EURASIA ONE, an exhibition of 18 artists from Europe and China
Project- Initiative, Concept & Coordination: Rolf A. Kluenter
Curator: Andrea Neidhoefer
Participating Artists: Alexander Brandt - Chen Jiao - Chen Qiang - David Cotterrell - Christophe Demaître - Thomas Fuesser - Gong Yan - Susanne Junker - Rolf A. Kluenter - Steve Messam - Nik Nowak - Pu Jie - Oliver Ross - Paul Schwer - Zhang Hao - T. Charveriat - Zou Susu - Yang Longhai
As a geographical-geological term Eurasia describes the Earth's largest landmass covering about 54,000,000 km², with a population of around 4,611,307,439 - comprising more than 71% of the entire population of the world. In his Eurasia Performances, which served both as inspiration and as title for this exhibition, Joseph Beuys created the utopia of a united Europe and Asia as a free democratic socialist state. Originating in the context of a divided Europe, only a few years after the erection of the Berlin wall, which ultimately cemented Germany’s division into east and west; they were influenced by the atmosphere of the cold war. The collapse of communism in the former German Democratic Republic and Eastern Europe in the 1990s not only resulted in fundamental political and social changes in Europe and China but all over the world. Walls – real and mental ones – crumbled and technical progress, modern communication methods and economic interests have let the world to grow together into a global village.
This also opened up new areas of research and exploration for art. The big social and society utopias of the 20th century are overcome and the individual is not only in the foreground of our society with its star and personality cult, but also the focus of artistic interest. The subjective identity becomes the starting point for the exploration of our urban environment, cultural difference and ethnographical variety in an era affected by the influence of mass media, urbanisation and globalisation.
Although today Beuys’ notion of art as medium of social and political change and his belief in the spiritual power of the artist may seem dated, his ideas still resonate in numerous areas of artistic practice, not least in the dissolution of borders of the idea of art and his demand of a stronger permeation of art and everyday life. Eurasia One brings together the works of 18 artists from China and Europe, working in different media and disciplines of artistic expression, in the interior as well as in the outside space of Island 6 art center and German center. They have in common the fact of constant movement and migration between Europe and Asia, Asia and Europe. Critically and humorously, questioning and playfully, they explore themselves and their environment and find inspiration equally in traditional forms of art and also in new media and the vocabulary of popular and everyday culture - thereby reflecting on the variety of artistic statements in the beginning 21st century.
Our perception of places is shaped by various impressions: images, noises, smells, architecture and people and not the least their art and history. In his work Christophe Demaître makes all those sensual and physical experiences come alive for the viewer. Always on the hunt for new images and impressions, he embodies in an exemplary way the cosmopolitical spirit of the post-beuys generation, which is not bound to a fixed location and finds its fulfilment in the dialogue of cultures. The Belgian artist integrates in his work influences and experiences, which he collected on his numerous travels and stays in Sao Paolo, Barcelona, Italy and Shanghai. He works and experiments with different media and techniques,. In his works on photo-sensibilized canvas, the artist lets us share his view of the world: the images of places and people are despite – or perhaps exactly because of their grainy out-of-focus and incompleteness, which leave room for our own fantasy, so vivid, that you could almost believe to experience the accompanying sound and noise. In his black and white compositions Demaitre succeeds to evoke a nostalgic atmosphere of a modern city, in which the hum and traffic – only perceptible for the gaze of the artist – stand still for a moment, before they continue again in full volume.
For German Photographer Thomas Fuesser the character of a city manifests itself in the personality of the people, who live and work in it. For his series, Shanghai Faces, he photographs people with diverse social, professional and cultural backgrounds, all living in Shanghai. However, he confronts the viewer with a different problem: whether celebrities or successful businessmen, artists or common workers, all of his subjects are presented in the same pose in the fashion of a passport photograph. In front of a neutral background, without clothes and unnecessary make-up the artist separates the portrayed from their daily context and erases all indication about their social origins, occupation and social status. In a society accustomed to defining itself through outer appearance, possessions and status symbols, he directs view on the human being behind. Seeking the moment in which the gaze of his subject is not directed on the photographer or the camera, but directly on the viewer. A quick flash of spirit in the otherwise expressionless mimic, is the only reference to the personality of the portrayed. Both the sober composition and neutral facial expressions, along with the presentation of the works as group, create an exiting interrelation of directness and distance and pose not only questions of identity and uniformity but also of values by which we define ourselves and others.
Which effect our work has on our personal identity and to what extent our daily activities give meaning to our existence, those and similar questions German artist Alexander Brandt, also known by his Chinese name as Fei Pingguo, seems to pose, when he portrays four people whose profession is destruction. The synchronized four channel video projection shows a demolisher, a crematorium worker, a butcher and an abortionist, a slide show with their own commentary. During an interview with the German publication Kunstforum the artist explained: “I am interested in the negative meaning which determines these occupations, which does not produce anything but rather destroy something. (Kunstforum, , Vol. 183, December 2006 – February 2007, S.101). The neutral tone in which the work is presented not only creates a haunting document, but also confronts the viewer with his own reaction of shock, repulsion, disgust and maybe involuntary fascination, and thereby challenges the taboos and moral conceptions of a society where violence is celebrated in movies and videogames on the one hand, while we prefer to ignore the brutality and death inherent in our everyday life.
