Belgian’s exhibit explores consumerism and technology
AS China’s Singles Day promotions kick off another year’s shopping spree online over the weekend, Belgian artist Francis Alÿs’ works at the Rockbund Art Museum couldn’t provide a better application to the situation in China, where the lives of people are more and more controlled by consumerism and the efficiencies of technology.
Such a notion is tightly wound into Alÿs’ artistic practice in almost all of his nearly 1,300 works currently on display at “La dépense” — the artist’s first institutional solo exhibition in China. It includes videos, paintings, drawings, sketches and installations, some of which have never been shown to the public before.
La dépense, which can be translated as “consumption,” is an excess energy central to Georges Bataille’s thinking, in which he pointed out that “excessively non-productive consumption (dépense improductive) is just as important in human activity as productive consumption.”
From 2000 to 2010, Alÿs stationed himself in the plateaus of Mexico with a handheld video camera, boldly rushing towards the eyes of tornadoes. His video work “Tornado” visually narrates a flippant, non-productive act. As Alÿs stated, “we of our times must create fables.”
Similarly, in the latest video work “Exodus” (2013-2018), a girl repeatedly braids and unbraids her hair. In this less-than-one-minute duration video, the artist created close to 1,000 hand-drawn sketches, which will all be presented at the exhibition.
The repeated spiral braiding action of the hands bears a conditional relation to the tornadoes, while at the same time creating a sharp contrast within the work.
“Here you will find direct encounters and physical involvement of the sort gradually threatened and forgotten by our digitized world, as well as suggestions that make us aware of, or recognize anew, the value of manual work,” explains the curator Yuko Hasegawa.
Born in Belgium in 1959, Alÿs was trained as an architect before re-locating to Mexico City in 1986, where he has been based ever since. He is best known for his actions, which he documents in various ways, some merely involving the artist walking through the city.
His new painting series “Nei Mongol” (2017) came from trips he made to Shanghai and Inner Mongolia last year. This recalls the series Loop (1997) made during his first visit to Shanghai in the 1990s, a journey where the artist continually traveled in a southeastward around the world. This ensured that the artist undertook the longest possible route back to his departure point, ensuring that his journey would finish on the border separating Mexico and the USA, but from the other side.
This epic of anti-economic creative logic offers a good example of the principle “maximum effort, minimum result” that could be read as the postulate running behind the works on display in this exhibition.
In the meantime, a series of public education events, including lectures and workshops, will be held to further engage the audience with the ideas of the artist’s work.
Date: Through February 24 (closed on Mondays), 10am-6pm
Venue: Rockbund Art Museum Address: 20 Huqiu Rd