Archive for June, 2014

Art Basel /Hong Kong, May 2014

June 23, 2014

Maybe as B.B.King once warned “the thrill is gone”, or perhaps there are other reasons, but this year’s iteration of the Art Basel Fair in Hong Kong has lost some of its shine since its 2013 inception. With 162 exhibitors on two floors, compared to last year’s 245 exhibitors on three, this year’s event felt notably diminished.

Art Basel /Hong Kong 2014, as last year was composed of three sectors:

The Insights sector showcases 47 projects from Asia-Pacific* regional galleries who provide themed, art-historical, or solo exhibitions from the work two or more artists from within the region.

Delights to be found include these two somber works in sculpture by Jaume Plensa.

The Discoveries sector highlights 27 presenters, introducing the work of one or two emerging artists, with new work, preferably created specifically for the event.


Finally, the Encounters sector includes 17 large scale, sculpture and installation projects created by principal artists from around the globe, selected by the Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, and curator of the Sharjah Biennial 11, Yuko Hasegawa.


Hurting the event more significantly is the fact that a catalog documenting the exhibitors, artists, and the sectors was not distributed as usual. In its place was a publication, A Year 44, which instead documents the 44 year history of the Art Basel milieu across the three sites in Miami, Florida; Basel, Switzerland; and Hong Kong.


As a result it was not possible to ‘look to the catalog’ to fill in the memory of installations and featured works, overlooked, or noted only in passing. Because of this, I will only present here those works, which I focused on from a small selection of galleries. This selection in no way suggests that there were not other galleries, or artworks worth a mention, it only presents the limits of my endurance and the time frame of my visit.


Certainly, there were many wonderful pieces from both newer and older, established artists mixed among the booths. It was the discovery of these works that made the visit worth while. A nice example were the two sculptural works from South African artist, William Kentridge I discovered at Marian Goodman’s booth. More familiar with Mr. Kentridge’s films and drawings these works were, for me, new and novel. A treasure uncovered.


Other items of interest included Gu Wenda, Metamorphosis a composition of Human hair, glue and rope, it is a cleaver play with ancient Chinese and Western calligraphy.


There were a couple of installations that drew lots of attention, most significant was artist He Xiangyu’s The Death of Marat, 2011 a tongue in cheek reference to the Jacques-Louis David painting of 1793, which documents the murder of French revolutionary writer and critic Jean-Paul Marat. Xiangyu’s installation consists of the life-size corpse of artist, activist Ai WeiWei a cultural figure outspoken in his critique of Chinese politics and vocal on social issues.


A second installation The Comforter by Patricia Piccinini consists of a wax figure of a young girl of perhaps 12 sitting on the floor of the exhibition hall. Her life-like replication could be mistaken for a living girl, except for the fact that she is cradling in her arms a rather grotesque creature. As one draws closer to the work facial and body hair on the girl herself give a clue that she is also an aberration.



Other finds were at James Cohan Fine Art with a sculpture by Yinka Shonibare. A legacy piece from 1985 by Jean-Michael Basquiat, which remains today as gritty and contemporary as the day it was painted was presented by KUKJE Gallery. In a nearby gallery, Galerie Side 2 the Basquiat was nicely contrasted with an artwork entitled, Jesrsey by Udomsak Krisanamis.






Lin Tianmiao had more of her excellent sculptures at Galerie Lelong’s this year. Last year, my 2013 Art Basel review, also to be found in this blog, provided an introduction to her great work. Another new find was Claudio Parmiggiani presented by Meessen de Clercq Galerie. Parmiggiani creates smoke ‘drawings’, which include the skull shown here. The drawings that struck me most from Parmiggiani were a series of bookcases, on view in a catalog of Parmiggiani’s work. The smoke rendered books in these drawings retained a haunted presence, evoking for me Micha Ullman’s memorial to the Nazi book burnings placed at Bebelplatz in Berlin, Germany.


He An could be found at Galerie Daniel Templon with examples of his recycled signage, which bracket the work of Choy Chun Wei, who also works with text on interwoven segments of fabric shown by Wei-Ling Gallery.



