- Raúl Zamudio is a curator.
SUSPENSIONS OF DISBELIEF - INTERNATIONAL CONTEMPORARY ART EXHIBITION (group)
... closedOct 24, 2010 - Nov 28, 2010
Other Gallery (Shanghai Space) (Shanghai, China)
|Artist(s)||Stefano Cagol, Stuart Croft, Wim Delvoye, Antonis Donef, Adolfo Doring, Teemu Maki, Ferran Martin, Tomas Ochoa, Miguel Rodriguez Sepulveda, Kiki Seror, Sun Yao, Mookie Tenembaum, Matthew Weinstein, Eric Yahnker, Zhou Wendou|
Other Gallery (Shanghai Space) (Shanghai, China)
EXHIBITION SYNOPSISAbout Suspensions of Disbelief - International Contemporary Art Exhibition
Suspension of disbelief is a term originally coined by the Romantic poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His concept was simple, albeit necessary: if a writer included elements in a narrative that the reader experientially acknowledged, the ensuing empathy would suspend disbelief in a story’s content regardless of how fantastic or unreal it may be. Coleridge’s motivation may have been to underscore that his own work, including the magnum opus Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1797-1798) and Kubla Khan (1797), were more than fabulist literature incapable of producing pathos in the reader. Although the literary merits of Coleridge’s ‘suspension of disbelief’ were a point of contention in the poet’s circle of literati, this debate may have its roots in the philosophical exchange between Plato and Aristotle concerning mimesis in art.
For Plato, mimesis was the artist’s Achilles’ heel; the ancient Athenian philosopher denigrated it as nothing more than mere imitation. His critique stemmed from his moral conviction that the world is false and everything in it is an inferior reflection of their pure, metaphysical counterparts. Since the world was considered to be a copy, any representation of it was doubly untrue: for no matter how well executed or beautiful a work of art could be it was nonetheless twice removed from what was true and beyond its visual reproduction. In contrast, Aristotle’s view was that the only way the tragedian can maximize his art’s efficacy is via the enactment of reality modeled on life’s day-to-day trials and tribulations. The more a performance mirrored life the more the audience could relate to what was acted on stage, thus engendering catharsis in the viewer.
What ultimately places Coleridge’s thesis in doubt, however, is that life can sometimes be more fictional than anything the imagination can produce. At what point, then, does Aristotle’s tragedian reduce his narrative to what is only plausible, knowing that life is also full of uncertainties that makes it, as Socrates decried in another context, worth living? It is through these two ostensible antithetical poles, that is, in displacing literality in art and the surreal path that life can sometimes take, that the exhibition Suspensions of Disbelief engages. In other words, some of the works exhibited are adamantly mimetic while concomitantly being akin to surrogate fictions; they are body doubles of a reality that is subliminal in its social construction. The artists in Suspensions of Disbelief work in myriad genres including photography, video, sculpture, work-on -paper, and performance, and articulate the exhibition’s thematic in varied and idiosyncratic ways.
Zhou Wendou’s contribution, for example, consists of sculpture made from measuring tape repeatedly wrapped to make an amorphous, corporeal form. Its shape is incongruous and cocoon-like, all the while conveying an elegant chaos in its precise delineation that meander and folds into itself underscoring the futility of epistemologies based on empiricism and the quantifiable. Numbers, measurements and what not construed as positivism’s handiwork is akin to a Sisyphean task as an end in itself. In short: exactitude gives way to entropy. To a degree, this is what one also finds in the stark, rather straight forward depiction of New York City by the filmmaker Adolfo Doring. Not withstanding the cinematic verve that his picture embodies, Doring’s image at first viewing may seem transparent if not nonchalant. It appears to be a kind of readymade cityscape and soon enough it begins to dawn on the viewer that the darkness that permeates the picture is not digitally manipulated. Rather, it is a tableau of New York City taken during the famous blackout of August 2003. What adds another sinister patina to the already quasi-gothic ambiance is the overgrowth of flora as if nature finally began its wrath on humanity. To the far right of the composition is faintly discernible graffiti of a nude woman; a kind of modern, Lascaux painting of the future past in the middle of a megalopolis of an American empire on the wane. The artist’s hand is ostensibly absent, and it is the real/unreal of this eclipsed skyline and urban environ or what Sigmund Freud termed the uncanny, that demands of us to acknowledge how fictional the factual can occasionally be. Other artists also work the geography in unsettling ways; however, their approach is more mediated.