German artist Susanne Junker too is concerned with the discrepancy of reality and appearance. As a former model at home on the catwalks of the fashion world, her striking works analyze the illusion of beauty and perfection and the suggestive power of mass media. In her staged photographs the artist uses her own body as prop and appropriates the tools of fashion and advertising industry as her own, when she assumes different roles based on female stereotypes. Exaggerated, brutal and relentless, she confronts us with her interpretation of female role models and male fantasies, which challenges traditional modes of representation in advertising media, cinema and classical painting. Starting point for the series “Figures for the Base of a Crucifixion” was the examination of the role of women in catholic religion, which developed into a general protest against degradation of women in different religious, cultural and social contexts, where women today still commonly become victims of suppression and violence of various kinds.
Not least shaped by her own experiences while studying in Paris, Chinese artist Gong Yan’s multimedia works are concerned with questions of subjective and cultural identity and memory. In the series “Soundscape” the artist creates sound-carriers from traditionally manufactured Chinese porcelain, in the form of a modern day CD, onto which she taped sounds with everyday noises from her native city Shanghai, thereby using the old material to become the carrier of a new memory. In her installation “Return of a Stranger”, she confronts the viewer with his own shadow, which appears in a glass case as distorted, blurred reflection that moves towards him. The reflection can be seen as symbol for the dark side of our personality, for the suppressed fears and insecurities, which the unknown releases in us, before we discover, that in fact the stranger coming towards us is part of ourselves and not so different after all.
The culture of the 21st century is an urban culture. With the increasing urbanisation of the world’s population on a global scale, questions pertaining to urbanism take up an ever-larger area, also in the art world. Particularly in a country such as China, in which the change from a agricultural society to modern market economy took place in only a short period of time, art is one of the few disciplines which can aim at a documentation and analysis of those fundamental changes.
Thoughts on the relation between the change of urban environment and personal and collective memory also comes to mind by contemplation of the works of Chen Jiao. The young artist from Chongqing creates paintings, that seem to have been created on the drawing board of an architect or technical draftsman, showing architectural structures and details which are taken from their larger context and seem float on the picture plane. Despite the strict formal arrangement and sombre choice of colour, they evoke a sentimental atmosphere, which manifests itself even though there is no human presence. This impression is contributed to by her selection of motifs: empty walls with images and characters in paint peeling off the wall, appear like an archaeological inventory of a present, which is condemned to soon only exist as a memory.
The effect of the change of the urban area on the individual is also one of the topics with which David Cotterrell’s art concerns itself. The British artist works in a number of different media. In often site-specific and interactive installations he creates situations, which reflect on their direct environment. The design model “South Facing 4.3” was created during his stay in Shanghai in 2006. The monotone grey mass of 1000 model blocks of 25- 35 storey residential highrise buildings cast in plaster, which are arranged in 20 blocks and differ only by their height, sketches a dark scenario for the future. Associations with some parts of Shanghai are not unfounded: the artist developed his model by rapid-prototyping of designs of actually existing buildings, which he then conformed to Shanghai’s planning regulations. In this sense the artist does not only point to the common practice of land developers and architectural bureaus to use ‘filler’ blocks –architectural segments which are based on recycled archival material – in order to reduce construction period and costs, but generally refers to the social function of architecture, whose disregard results in the increasing characterlessness- and centerlessness of modern cities (Less Travelled, Exhibition Catalogue, Island 6 Arts Center, Shanghai 2006, S. 17.)
With his site-specific installations Steve Messam suggests counter measures to this development. His art aims at setting visual accents in rural or urban context, which include historical relics and vacant architecture and make us perceive the environment we are used to in a new way. The artist from Cumbria in England combines numerous red umbrellas into three-dimensional spherical objects transforms the landscapes around Island 6 and the German center into a surreal wonderland. Robbed of their practical function, the umbrellas turn into purely decorative objects, which make the urban wasteland look as if blooming with oversized flowers. Inspired by the shape of the oriental pearl tower, the piece “Souvenir” doesn’t only refer to a landmark of the new Shanghai, in its obviously ephemeral character the installation also accentuates its own transience, which regarding the pace at which Shanghai’s urban landscape is changing also creates a special resonance.
In his abstract, often site-specific works, Paul Schwer explores the elements colour, form light and space. Experimenting also with unusual image carriers and materials, besides glass and PVC foil the German artist also uses buttermilk as binding agent in his predominantly abstract colour compositions. More recently Schwer also integrates photography and projections, thereby endowing his investigations with current contextual references. This is also the case in his work „light box“which he created in Shanghai in 2005. Presented in a light box made from Plexiglas and painted in green and yellow, the work shows an oversized advertisement poster in the midst of a deserted landscape at the margin of the city, thereby expressing the artists’ artistic intentions and the urban reality of Shanghai.