* With a region including Asia, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent galleries may originate from countries from Turkey eastward to New Zealand.


Laurie Anderson at the Macau International Music Festival – November 2014

June 21, 2014

Laurie Anderson at the Macau International Music Festival 11/2014

L Anderson

I have followed Ms. Anderson’s work since the premiere of United States in New York in 1981. Her early work a composite mix of media: I remember a film of laundry spinning in the clothes dryer and an audio track from a telephone answering machine, spoke about the banality of modern urban life.  The work she presented here in Macau, The Language of the Future is more reflective, commenting on the nature of memory itself. She begins by putting her magic ability to work weaving a mesh of poetic imagery with a story on the origins of memory.

As she narrates it, the early world is a world with no land, no sea, only sky, but a world filled with birds. The birds must fly endlessly as there is no surface upon which they may alight. The father of one of the birds dies and the avian community is confronted with a delima, what to do with the body. After much deliberation the birds decide that the daughter of the deceased should store her father’s body among the feathers on her head. Because of this gesture memory is born.

Her work in Macau had no video, and few special effects employing only her trademark voice modulations, used to alter the sound of her narrative and an on-screen translation of her text into Chinese and Portuguese. But her work does not suffer from the absence of these elements, on the contrary her ability as a master weaver of tales, perhaps only rivaled by the late Spaulding Grey, is highlighted by this sparse staging. Her stories, extremely autobiographical, or at least presented as such, touch upon early experiences of loss and hardship. One story tells of a diving accident, which if we believe it is true, happens to her as a young girl trying to show off at the swimming pool and ending with her in the hospital with a broken spine coming to terms with a doctor’s admission that she may never walk again.  “He must be crazy” she exclaims, and as we can see his prediction did not come to pass.

Her stories merge on revelation. The revelation that she may not be able to walk is followed by another story concerning the realization that what started as a Zen retreat would end as a lesson in patience as the tranquil landscape was transformed by a campsite full of raucous visitors.

Seeing her here in Macau, where I have been resident in neighboring Zhuhai for the last three years brought a touch of homesickness to this long-time New York City resident. Of course the city has changed radically since the 1980’s and my fond reflections vanished at her mention of the post 9-11 realities of New York. In specific she spoke of the red and orange level security activities outside her windows, which overlook New York’s end of the Holland Tunnel. With that she mentioning that she tries to stay out of town as often as possible, as a result.

This brought to mind an ‘incident’ of my own experience in 2005 at the 59th Street subway station, returning home from an art opening one evening with my wife. As the train pulled into the station armed police officers drew their weapons on a subway car full of riders, panning the seated passengers with their extended weapons. All this was during a search for a missing patrolman, so I was told. It also stirred to mind the ‘Stop and Frisk’ policies of the Bloomberg era and the general transformation of New York City under ex-mayor Rudolph Giuliani into what looked more like what I had witnessed of fascist controlled Madrid during the reign of Francisco Franco, than the city that ex-mayor John Lindsey referred to as ‘Fun City’.

But putting all that aside I must say Anderson’s performance of The Language of the Future reminded me of her magic in weaving poetic imagery with words.

DESH by Akram Khan at the Macau Cultural Center, June 20, 2014

June 21, 2014

Snapshot - 8

DESH a solo performance by dancer/choreographer, Akram Khan with set design by Tim Yip, music by Jocelyn Pook, lighting design by Michael Hulls, and scripted by writer, poet Karthika Nair. Duration: 80 minutes with no interval

“An identity would seem to be arrived at by the way in which the person faces and uses his experience.” James Baldwin

Identity is a story we assemble from fragments, in the stories we hear from parent and other elders, and in the cultural icons we come to identify with. In DESH, which means ‘homeland’ in Bengali, we see a man in pursuit of those fragments and in this case masterfully weaving them together in a tableau of extreme beauty.