Miguel Rodriguez Sepulveda, for example, depicts an Arcadian Columbian tropical vista rendered in a mixture of ink and human ash taken from victims killed in that country’s drug wars. This body of work came from an artist’s residency in Bogota in which he took newspaper ads asking for participation in a project of remembrance of innocent victims who died from their nation’s plaguing drug wars. His project entailed mixing human ash with ink to produce drawings of Columbian landscapes based on images found on tourist postcards. What Sepulveda does with a mixture of poetics and pathos, is to bring attention to the margins of Columbian society pockmarked by criminality. Another artist, Tomas Ochoa, also works with the land as trope in no less political ways. Ochoa’s AriadnePF-Z26 (2007) is a single channel video that commences with movement down a path in a forest. The source of mobility is not clearly defined; yet what is faintly heard is heavy breathing until movement ceases; the landscape that was originally filmed in color has now morphed into an image on the surface of goggles that are slowly taken off to reveal a black and white, industrial, dystopian world.
Working in the registers between what is real and what is unreal but within the context of total artifice is Stuart Croft’s Several Small Fires (2007). This video work consists of three advertisements for non-existing products. These brands are Arcadia, Stare, and Newman. Arcadia attempts to peddle a medication for insomniacs and the commercial begins with a woman in a cocktail dress whose anxieties keep her from sleep. Since the woman is nowhere near getting any rest, she is disparately afar from any sort of Arcadian comfort advertized in the product. In fact, it may be more to the point that she is surrogate for the collective, existential condition of femininity today. While this is not wholly clear, all of the advertisements in Several Small Fires seem to rub up against the ubiquitous marketing strategy of confusing a consumer’s needs with their wants. All humans have need for food, water, sleep and so forth, but we what do not have to have are luxury items. By convincing us that a product is a need rather than a want, we fall prey to marketing ploys that Karl Marx socially diagnosed as the commodity fetish.
The feigning of existing modes of visual production that uses desire as a vehicle for exploitation are also key to Kiki Seror’s Phantom Fuck (2005). Phantom Fuck is sex without sex; it is the antithesis of the erotic act by virtue of the erasure of genitalia of the couples engaging in fornication. The mesmerizing video appropriates Internet pornography and sets its censored sex within a pulsating, musical backdrop. It creates a tension via the blasting, rhythmic audio in syncopation with movements of the bodies, and the overt mechanical gestures of copulation. The more we want to take pleasure in looking, the more it is denied us through fragmentation. Desire as severance is what also underscores Matthew Weinstein’s American Gothic (2003). American Gothic is a sculpture consisting of a truncated skeleton arm affixed to the wall and jutting out in a 45 degree angle. As if engaged in chatter at a social gathering, it holds in its hand a cocktail umbrella like those inserted in alcoholic beverages. The title of Weinstein’s work cites the famous painting by Grant Wood that depicts a couple from the American Midwest. Painted in 1930, Wood’s simulated portrait depicts a man and his spinster daughter proudly standing in front of a Gothic revival house replete with pointed arched windows. Weinstein, however, has replaced the pitchfork with the cocktail umbrella. In doing so, Weinstein turn this icon of social realist American painting into memento mori; that is, a reminder of death. But the singularity of death is not the only element in Weinstein’s sculpture; for the cocktail umbrella works to not only add a level of dark humor, but conceptually engages the viewer as if this garnish was actually meant for the living. Ferran Martin also employs the viewer and interchanges it with the artist’s own.
