Bel­gian’s ex­hibit ex­plores con­sumerism and tech­nol­ogy

Shanghai Daily - - CIIE - Xu Qin

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

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