In speaking of the movement seen in DESH Khan says he recognizes and admires the work of his contemporaries like Pina Bausch with her Dance, Theater Wuppertal as well as other Western sources, Michael Jackson, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, as well as Buster Keaton to name a few, but he goes on to say that for this work he sampled the scenes of his ancestral home Bangladesh. We see the gestures of fishermen, taxi drivers, weavers, beggars and others who he encountered during his 10 day research mission to the shipyards and villages of Bangladesh.

Sledge hammer

Indeed the opening scene, a man hammering the grave of his father with a massive sledge hammer, Khan said was inspired by the 12 year old boys who he saw at Bengali shipyards pummeling massive sheet of steel, in an attempt to flatten them. As he points out the hammering symbolizes frustration. He also referred to a few instances where the Shaolin martial arts find a place in the work brought in during interactions with a movement trainer who practiced these arts.

As Sanjoy Roy, points out in his review of this work, “DESH feels very connected to Khan’s home ground: kathak. Not that it’s a kathak piece; rather, kathak’s mode of presentation – solo episodes in which the performer freely ‘becomes’ different characters and evokes the presence of others through gesture, mime and address – is abundantly present in DESH.*”


In a word the movements in this performance are convulsive, as Akram Khan himself puts it he has extreme bursts of energy, “You contain, and contain, and then explode on stage,” he said as he explained that he was always better at the 100 meter dash, as opposed to a marathon. But this does not translate into an assemblage of sporadic elements, here the movement is masterfully woven and fluid like the water which Khan claims as an inspiration. “I am fascinated by water inside the earth, it is the core principle of the way I think and move, fluidity within form…” he says in the program notes.

Snapshot - 9A

The stories of origin he weaves on stage are magical, There is a dream-like quest for honey by the son of a poor beekeeper, beautifully illustrated on stage with black and white video animated drawings. The animated exploration continues on a ship, an encounter with a white elephant (considered sacred in many Asian cultures), and a climb high into the trees of a virtual forest. Khan mentioned a reference to Alice in Wonderland when he elected to bring an over-sized white chair onto the set, its use evoking the different perspective and mystery of childhood. In addition, the artist constructs a shadow play at moments behind the chair calling to mind scenes of Asian puppet theater, or the scenes one might encounter as family life takes place behind the stage of a drawn curtain.

The heart touching interaction he has on set with an imaginary small girl, a niece, is a completely fictional interaction as Akram neither has a child, nor a niece, but it shows his extreme mastery and command of his production, clearly an artist with a keen sense of what is needed in the presentation. Through this scene you see as he clearly struggles with the words and stories of his father, which get internalized as fear in the ear of his niece. We see an attempt to find balance in negotiating the questions and duties of a parent figure in the present, while shouldering the burdens of the past.

Elephant encounter

DESH closes with a turbulent scene, an extreme struggle of man and machine, a huge industrial fan placed on set. He is blinded by a violently fluttering cloth which has blown across his face covered his head. At the same time his body is buffeted by the exhaust of the fan. Akram Khan went into great detail describing the origin of this prop, and its use, as he had to argue and justify its presence on the stage with his collaborators. Akram Khan explained that when he found the fan sitting at the back of a theater in Grenoble, France its sheer mass and state of ruin were what attracted him to the device, as he pointed out it was the kind of technology one would find in Bangladesh. He goes on to say, “This performance is a contemporary work and as such any object I use should have multiple meanings. You project memory onto an object.” In this case the fan closely approximated the jet aircraft engine which, as his story tells us his father had to climb into to clean, because he was a small enough man to do so, part of his job as cook for a crew of Pakistani pilots before Bangladesh’s independence. The scene becomes the struggle of a man fighting the winds of change, or the past and clearly overwhelmed by the task.

In an interview following the performance Akram Khan explains that this work, 2 years in the making, is not a memorial to a dead father. In fact he clarifies that his father is still alive and was present for DESH’s (2011) World premiere on 15 Sept 2011, at the Curve Theater, in Leicester London. So although the work is highly autobiographical and emotive it is not driven by the loss of a dead parent, or the guilt associated with it. As Khan explains it is stagecraft where art expands upon life and augments it.