In my ongoing world of research, I’m always hunting for new artists, creatives, cultural producers in the realm of Chinese contemporary art and transcultural curating in East Asian contexts (it is an addiction constructed from a series of serendipitous happenings in my book), where recently I came across the exhibition ‘Tightrope’ at Sumarria Lunn, London, featuring book arts friend and colleague Emily Speed, and a few new East Asian artist names – Takming Chuang, Echo Morgan and Hanae Utamura. I’d come across Morgan’s work before, through (of all places) Instagram as she’s an avid ‘grammer of her performative practice (see here).
I’d not heard of the Sumarria Lunn…a gallery that intrigues me as to its curatorial strategy, which i’m not quite clear on through its website or programming. It is a permanent space run by Will Lunn and Vishal Sumarria, at 36 Molton Lane in Mayfair, London, still relatively new in its gallery days, building on a previous history of pop-up shows. ‘Tightrope’ is guest curated by Kate Pantling, a London-based freelance exhibition curator and art consultant who writes a great art blog called ‘Art Kick’ (just seen a great write-up on one of my favourites Haroon Mirza on there). One to follow for sure. She is particularly interested showcasing young international talent, bringing these artists to new audiences and supporting artists at the early stage of their careers.
This group exhibition brings together the work of Takming Chuang, Echo Morgan, Emily Speed and Hanae Utamura to examine the notion of performative practice through a shared sense of “harmony, dissonance and a raw energy” where each artist takes their own body as a starting point, constructing narratives with wanted anticipation that “explore the impact of encounters with materials, environments and cultures.” This tension in their work is in part personal, often intimate but speaks about broader political and cultural concerns. Each artist here uses performance art – their body – as a very unique tool, all examining their relationship with their cultural sense of space and place, and the notion of the “transculture” of the “in between”, again much like Phillip and Anthony Reed that I mentioned in the previous blog post.
Takming Chuang documents physical, often uncomfortable encounters between his own body and traditional art materials. For ‘Dead Hang’ the artist used his own perspiration to tarnish brass plates after performing repeated pull-ups. His Stand marks the result of hours spent motionless on top of a section of painted canvas until his body heat and weight caused it to harden into a mould of his feet. Through these repeated actions, leaving traces of his own body, Chuang explores themes of physicality, sexual identity and mortality.
Hanae Utamura’s works arise from the artist’s encounters with specific sites. Her ‘Secret Performance Series’ documents a series of performances in which the artist, as an anonymous figure, makes subtle, insistent and sometimes dangerous interventions into the natural environment. Utamura’s photographic works refer to the traditional Japanese preference for landscape art and the desire to eliminate the self in order to be at one with nature. Her works hinge on an exploration of harmony and disjuncture between her body and the physical and cultural landscape it inhabits. Kate, curator of the show, has done a great interview with the artist here.
Echo Morgan uses her own body as a canvas to reclaim and reassess the cultural expectations of her birthplace in China. Applying the feminist theories of Hélène Cixous who asks us to “write about our own story, our history, and ourselves” she addresses issues of gender, and cultural politics through performance, film and photography. ‘For I am the Four Gentlemen’, Morgan paints on her skin a depiction of the four plants known in China by the same name, chosen for their hardy attributes and depicted as a group: the orchid, the bamboo, the chrysanthemum and the plum blossom. Through doing so Morgan reclaims this Chinese trope as her own and challenges traditional cultural ideals. I’m going to be talking with (and hopefully working with) Morgan in the future.
Emily Speed explores the relationship between the body and architecture, considering how a person is shaped by the buildings they have occupied and how a person occupies their own psychological space. Her ‘Body / Building’ photographs mark the point of intersection between the body and the buildings built to house and protect it. Speed’s works make connections by building up shifting layers of disparate materials over time. Through exploring the built environment and drawing on historic architecture, she examines our attempts to create permanence and legacy through building. I’ve known Emily for some time as she is in the book arts scene, though conversations with her lately say that she is moving away from this area of practice towards more performative and documentary engagement, as with these works on show today.