Published: February 5, 2008
Like a surging tide, China’s manufacturing boom and explosive urban development inspire both awe and anxiety. “Eastern Standard: Western Artists in China,” on view at Mass MoCA, presents nuanced, individualized perspectives from more than 20 artists and filmmakers who offer up a fresh look at this rapidly changing nation.
The artists †both established and emerging, from Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Sweden and the United States †are engaged with China on a variety of levels. Many have had lengthy residencies, some have permanent studios there, others have made multiple visits; but they all look with new eyes at a country.
The exhibition includes three new commissions by Roma Pas, Lucy Raven and collaborators Oliver Lyons and Alexis Raskin. Major works by Tobias Bernstrup, David Cotterrell, Annika Larsson, David Thomas and the team of Patty Chang and David Kelley will all make their United States debut at Mass MoCA. Additional works by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, Jules de Balincourt, Sarah Beddington Edward Burtynsky, Lana Lin, Walter McConnell, Michael Wolf, and Catherine Yass are included.
Out of the 21 works on views, 12 are video installations. An extensive documentary film program will be presented in the galleries in conjunction with the show.
“The works in the exhibition provide personal glimpses at the astounding changes happening in China,” says exhibition curator Susan Cross. “The artists’ varied visions include a rich mix of the critical and the poetic, the fictional and the real, the past and the present. Seen together they offer a multivalent view of China, and one that acknowledges that as Westerners we may never fully understand this vast, complex country.”
While the New York skyline is a quintessential image of the modern city, the silhouette of Shanghai has become an iconic representation of a contemporary megalopolis. Tobias Bernstrup’s video installation “Mantis City,” 2006, recasts Shanghai as a sci-fi landscape home to a giant praying mantis †reminiscent of Godzilla or King Kong clinging to the Empire State Building.
David Cotterrell reimagines Shanghai’s urban plan in response to the city’s quickly proliferating high-rises in his sculpture “South Facing 4.3,” 2006. Using more than 1,000 plaster models of luxury residential towers (which are quickly taking the place of the more traditional housing structures) Cotterrell replicates officially sanctioned building designs. Each structure faces south at least 15 degrees. Dictated by the Chinese government, the regulation recalls the traditional orientation of the Emperors’ residences and ensures a certain amount of light for each resident. Repeated endlessly, however, the utopian vision morphs into nightmare.
In “Electric Shadows,” 2007, a series of time-lapse videos projected on glass, Oliver Lyons and Alexis Raskin capture what they have described as “The new official China” alongside more vernacular images of a China that may be disappearing.
A new video installation made for Mass MoCA by Lucy Raven looks at two periods of industrialization in China: today, and during the Cultural Revolution in the wake of the effects of the Great Leap forward. “Prophecy,” 2007, suggests a link between nationalism and work that has been an integral part of Chinese culture past and present, whether in the form of communism or free enterprise.
A diptych by Edward Burtynsky from 2002 suggests the colossal changes in the local landscape caused by the dam project, including many of the now-submerged towns whose residents have been displace. Images of these Yangtze River sites, dismantled brick by brick by those who once lived there (for reuse in their new homes), suggest the human, emotional toll of the project.
Mass MoCa (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) is in a restored Nineteenth Century factory campus. For information, 413-662-2111 or www.massmoca.org .
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