What does it mean to be an artist in today’s global world on hyperdrive? Is it possible to create work related to our common, frantic journey? In an interview for the September 2009 issue of Frieze, Sylvère Lotringer stated, “We all seem to be engaged at this point in a war of movement whose purpose and outcome mostly exceeds our control or understanding.”1 Sanford Kwinter wrote, “It is as if today one were forced into a new type of intellectual and cultural warfare, forced to accept the mobile and shifting nature of the phenomena that make up our social and political world…”2 and Paul Virilio stated, “Today, the strategic value of speed’s no-place has definitely outstripped the value of place.3
In his recent book, The Radicant, Nicolas Bourriaud poses the question, “why is it that globalization has so often been discussed from sociological, political, and economic points of view, but almost never from an aesthetic perspective?”4
“Nowheresville” at General Hardware Contemporary brings together work by artists from the Philippines, China, England, Switzerland, Iran, the U.S.A., and Canada. It is obviously not a shared origin that links this diverse group of artists, but rather a shared experience of living and working in the-in-between.
Sometimes drawing directly from personal histories, much of the work isn’t afraid to reach into the emotional realm, investigating transitory territories that are not static but precarious and constantly moving, shifting, mutating, warping, and becoming. Often, the artists’ direct experiences of what Bourriaud calls “mental nomadism” where “trajectories become forms”, replace the question of origin with that of destination. The “journey forms” explored by this international grouping of artists address both the personal affect of globalization on their artistic practices and the resulting aesthetic of displacement.
Gwendolyn Noel Repass
Sophie Baker has her MA from The Chelsea College of Art, her BA from Goldsmiths and splits her time between her houseboat on the various canals of London, her Hackney studio, and any number of locations on her personal journeys. Recent shows in London and Oxford feed from her trips to a place she romantically calls “The New World”. These travels have included North America but also Sweden, the French woodlands, and the wild Hebrides Islands. She writes, “while America has always stood for that in our global collective cultural idea of what that country is, it’s just as much a state of mind that can be found in places that others have given up on or overlooked…”. Her desolate, abandoned and possibly forgotten landscapes are often about what is left. This speaks as much of the emotional residue as the physical.
Guocheng Chen has his MA from The Chelsea College of Art, his BA Fine Art from the Art College of Hebei Normal University, China and has shown extensively in London. Employing a variety of what he terms, techniques of expression, Guocheng strives for a relationship with nature, one he understands more and more, is a fragile one. While based in the U.K., he reflects often on the speed of transition in his home country of China while wrestling that line between figuration and abstraction and that location he says lies somewhere between the inner world and the outer one.
Dennis Gonzales, a graduate of the Fine Arts program at the University of the Philippines, has won many of the major art prizes in his country including the Metrobank Foundation’s Awards for Continuing Excellence and Service. This is given for consistency in pursuit of creative excellence by the Cultural Center of the Philippines and is one of the most prestigious plums in the country for young contemporary artists. He has shown his work in venues throughout the Philippines and Asia, notable among them being the Vietnam Fine Art Museum in Hanoi, Malaysia National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University Museum in Bangkok and the Singapore Art Museum. Often sinister and disturbing, the work is frequently challenging. His early paintings, dense with crowds were possibly influenced by trips to the racetrack as a child where his father worked as a racecourse jockey. As these progressed and developed it soon became very apparent that much more was going on here. Picking up on the cues, one realizes that they inform and dialogue with issues of power and corruption, from current day politicians all the way back to almost every colonial influence on the Philippines with a tongue-in-cheek use of Catholic iconography, American Pop and even Japanese appropriation. As the writer, Alice Guillermo predicts, the growing world of Gonzales’ paintings are “firmly grounded in Philippine society, a work with vision and identity enriched by the best contemporary resources at his bidding”.
Christian Gonzenbach, lives and works in Geneva, is a tutor at the Geneva University of Art and Design (HEAD) and also has his MA from the Chelsea College of Art. A leading figure in the contemporary art scene in French Switzerland, he is the recipient of many awards and artist grants and his extensive international exhibition record includes participation in the Swiss Art Awards in Basel. Solo exhibitions of his in just 2011 include “Zoonomia” at La Condition Publique in Roubaix and Museo Cantonale d’Arte Ticino in Lugano.
Nam Nguyen has his MFA from Nscad University in Halifax, his BFA from Emily Carr University and initially came to Europe as a recipient of the Joseph Plaskett Foundation Award. On this most recent work, he writes:
“Born and raised in Edmonton, my artistic identity is deeply informed by my experiences of wandering through the suburban sprawl of my hometown. Having lived in five cities across Canada and travelled extensively throughout Europe, I have come to understand my formative experiences in Edmonton as an initial engagement with a single node that exists within a vast network of globalized consumer infrastructure. Working from photographs taken of Edmonton’s and North America’s largest shopping mall, my recent drawings analyze how the confluence of architectural mechanisms such as lighting, mirrored surfaces and escalators function to efface a meaningful specificity of time and place.”
