Field Trip to Beijing

Beijing trip was amazing, and I am really grateful to see so many exhibitions and art works in a short weekend. As for video-art, the exhibitions have a variety of showcase on how video and visual effects can be extended outside of a single screen, into dislocated screens or even the surrounding space, which are all really good inspirations for my final project.

In all of the time-based art, I like the one by Chang Yun-han, a Taiwanese artist, where in the video, a performer is sitting on the chair, rocking back and forth, telling a story. (Unfortunately I cannot find the name of this piece on both her personal website and the Internet, but here is a picture of it below.)

I didn’t have the opportunity to watch the whole piece, but from my comprehension, it is about a boy keeping a small alligator, which during the process he has to constantly give it a new home because it is getting larger and larger. Throughout it is only the performer, the man wearing mixed clothing with aboriginal element in the video, saying out the story, so it is for the audience to imagine what the “visual” looks like in their head. However, the way the story is told is very special, that it repeats again and again the names of some colors, which are the colors of the alligator and the homes (objects). The representation of scenes by individual colors makes the visualization of the story in our mind even stronger. Standing right in front of the projected glass, I could really picture the story just from what I heard.

I like this piece not only because of the storytelling techniques and the poetic sentences, but also because that it may be addressing that we are easily dominated by visuals with what technology can do today. With all the fancy effects, the communication between us and the new digital world seem to go from strong interactions back to the single way of merely receiving information. But with this piece, with a same story, different people may have different pictures in their imaginations, and somehow we have also become co-creators of the piece.

I especially love the solo exhibition of artist Olafur Eliasson at the Red Brick Art Museum, because some key concepts of him can be seen throughout the art pieces. Ex. self-reflection, interaction between the audience and the artwork. I especially like the follow two because I think they have the strongest concepts.

The round corner (0°, 18°, 36°, 54°, 72°, 90°) is an installation with mirrors placing on the corners between walls at different angles. The two mirrors together make a single circle, and the audience will always be at the center along with the line, no matter where the person is. According to the tour guide, Eliasson is trying to convey that an art work has to have its audience’s reactions in order to be an art work, and it is also about self-reflection and dominating of self when viewing an object, with the person’s own perceptions.

Chronobiological sphere (green, blue, purple, red, orange, yellow) is an installation art that includes six glass-balls and other paintings. According to the tour guide, again, this piece is to demonstrate the concept of self-reflection and self-projecting of an audience onto an art work. Interestingly, one see different things when looking at the glass-ball from different angles. First, when I first entered the exhibition room, I saw all colorful balls. But when I walked closer to them, I see myself through the opaque glass, and then black as I continued walking the same direction, slowly moving away, and finally, I saw the paintings through the glass. This shows how we put ourselves, whether our thoughts or experiences, onto the art work, and this may be the way we view the art work, before any true self or deep investigation into the art work itself. The paintings are generated by melting ice from Eliasson’s homecountry, Denmark.

I think they are all deeply related to what I have experimented on in previous assignments, for example, the stop motion assignment that tries to answer the question: what is the meaning of art?

During the trip I also think a lot about the process of us taking in, digesting, and reinterpreting those art pieces. We encountered a lot of amazing art works, but there are always two main ways of viewing them. First, one may be completed overwhelmed under the wowness of the piece, then looking at or feeling it for a little bit longer to try to understand what the artist was trying to show. On the other hand, we may be guided by a tour guide throughout the entire journey, getting all the information we “have to” know from the artist’ birth and family to the journey of him/her after the making of the piece. All explained clearly. But is it really clear, or “clear in the right way” the artist intended? There are also different types of tour guides. I felt rushed when I was in the Paul McCarthy’s exhibition, while feeling much more relaxed and enjoyed in the red brick museum, both following the lead of a tour guide. And then there are handouts. Usually at the front desk at the entrance, I take them every time. Sometimes I do read each word carefully, but often times I just want to see the names of the art pieces and without walking very close to the walls, and then I tuck them all into my bag, neatly, of course.

Tour guides and handouts, do we need them or not? It’s hard to say. Chinese learn ancient Chinese poems at school with written definitions on textbooks and lessons taught by teachers. Without education, it is much more impossible for people to read the works, and because it “takes effort” to understand, they will only take a look and walk away. For modern Chinese poems which are also taught, there are times when the author says that the textbooks “misinterpret or over-interpret” the meanings of their works. This may be the same case to art works. I am not saying that these tours offered in exhibitions are not good. They are pretty clear and nice, actually. However, it doesn’t hurt to think about this: do we want to be amazed by all the incredible things about the artist, or do we want to merely experience with the artwork? Interestingly, I found that Chang Yun-han has this piece that seems to convey the inescapable thoughts and direction of thoughts that come along with the tours in exhibitions.

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