On October 20, a calm and cloudy Saturday afternoon in the former industrial area in the north of Shanghai saw more and more people gathering in front of an abandoned villa belonging to our partner and exhibition host Ming Contemporary Art Museum (McaM). 说了/ 没说 : SPOKEN / UNSPOKEN (20/10-4/11/2018) opened in the main foyer with a captivating sound performance created by José Eduardo Yepez Pino and Silas Kutschmann and some warm words of welcome by Nuria Krämer (curator and member of TC’s leading team).
In the air were relief and excitement. The preceding days had resembled a true marathon as the artists had all been unfamiliar with the location and faced the challenge of appropriating the villa’s empty spaces and setting up their installations and performances within a very short period of time. The villa’s three floors including its patios, balconies and surrounding garden had been transformed and brought to life by the art works. The premises were brimming with curious visitors and a remarkable number of local students. The amount of cameras in use on the part of the audience was astonishing as was the appearance of the team of a Swiss National Television news programme that had gotten wind of the event. And as diverse as the audience were the works on display themselves.
To begin with, there was the self-induced disappearance of Max Hanisch (supported by Jeremy Nedd as outside eye). Hanisch is a performer and director whose current project consists in assembling an archive of images on the disappearance of the body and, moreover, to practice the embodiment of this Sisyphean research endeavour. In his performance and installation Maps of Disappearance he managed to build up momentum as a considerable part of the visitors found themselves staring silently into the smokey void and eventually into their own reflection in the glass wall that separated them from the place where Hanisch had vanished.
Besides Hanisch two further alumnae of Transcultural Collaboration contributed to the group exhibition and played with the simultaneity of presence and absence. Mayumi Arai and Nina Willimann’s duo work Reflection Fig.1: Translations was set-up as an interactive video-lecture-performance. It showed their past experiments with ways of communicating beyond verbal language and dealt with the philosophical qualities of online communication and translation interfaces—one of the core interests of the current artistic research and practice of the duo that has been working together since 2015.
The intended and planned absence of bodies was the interest of the underground installation Out of Sight. Florian Geisseler, Mengying Li, Joel Schoch and Wang Anbang displayed a sarcastic take on the unspoken, sometimes also invisible tools and strategies that urban planning and infrastructural design apply in order to keep certain people out of certain places. Their gloomy work makes use of fantasy by evoking the idea of a neurotic villain who haunts the villa’s damp cellar and is obsessed with harassing people by way of hostile architecture and antisocial design.
With Once there was a girl… Simona Bischof, Vivian Chan, Wen Qing Kwek, Mei Yan Wong and SirMeng Yau also employ a sarcastic tone to address taboos concerning women. Their work combines a cold-blooded multilingual narrative with grotesque graphic design in order to express, review and reframe rules attached to being female in their respective societies. Tackling the internalized social norms around womanhood by projecting and ironizing them in the installation’s space seems to have been the empowering aim of this all-female collaboration.
Another play with irony was featured by Mass Prey, a performance installation by Leonard Kai Fung So, Marco Spitzbarth and Ingjerd Ytterdal Holten. The trio mirrored the iconization of goods, the spiritualization of excessive consumerism and the absurdity of contemporary shopping behaviour. A bulky, orange construction tube slide was used to pipe pointless yet colorful plastic balls—fabricated by the artists-gone-factory-workers themselves in a durational performance—down into a shrine of mass production. The balls resembled fortune cookies but contained only one message: What would you buy next?
Not so much irony but all the more poetry was added to the event by Keng Chen, Dino Radoncic, Nathalie Stirnimann and Stefan Stojanovic’s thoughtful performance Keng, You Swim?!. In a slowly flowing, human still life with the four of them dressed as bathing mimes with a sunburn they performed the suffocating effect of a life or a society overly concerned with security. Their work was complemented by an „installation“ in the garden outside the villa where they had planted a tree within a swimming ring made out of concrete. With the tree’s growth doomed to be inhibited by the preset boundaries the group seems to question not only dominant notions of living a safe yet contained life but also the place of nature in contemporary (and future) urban space.
Also dealing with narrowness but balancing out some of the rather dystopian works of other groups, the installation What Kind of World Overflows from the Beehive? might have appealed to an audience more inclined toward utopia (or instagrammability). Peitao Chen, Sijia Star Liu, Xiaoli Liu and Mei Ting Spencer Poon had created a safe space out of cotton, mirrors and psychedelic video art that you could dive in and feel not unlike a baby crawling back into a mother’s womb. They intended to address the effects of urban dwelling conditions in cities like Hong Kong on a physical, psychological and societal level and reflect the space of dream or imagination that transcends the confines of the everyday.
Mush Room was a performance installation that mirrored being sexual in times of digitalisation, online porn, instant satisfaction and feelings of alienation with regards to the body and actual physical contact. The work consisted of two parallel performances that the viewer could access but that were separated by a third room as well as by a screen. How does mediate or mediated sex affect us, our bodies and our relationships? Diego Kohn, Jiaming August Liao, Wen-Chi Liu, Claudio Rainolter and Jingying Zhang met this pressing social issue with a fairly light-hearted approach and a good deal of playfulness.
Three Seasons took place after nightfall and rounded off the day with a visually, acoustically and physically inundating performance that made generous use of the main foyer, the cellar and, finally, the central patio. Yuanyang Bao, Silas Kutschmann, Yu Rainie Liu, Nikolai Prawdzic, José Eduardo Yepez Pino and Xinyun Juliana Zhu had found an impressive way to integrate their wide range of disciplinary backgrounds. Their work that contained light, sound, dance, text and performance told a grim story of oppression and paternalism ending eventually and perhaps inevitably in violent escalation.