Covid-19 is making agoraphobes of us all. Exhibition openings: too many people! Artist talks: flying spittle! Art fairs: fergedabouddit.
Museums and galleries are closing their doors, and exhibitions and fairs are being cancelled. As the virus spreads around the globe, the art world is basically curled up at home under a blanket with a tub of hand sanitiser. But all is not lost for the art-loving soul (provided you have WiFi, the last bastion of civilisation). Because firstly, there are institutions hosting virtual exhibitions in lieu of the physical ones they are unable to stage; and secondly, there are artists, digital-, web-, Internet-based or otherwise, whose oeuvres are hosted online. You know, those artists whose backlogs you’ve always meant to check out on a rainy afternoon. Well, that rainy afternoon is now.
So, masks off! Here’s some good art to check out without ever leaving the house…
Ho Tzu Nyen’s The Critical Dictionary of Southeast Asia
Created in 2012, as a sort of unified field theory of this artist-thinker’s oeuvre, this is a poetic A-Z of what the Singaporean artist considers touch points for the identity of Southeast Asia, ‘an area never unified by language, religion or political power’. The dictionary takes the form of a long video you can watch in one go or dip into letter-by-letter, and the visuals are archival footage accompanied by text spoken, chanted, sung or grunted. What is fascinating about this project is its fecund yet self-cancelling quality; it is the anti-guide that goes on in an epic and operatic manner. The terms are meant to be provocative (e.g. V for vampires and vaginas) and the method of presentation incantatory and gleefully bizarre, embracing the fact that the region is a protean, shifting, swarming entity whose boundaries are ever changing.
Formed by Young-Hae Chang and Marc Voge in 1999, this pioneering web-art duo has been creating minimalist Flash-based videos with texts that unfold in syncopated rhythms to their own original music. The texts could be sci-fi stories, wry and trenchant takes on modern life, or commentaries on political situations. The experience of watching a Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries video is like watching the longest, most riveting text message ever, typed by a super-smart, super-sarcastic and definitely depressed friend. Their latest work, appropriately for these misanthropic times, is Art Is A Lie That Just Won’t Die, an artist-bashing turned institution-bashing turned ecstatic celebration of ‘aesthetic despair’. Highly recommend.
Art is Still Here, A Hypothetical Show for a Closed Museum by M Woods Museum, Beijing
Hosted on this Bejing museum’s website as well as its social media channels of Weibo, WeChat and Instagram, this virtual exhibition presents works by more than 50 artists and thinkers exploring themes of ‘nature, extinction, isolation, and kinship’. The show is actually mapped to the rooms of the museum’s two branches in the 789 Art District and Hutong, so each week visitors ‘explore’ a room with its imaginary hang. So far, three rooms are ready, with video works by Haroon Mirza, Nabuqi, Cerith Wyn Evans, Colectivo Los Ingrávidos, as well as media artist aaajiao, who made a cursor in the form of a middle finger gesture (wish that was downloadable). There will be more to come from artists such as Oscar Murillo, Raqs Media Collective, Sun Xun and more.
Pure Beauty by BANK Gallery, Shanghai
Ah, beauty. God knows we need some (speaking as the decrepit mother of a ten-month-old). This indie art gallery in Shanghai is mounting an online show on ‘pure beauty’ that aims to be ‘an antidote to the global crisis at hand’. The first of four chapters is up already, featuring a diverse line-up including Michael Lin’s wallpaper-inspired art to new media artist Tabor Robak’s mesmerising psychedelic whirl of a video.
Home but not alone by Shanghai Centre of Photography (SCoP)
Photographers being quarantined at home in China have an outlet for cabin fever – Shanghai Centre of Photography, led by Karen Smith, has set up a platform that lets them posts pictures of their daily lives. It’s not so much an exhibition but more a visual diary that gives you a peek into the lives of people living in shut down cities. The series includes works by photographers such as Sun Yanchu, whose photos of fire are accompanied by a note that reads ‘Whenever I walk by the withered grass by the river I feel the urge to burn it, as if by doing so I could kill the virus with the flames’. Other works take a lighter tone: while some photographers are rebellious, like Zhuang Hui, who ventures out in search of his favourite bowl of Lanzhou noodles, others turn to the absurd, like Feng Li, who offers up self-portraits with a pig (or a dog that looks a lot like a pig?). A lot of questions here. But at least he’s got a sense of humour.
Being a gallery visitor is so 2010s. We’re in the Twenty-Twenties! And that, according to X Museum’s founder Michael Xufu Huang, means going to galleries and museums doesn’t quite reflect how we navigate the artworld, or the real world for that matter. We do, after all, spend a huge percentage of our lives hooked online, bombarded by a stream of images and information. At X Virtual Museum (designed by artist and architect Pete Jiadong Qiang), the idea isn’t that you’re just a visitor. No – you’re a player. And what’s more, this is not merely an art collection that has been digitised. Billed as an extension to the physical X Museum, X Virtual Museum is all about technological ‘possibilities and prototypes’, moving beyond VR by inviting players to directly engage with the digital space and encouraging ‘non-linear, open experiences’ with its own separate programme of exhibitions.
Published 9 March 2020