in training. I suppose this makes me a guest in training, too.

News, Souvenirs and Other Items from the End of the World

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

In a couple of weeks, artist, curator and future novelist Heman Chong will join me for a travel adventure in southern China. For him, this is partially an escape from a busy time shuttling between Berlin and his native Singapore, where he is preparing an art installation for Hermès (541 Orchard Road, Liat Towers) in that city to open on May 22, 2008. Titled The End Depends on the Beginning. The Beginning Depends on the End., the project is a continuation of his research in the ways the future is imagined and portrayed in literature and film. As part of this investigation, “the end of things” figures regularly, and Heman’s latest work gives this focus. The press release reads,

Heman Chong continues with his investigation into the reasons and methods where individuals imagine the future and how it can be represented as a series of conceptually generated objects, situations and texts. Here, he is fascinated with the idea of the end of things (in this case, the end of a novel), utilizing both the form and content of these “book ends” to compose the series of objects on display at the Hermès space in Singapore. These books include Written on the Body (Jeanette Winterson), The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami), Woman in the Dunes (Kobo Abe), Foe (J.M. Coetzee), Star Maker (Olaf Stapledon), Roadside Picnic (Arkady & Boris Strugatsky), The Possibility of An Island (Michel Houellebecq) and Correction (Thomas Bernhard).

(Image by Heman Chong, from another moment, related more to our future meeting and state of mind, than to the upcoming show and the end of things.)

Project for a Trip to China

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

The title of this posting is from drawn from the name of a 1978 short story by Susan Stonag, one of eight stories collected in the book I, Etcetera (2002). This image shows an excerpt.

Read here Parts I-III of “A Project for a Trip to China.”