Chinese Cultural Nomads Find an Oasis
Transnational is the new buzzword in curatorial circles, aimed at artists whose cultural identity is fluid, a hybrid of the many countries where they have lived, studied and now work.
Cici Wu, Ho King Man and Wang Xu are three such artists, who were born in China, educated in the United States and now call New York their home. In 2015 they turned their shared studio in Chinatown into an ad hoc alternative art space and impromptu residency program called Practice. Run on a shoestring budget that’s covered by their income from part-time jobs, and with no website, Practice has attracted a word-of-mouth following among young international artists who, like the founders, lead nomadic lives.
“What we are trying to do is to find a new alternative to identity politics, to put our Chinese identity on a lower level and open ourselves to something more focused on the relationship between the three of us,” said Ms. Wu, a recent M.F.A. graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art who endearingly works artspeak into heartfelt statements about their mission.
“我们想为身份政治找到一种新的替代，将我们的中国身份放到更低的位置，敞开自己，去接触更侧重于我们三人关系的东西，”最近刚从马里兰艺术学院(Maryland Institute College of Art)获得艺术硕士学位的吴茜茜说道。她以讨人喜欢的方式将艺术鉴赏评语变成了有关他们使命的诚挚宣言。
Ms. Wu and her two partners now have a new opportunity to test their ideas, not as curators but as artists, at their first collaborative show, opening this week at the 47 Canal gallery. Working to the last minute to finish the installation, they are similar to many artists who have limited gallery experience, despite having run a space of their own.
“They are still in that very idealistic place in their practice and they have a very open-ended idea about what this exhibition experience can be,” said Margaret Lee, a founder of 47 Canal and its director.
Mr. Wang has the most developed solo career and regularly shuttles among artist residencies, a studio in Beijing and the Practice space on Eldridge Street. Yet he hardly can be described as a jet setter, coming from a modest family in Dalian, where his father was a taxi driver. Having studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and Columbia University’s graduate program in visual arts, Mr. Wang combines formal Chinese training in realist sculpture with a Conceptual bent that he picked up in New York.
He presents a contemporary version of a Greek kouros, a standing nude minus a head, with a surface of pebbly gray clay that seems as if it might disintegrate at any moment. Antique hooks placed around the body turn the work into a somewhat silly coat rack that invites interaction but diminishes its impact.
Mr. Wang’s video is more engaging, projected on an adjacent wall. He traces his steps during a residency upstate in which he lived in a hut made of wood and clay gathered from the forest. Here, his only human interaction is with the resident gardener, who creates crop circles in lush fields as he rides on a mower the size of a golf cart. In the course of the 11-minute video, Mr. Wang makes clay and fashions an oversize bust of the gardener, building layer upon layer by hand until the sculpture becomes a realistic rendition of the man before him.
Ms. Wu, who grew up in Beijing and studied in Hong Kong before coming to the States in 2012, has developed an intriguing vocabulary that uses electronics and machinery to surprisingly intimate effect. To create her installation “Closer, Closer, Says Love,” she sneaked into movie theaters with a device that recorded the ambient light, not the film being shown. The resulting imageless video is then projected onto a mechanism with light sensors (not unlike an automatic door) that responds by shuttling two ragged sleeve cuffs back and forth, like forlorn lovers who keep trying to meet but are ultimately yanked apart. Casting shadows on the wall of the gallery, the installation conveys the sense of watching a romantic encounter, achieved almost magically with minimal, mundane materials.
吴女士在北京长大，2012年来到美国之前曾在香港学习，她使用电子产品和机械装置，创作了一个有趣的词汇，达到的效果之亲密令人惊讶。她的装置艺术名为“近一点，近一点，说爱”(Closer, Closer, Says Love)，为了这个作品，她带着设备潜入电影院，记录下背景光的变化，而不是拍摄播放中的电影。然后她把这些无影像的视频投影到一个有光传感器的装置上（类似一扇自动门），让两个褴褛的袖口来回飘荡，如同两个绝望的恋人，不断想要接近对方，但最终仍然分隔两端。这个装置将阴影投射在画廊的墙上，借助渺小而平凡的材料，近乎神奇地传达了观看一场浪漫邂逅的感觉。
Finally, a spotlight on a small book resting on a wooden table invites viewers to read the words within its pages. This work, by Mr. Ho, provides an English translation of the poetry of Ren Hang, a Beijing photographer best known for his surrealistic images of naked young models in provocative poses. Mr. Ren likes to post poems to his website that are equally suggestive, with titles like “Each Time I Do Something Bad.”
Here, his poems take center stage — no photographs are on view — revealing to American audiences a fresh voice that in this setting can only be engaged by one person at a time. Mr. Ho, who was born in a small town in the south of China, moved with his family to the United States in 2000 and attended Fordham Law School; he is still experimenting with the possibilities of installation, not having yet achieved a fully resolved work.
这次看不到任何照片，他的诗作占据了中心舞台，向美国观众昭示了一个新鲜的声音，在这里的布置中每次只能有一个人与之相呼应。何先生出生在中国南方的一个小镇，2000年与家人一起迁居美国，他进入了福德姆法学院(Fordham Law School)；他仍然在试验装置艺术的可能性，目前还没有拿出一件完全决意的作品。
As a whole, this exhibition has a sweet sentimentality that defies presumed notions of what global Conceptual art should look like or address. “We are attracted to work with an inner independence,” Mr. Ho has said, describing Practice’s criteria for working with artists. The phrase applies equally to the works on view, which are refreshingly free of the critiques of socioeconomic conditions and commodities that often sprout at biennials and art fairs. Everything here is brought to an intimate level, creating the sense of a conversation within a small circle of friends who happen to be participants in a borderless, international network.