The wall text for Chen Shaoxiong and Liu Ding’s “Project Without Space” characterizes it as an “iteration,” suggesting a serial repetition— one instance on top of the last, in a process of refinement. Now that it has reached its sixth version, what lessons can we draw from these critical installations?
Spread over three rooms, “Project Without Space #6” takes a number of forms. In one room, two new walls provide the setting for two videos and two paintings. One video records the artists installing their previous “Project Without Space #5” (earlier in 2012, at Magician Space down the road in 798). The video is accelerated and subtitles appear over the image, apparently a record of the artists’ conversations regarding their work and activities (“However you want to paint this one, just go ahead and do it”; “Our intellectual production is our work”). The other video shows the two artists sitting in a café, evidently engaging in conversation, with a similar series of subtitles. Meanwhile, the paintings bring together forms that suggest other painted artworks from (predominantly Western) art history over the previous century, the most recognizable perhaps being several flat colored shapes from The Snail by Henri Matisse.
The second room follows this format with different content: a video presents the artists in profile, sitting on either side of a plank of wood onto which they apply paint, and again the subtitles make an appearance. It appears this plank of wood is one of the five works mounted on the opposite wall, each painted in the distinctive patterns of Australian indigenous artwork. In the third room, the artists have somewhat reneged on their relationship, presenting two solo works each. Chen Shaoxiong’s are new examples from his “Collective Memory” series, and take the form of photographic images of, in the first case, the new CCTV Tower in Beijing, and in the second, of a pagoda and the Potala Palace in Tibet. These images are created from thousands of gray dots— a hand-made representation of a printing screen that simultaneously forms and breaks down these politically and socially loaded images. Liu Ding presents works from 2007’s “The Remaining Landscape.” In these he applies colored nail polish to gold-mirrored acrylic sheet, creating gloopy images combining in both cases two elements: a scholar’s rock and a car here, a pagoda and missile there (simply interpreted, the old and the new).
It must be said these paintings lack the force of the installations of videos and paintings, which are “critical” in their self-questioning: What does it say about our understanding of the source paintings when they are (mis-)quoted so liberally? What is the relation between subtitles and image, itself the production of a work? In Chen and Liu’s case this questioning is applied as much to the work’s constituent surroundings as to the works themselves. As part of this process the artists seem to wish to directly engage the audience in their questioning tactics: to implicate the audience in the process such that their consciousness of place within this process is raised. The tone of voice in the subtitles and the wall text verge on the patronizing, but can also be read as polite and open (in the latter the artists “invite the viewer to interpret whatever forms or whatever states they are able or unable to imagine”).
“Project Without Space #6” employs elements from previous exhibitions, and introduces the artists’ new productions of their own Australian indigenous paintings. The eclecticism displayed in Chen Shaoxiong and Liu Ding’s adoption of these new forms might seem to lack relevance to their overall methodology, but in fact, it points to the way that contemporary, modern, and (in this case) indigenous art are all capable of absorption within a monolithic system of art. This system frames all art produced and seen within it, and it is this framing process with which Chen and Liu tinker in this exhibition.