Nik Nowak too finds the inspiration for his works in the border areas of urban life dealing with street and suburban culture. For his wall paintings and installations he draws from the visual pool of comic and grafitti, commercial art as well scientific illustrations. He does so by employing the unconventional method of sticking individual strips of tape on the wall to evoke an effect that is similar to that of an ink printed image. Despite their clear aesthetic statement, the predominantly black and white images are invested with a certain rebellious element, especially caused by their most monumental size. This is even more true for works like “Strassenblaeser”, a hand barrow incorporating a ghettoblaster and wide tires, which is not only a funny comment of the artist on mass produced goods and product fetishism, but at the same time a homage to car culture, the embodiment of showy suburban culture and, according to Nowak’s view, a form of modern freedom- and individual
Utopia (Homepage NBK).
Rich in quotes of art historical and philosophical idols, such as Frank Stella and Marcel Duchamp, is the work of young German artist Oliver Ross, who treats them in an anarchical way and thereby creates a very idiosyncratic visual language which he then translate into cycles of large format multilayered works in psychedelic colors and patterns. His humorous and neo-dadaistic collages also include recycled everyday objects such as plates, toothbrushes and toilet paper, thereby not only referring to human bodily functions but also pointing to the „spiritual“ of our material oriented time.
Also Shanghainese Artist Pu Jie employs references to popular culture and cultural visual memory for his – in the true sense of the word – multilayered paintings, in which impressions of old and new China overlay each other. Showing through the yellow base of the upper layer are images of young women in the fashion of communist propaganda posters. On top of that the artist in black draws the outlines of tantalizing female characters, which in their pop art style evoke associations of the numerous colourful advertising surfaces and neon signs that can be found everywhere in Shanghai. The artist thereby not only creates a exiting interplay of old and new role models and style icons but also an appropriate comment to the change of social and cultural values in China in the past decades.
Like advertising and Mass media nowadays have conquered every angle of public space, new communication technologies such as mobile phones and internet also have deep effects on our private and working life. The multinational and interdisciplinary team of Island 6, explores the effects that such technologies have on our perception and modes of communication. In creative cooperation Thomas Charveriat, Olivier Verhaeghe, Oussama Laftimi, Zou Susu, Yang Longhai, Zhu Yumei and Rose Tang, combine everyday objects, mobile phone technologies, laser, sound and play stations to create equally interactive and entertaining works. Although appealing to the play instinct of the user, they require profound knowledge of the technologies and human behavioural patterns on side of the artists.
Regardless of religion and stage of technological development, every culture has places, which are invested with a special meaning, places of spiritual power, collective and pesonal memory and wisdom. The universal use of such rooms is a recurrent theme in German artist Rolf A. Kluenter’s work. Living in Asia for several decades, he unites a profound knowledge of western and eastern culture in his art, Actual places are only the starting point of his considerations, in fact the artist is interested in a less literal sense in virtual and spiritual rooms, questions of positioning and orientation, the relation of man and cosmos, and not least the eternal quest of mankind for wisdom and enlightenment. The site-specific installation „Beyond the Veil“ refers to a state of spiritual transcendence, the crossing of a threshold. Numerous white bulbs hang in front of a window. They appear behind a net of hand-made black nepalese paper, a material which is of great significance for the artist; they are only partly visible. The panes of the nearby window are covered by photographs of outside views of various windows, causing the inversion of our feeling for space and loss of orientation. The installation can be read as a metaphor on the way to enlightenment, which is not a straight, target-oriented one, but rather full of obstacles which need to be overcome to achieve the necessary insight.
Also in Zhang Hao’s work East and West, tradition and progress meet in an exiting synthesis. The artist from Tianjin works in the traditional Chinese medium of ink wash painting on paper. In his works there are no grey shades as are typical and essential for traditional wash painting, but rather bold, clear brushstrokes in deep black colour, thus the artist creates planar compositions, in which only by contrast of black and white, positive and negative space is created. In fact, the works are based on actual landscapes and impressions, which have inspired the artist on his travels in Europe and Asia. Starting point of the abstract works of Chinese artist Chen Qiang on the other hand are point, circle and curved line. In infinite variations he examines possibilities to combine those elements and thereby creates meditative, mandala-like compositions, which in a certain way also remind of antique mosaiques or Islamic ornamental art, which in turn is based on geometry and numerology to figuratively create ideal projections of nature.
And on this note the circle closes and brings us back to the starting point of this discourse, Joseph Beuys’ utopia of Eurasia, which in a dynamic web of relations unites eastern and western ways of thinking. It is hardly possible to find a place more appropriate for this venture than Island6, which in its architecture, history and location, as well as its mission, provides a platform for artistic and cultural practitioners of all disciplines and nationalities to carry the key to the realisation of this vision.