A “Temporary” Proposal

On Wednesday afternoon, I met with Ying Kwok from the Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester, UK, to talk about a future curatorial project and exhibition proposal. It is intended as the ‘evaluation in practice’ part of my PhD…so as a working case study for my research.

Before she arrived, I had the chance to see the latest exhibition on display, ‘Structure’ by Angie Atmadjaja…a aural wonderland looking at the relationship between “us” and sound…”the audio waves that surround us and the day-to-day sounds we hear”. It was the first of two site-specific sound installations (you could say soundscape)…completely tailored for the audience as you have to select a sound path dependent on your height. You find yourself immersed and involved in the gallery space and artworks. The exhibition is visually minimal…but aurally powerful. As I sat typing in the seating area before and after the meeting with Ying, I could hear the installation as white noise…and didn’t quite realise how intense it was until I left the building.

The project is to examine the idea of The Temporary – 临时 lín shí, the fast pace of change in contemporary Chinese art today, by presenting young, emerging Chinese artists who will create original/new “temporary” artworks in a short time frame…”artworks in progress”. It is to highlight the process of simultaneous translation…the translation of artistic and curatorial practices…”transcultural” practices…referencing the Chinese versus Western artistic and curatorial models. The process of creating the artworks in both China and the UK, the dialogues and conversations involved throughout the whole project…therefore, more about the process than the physicality of the artworks. The exhibition space is to be used as a way of understanding how to communicate better with the viewer. Therefore, it is looking into how translation can take place and in what ways between the artist, curator, artwork and the viewer…through physical and personal engagement with the viewer and audience. Their involvement and interactions with the exhibition and/or event will be integral to the process of translation. The exhibition and events in their different countries, locations and times will build into a tapestry as such…it will evolve and have its own ecology.

Ying provided some very rational advice, which I’m glad I wrote down straight after the meeting as three days later I’ve nearly forgotten. She was saying the ideas I want to examine would perhaps present themselves better as part of a residency due to their spontaneity (which they could potentially partially fund), and also as the artists are very young and emerging. She said as the proposal gets more focussed, and as the artists are finalised, I should let her know…constantly keeping in touch…then we can discuss the idea of the residency further. I’m sure as things do get finalised shared commonalities will arise and provide further direction. Also, the residency is more negotiable within their calendar (we all know how far in advance venues like these plan), and it can have much more flexibility as to what can be done physically. I think I have to tell them about six months in advance (noting this down). She also suggested the use of events, round table discussions, conferences…other ways of presenting my research. She also thought the spontaneous notions to the show borders with an exhibition they are already planning with curator Biljana Ciric, who I met last year in Shanghai. This show is part of the Asia Triennial Manchester 11 festival and will display 7 artists from 7 Asian countries…difficult to take on but very exciting…also dealing with notions of “trans”-culture and “trans”-practices. Therefore, you can see why this was another reason she thought a residency might be a better option. They are having a conference/discussion event on the 1st October, which I think will be very interesting. So the Chinese Arts Centre try not to put exhibitions with similar content close to each other in their calendar…often spacing them up to 24 months apart. This disheartened me a little, but I do think the residency will be a much more successful “temporary” and “open” curatorial platform.

We then went on to discuss possible funding opportunities including the British Council’s ‘Connections Through Culture’ opportunity, Arts Council England, partners and affiliations…where and who I was looking to for support. It always helps to discuss this as you never know you might find out something new. Finally, she mentioned ‘The Utopia Group’, Chinese artist-curators Deng Dafei and He Hai, who will be undertaking a residency at the Western Space in Manchester in September time, again linked to the Asia Triennial Manchester 11 festival. I hope to speak to them both when they are over in the UK as apparently they share some common interests in the way of research…and attend the opening of the Asia Triennial Manchester 11 festival on the 30th September 2011.

After the Chinese Arts Centre meeting, I had just about enough time to head over to Manchester Art Gallery to see the exhibition ’11 Rooms’ as part of the Manchester International Festival 2011…and I am so glad I did. I’m going to say this next sentence and stand by my words…I think was one of the best exhibitions I’ve ever seen…no time frame on there…it really got me. Ok, so it was perhaps occasionally tokenistic in parts as it tried to tick every box in terms of humanity…representing feminism, cultural diversity, the notion of “transcultural”, pop culture, ethnicity, sexuality, disabilities, boundaries, social norms, life and death, mortality, ethics, religion…you name it is was probably in there. So there were ’11 Rooms’ each housing a different performance and artist, whether the artist be there in real life or represented by another living human being. The artists on display included Roman Ondak, Joan Jonas, Santiago Sierra, Allora & Calzadilla, Tino Sehgal, John Baldessari, Laura Lima, Simon Fujiwara, Lucy Raven, Marina Abramović, and contemporary Chinese artist Xu Zhen.

In some rooms it was often the case of (claustrophobic) confrontation and forced engagement…an awkward realisation as to what you were about to see as you failed to realise the situations you were about to put yourself into…and there were times when you desperately wanted to engage with those performing in the space, but you or they weren’t allowed. It was an event of silent stares as you caught someones eye wondering what on earth they were thinking or feeling, as they stood naked, or lied down caught beneath a lowered ceiling. I don’t want to give much away as I really think you should see it for yourself…if you do go, I’d advise you to not buy the accompanying book (that costs £1) at the entrance until after you have seen the exhibition as this (occasionally) spoiled the effect of each room and its contents. There are some real treats in this show…including the Lucy Raven’s piece ‘What Manchester does today, the rest of the world does tomorrow’ (2011) where a piano’s keys are controlled by holes punched into a paper roll playing LCD Soundsystem’s song ‘Dance Yrself Clean’. Perfect.

After this, I had just enough time to grab some food and head over to The Lowry for the ‘The Life and Death of Marina Abramović’ starring Robert Wilson, Marina Abramović, Antony, Willem Dafoe.

Again, like Damon Albarn’s opera ‘Dr Dee’, it was rather melancholy in content and incredibly experimental. It portrayed the life and pre-rehearsed death of the performance artist Marina Abramović...and gave you the wanted contexts and histories, which helped to further unlock the concepts behind her performances. William Dafoe was stunning as the narrator and, in part, referencing her ex-husband. You could see his personal links to Marina and his passion for the performance. There were moments when I could be caught holding my breath…once in a beautiful scene where William is sitting in a pile of huge old papers, picking them up one by one, reading out fragments and moments from Marina’s life. Some were repeated…and as they were repeated more information was given away…more specific insights into her life…more harsh realities. I always wondered what was to be said next. What is to be said next?


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