El Modulor (2001-2010) is Martin’s on-going performance that has occurred in many locales including New York, Madrid, and Miami. One version took place at the end of 2001 in the cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, as well as in other parts of the city. This was a particular special day at the church, since this was the day of the blessing of animals. Acting as a kind of spiritual bestiary for felines, canines, reptiles, and all sorts of creatures, divinity and fauna greeted Martin in his performance that included him wearing a mirrored cube over his head. His intent was partially based on Lacan’s mirror stage, and a surrealistic, carnival house of mirrors where the image of the world would reflect back in on itself. In one sense, this is a kind of surreal ethnography as the artist explores the world on its own terms; and like some kind of walking rhizome, be collapses dichotomies of subjective/objective, and center and periphery: we see ourselves as he sees us; and he sees us as we see him. Ethnography is also an element of Teemu Maki’s nuanced double portraits. He juxtaposes, for example, a stripper with an office worker, and mother with daughter. The images run the gamut of the social family and are revelatory of the tensions between these often disparate personas. Although the subjects rendered seem at ease and the epitome of casualness, they also appear to be posing as well. Other works also feign portraiture such as Eric Yahnker’s text/image drawing of Lance Armstrong.
Eric Yahnker’s multiple image of Armstrong titled TESTICLE (2009), dovetails on his fame as world class cyclist as well as in his unique medical condition that gives the work its name. Yahnker’s oeuvre to date is polyvalent in that it has taken a myriad of configurations including sculpture, installation, drawing and a mixture of these. But the ground zero of his thematic practice has been the trimmings of popular culture in all its banal glory. Yahnker’s strategy is as much about reification as it is parody and is ciphered through a masterful métier rife with conceptual verve. The high and the low but within context of the scatological and the technological is where Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca feces reside.
Made from a machine that “consumes” gourmet food and is then digested, Delvoye’s Cloaca consists of the excrement created from a process of consumption and final evacuation. The final product is vacuum-packed and packaged in an aesthetically pleasing acrylic box. Delvoye’s wry gesture dovetails on the commodity fetish but is also a parody of the belief in technology’s supremacy. Machines can do anything for us today, so why should they not make shit as well? This sort of iconoclasm is also germane to Mookie Tenembaum’s Placeboi II (2010). Placebo II is a two panel picture consisting of an image of a nun set against a baby blue background. On the right side, the sister seems to be floating in air; on the other side she is wearing her habit and outfit backwards to where we only see the back of her head. The work is part Bernini’s Ecstasy of St.Teresa meets the Sisters of Mercy. Isolated, the images play off each other in a kind of call and response between exuberance and melancholy, and between liberation and confinement. Suspension here takes the form of spatial stasis, which is also germane to the hypnotic monumental paintings of Sun Yao.
Sun Yao’s paintings have a tendency to subsume the viewer. But it is not because of their powerful presence. In fact, they convey and project a delicacy and elegance; and are more like a welcoming sky than a harrowing abyss. Their enveloping ontology has to do with the dialectic between figure ground dynamics, the graphic quality of the mark that is also set against an amorphous monochromatic background. More to the point, however, is that his works beckon and call us through the faces and shapes that are akin to apparitions and phantasmagoria. Here, we are suspended between beauty and a seductive grotesque. Yao’s a painter’s painter, and it is apparent in the way that he effortlessly stops time and space. Temporality as a motif is intrinsic to Stefano Cagol’s LED sculpture titled September 11 (2010).
Cagol’s work is based on the day of his birth from which gives his work its title. Born on the infamous date known associated with the Twin Tower attacks that left more than 3,000 dead, Cagol traces events on that same date throughout history. And some of these include: September 11, AD 9 – The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest ends; September 11, 1926 – An assassination attempt on Benito Mussolini fails; September 11, 1973 – Death of Neem Karoli Baba, Indian guru. These dates may seem to have no connection than just a specific moment in time, though they evoke Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence. This past September 11, the work was shown in various locales at the same time around the world. In doing so, it tended to create its own suspension across axes of past and present as well as space.
Suspensions of Disbelief uses the trope of believability and its antithesis and casts them as equivalent. It is true that the more plausible a story, film, animation, or work of art, the more engaging it will be to its audience, but life is not really like that…..for as the cliché goes, it can often be stranger than fiction.