Blog, TC 2018

A day with: Jiaming August Liao, Star Sijia Liu, Claudio Rainolter and Jingying Zhang

For the third and last phase of this year’s programme, individual portraits of the current groups are published in order to give a glimpse into the day-to-day collaborations, convey the intensity of the work process and sketch the interplay between the individual and the collective. Today we present a day in the work of Jiaming August Liao, Sijia Star Liu, Claudio Rainolter and Jingying Zhang the result of which was presented in the final group exhibition 说了/ 没说 : SPOKEN / UNSPOKEN on the 24th November 2018.

It’s already the third time in a row that Jiaming August Liao (Hong Kong based), Claudio Rainolter (Zurich based) and Jingying Zhang (Taipei based) decided to work together. Liu (Hong Kong based) has joined them only for this last project. She wanted to work in different constellations throughout the programme in order to gain a varied understanding of what transdisciplinary collaboration could look like. She says she’s learnt a lot from the experience, however, feels like most of it is going to reverberate for a while before she can clearly designate the impacts of the programme on her work, her skills and her interests. Rainolter is under a similar impression and intends to pursue a transdisciplinary path in his future work. Not that transdisciplinarity is particulary new to him: for years he’s been experimenting with all kinds of genres and media. His interests reach from sound and space over light and photography up to video and interactive design (with the latter being his “actual discipline”). This peculiarly broad spectrum is something he shares with his continuous collaborators Liao and Zhang (studying Creative Media and New Media, respectively). Asked about their specialisation, preferred artistic medium or field of focus, Liu calmly and without further consideration says: „Design and Creative Media.“ The three others, however, react startled and hesitate. „Just write ‘smart guy’…“, suggests Rainolter, „…or ‘starving artist’.“, Zhang adds with a cheerful laugh. Liao remains silent, brooding over an answer.

When joining them in their corner of the gallery that the exhibition will take place in, I find them dispersed throughout the space in the most entangled standing, squatting, kneeling and laying poses that you can imagine—and working in deep concentration. One is wrestling with paper receipts, one is trying to attach a camera to an old-fashioned armchair, another one is synchronising sound recordings with a light installation and the last one is sorting socks. „What’s up with the socks?“-„These are August’s, we need to film them.“ They have an affinity for video installations in common, so it’s no surprise that moving image is again quite prominent in this current work of theirs. But it doesn’t stop there. The group is highly involved with appropriating the space they have chosen for the final exhibition. Imaginatively, they make use of and adapt to the conditions given by it. Right behind the old mint-coloured door window on the back wall that has a charming patina, they’re installing a “firework” out of LED lights that is complemented by sounds. The bricked-up fireplace reminiscent of old times has been turned into a screen with effect-laden projections that react to the viewer’s movements and suck the eye into a tunnel of receding frames. There are several other objects, all of which have a somewhat offbeat and enigmatic aura. But because the space still serves as workshop and is cluttered with technical equipment, cables, coloured foil, wine bottles, snacks and craft tools, it’s tricky to discern what’s part of the art work and what isn’t. Evenly distributed in the space are hidden speakers that create a cocooning, polyphonic mesh of voices. Four voices of various temperatures and accents each of them telling a different story. The voices are their own.

Rainolter has climbed a ladder to adjust the lighting. Together, they consult about what kind of light and colours to use. The way they discuss is composed, almost tender. They never get into fights, they say. „Only sometimes when I can’t sleep at night, I can get a little bit upset.“, says soft-spoken Zhang. „But in those cases, we express our thoughts, talk it through and then keep going.“ Not that they agree on everything. They have, for example, quite different ideas of how to deal with the audience. Should they let in only one person at once? Or more? Or not set any restriction at all? This leads them to ponder and remind themselves of what kind of experience they want people to have when entering their space. They explain that they want to address the audience on many layers but especially so on the level of memory. By attaching the objects and stories in the space to their own experiences of home, they hope that whoever enters the room might find his or her own memories or feelings of being at home reflected by what the installation evokes. To this end, they aim to weave spatial and temporal presence with a sense of lack or absence, of something missing or bygone. The firework, for instance, represents the feeling of a faraway celebration or gathering that you—in the solitude of your own four walls—feel strangely separated from.

It is such shared (and perhaps generation-based) human experiences that they’ve merged into this space which could be perceived as some sort of archive of fleeting memories of home or even as a quirky time capsule looking a bit like your psychedelic grandparents’ living room. They do so, however, by using a rather abstract aesthetic language. And, aesthetically speaking, it’s quite impressive to see how the four of them apparently keep finding each other. Liao has a thoughtful, gentle yet at the same time political spirit. Zhang is equally delicate as she is passionate. Rainolter is openminded and utterly pragmatic and Liu has an empathic and supportive character. Considering this, maybe it’s not so surprising after all that they ended up (or continued) working together. They all are adaptable, curious, and, well, also slightly eccentric in nature. On our way to dinner, when asked where they usually go to eat, Zhang says: „We usually try new things.“ Needless to say, this serves the experimental tone of their work.

One last elemental feature of this hyper-trans-disciplinary-ultra-multimedia-savvy team must be mentioned. Despite the relaxed attitude that they radiate, they don’t spare any effort to get the details right. This is why they easily spend some ten hours in video editing or other detail work to realise their unorthodox ideas. Rainolter laughs when telling me this. A good example is the fish in the suitcase. Yes, there’s a fish in a suitcase. But this would take to long to explain. Let me just say this much: these people are nerds. Artful, devoted, inventive and, luckily, very sociable nerds. Taking this into account and to come full circle, it certainly doesn’t matter whether they can name a discipline that they most identify with. It seems to me that they are much more interested in dealing with certain themes or phenomena that personally concern them and in transmitting actual, felt experience than in limiting themselves to a single medium or field of focus. Besides, they are explorers, eager to cover new ground in terms of creative expression, specialised in versatility.