Infiltrating this new realm of the aesthetic in globalism, Nguyen focuses on the nodes or hubs, be they busy stations or the omnipresent no place of the vast shopping mall where he grew up, places that too often for Nam, suggest an incoherent void.
Gwendolyn Noel Repass has her MA from The Chelsea College of Art, her BA Fine Art from the University of Virginia and has performed and shown her work in both London and Virginia.
Anahita Rezvani-Rad has her MA from the Chelsea College of Art and Design, her BA in Painting from Azad University in Tehran and is working towards her PHD in Orientalism in the Contemporary World from the University of East London. Anahita has her work in some of the major art collections in the world. Instilled with this concept of cultural hybridity, Anahita Rad’s work is very much about having left her country of origin, Iran, feeling less connected to it, and yet, not feeling English in her new home of London. Adopting the attitude as proposed by Bourriaud that it is the destination, not the origin that artists should embrace, she feels free and empowered in a new country in her imagination. She asks herself very important questions:
“What would it bring about to break free of the political and cultural orbit of the nation- state? What alternative forms of personal and collective identity are possible in this brave, new global world? What does it really mean to be a transnational or diasporic citizen?”
Josephine Turalba is an interdisciplinary artist based in Manila who incorporates painting, photography, video, sound and installation to explore her subject matter. She received her MFA in New Media from Transart Institute at Universität Krems in Austria in 2009. She explores issues of violence, migration, wealth, power and identity. Her interdisciplinary projects take a visceral approach to the politics of violence focusing on the workings of personal trauma, depicting traces and spaces including places where empathy translates into healing. She bravely draws from her own past marked by personal tragedy, taking ownership of the materials of this violence with items such as spent ammunition and shot gun shells which she weaves and fuses into her sculptures, performances and videos leaving traces of the past that speak of an enormous displacement. In this case, it is an emotional displacement, marked by loss but one in which the artist chooses to both address the past and continue forward on her time line.
All 8 of these artists have embarked on their own journey with their practices, one that often leaves them exploring the-in-between. For some, like Josephine, it lies between trauma and hope. For others, it may mark regions between a former homeland and a new one that isn’t yet, home. Niccolas Bourriaud calls the new, emerging figure of the artist, a semionaut:
“ a creator of paths in a landscape of signs. Inhabitants of a fragmented world in which objects and forms leave the beds of their original cultures and disperse across the planet, they wander in search of connections to establish.”5
Gwendolyn Noel Repass, like Josephine, creates a work reaching into a personal history that is touched by personal loss. Her own background shares roots in America and Taiwan and the video seen in this show actually came about during a time living in London, where deep memories and emotions were triggered by the fear of the loss of her dog. It is a personal story but one that brings up associations felt by many artists in today’s global environment. We often ask, “where do we come from?” Increasingly we wonder, “where are we going?” Christian Gonzenbach had the impetus to create his claymation work during the flights between graduate school in London and his new, growing family in Geneva. Guocheng Chen ponders on the natural world in China while painting in the dense city in south London. Dennis Gonzales investigates the emerging political realm of the Philippines while equally drawing from its rich colonial past.
Again, it brings us back to Bourriaud’s question about an emerging, global, aesthetic and perspective. The resulting art form from such artists, or semionauts is the altermodern.
“ We should no longer speak here of forms but rather of interforms. The cultural object – larval, mutant, letting its origin appear under the more or less opaque layer of its new use or of the new combination in which it happens to be captured – no longer exists except between two contexts. It flickers, winks. Through hints – woven between the lines, diaphanous…”6
Christian Gonzenbach collaborations actually involve real larvae. Yes, real maggots are dipped in Japanese calligraphy ink (with no shellac to harm them) and the flickering, winking, diaphanous Rorschach-like images sometimes resemble butterflies. Just as Josephine’s media of spent shotgun shells and bullets refer to a past, one that she wishes to rise from and transform, Gonzenbach’s use of maggots and ink also suggests a process along such a journeyform. The very name of his recent solo show at the Museo Cantonale d’Arte, titled Oligoneoptera is a clue. Oligoneoptera is a superorder of insects characterized by metamorphic development, both morphological and anatomical that is differentiated between larval and adult stage. Gonzenbach’s practice itself is one characterized by continuous metamorphosis. His broad practice moves diaphanously between the everyday and the extraordinary, often touching on the realm of science while approaching the poetic, peaking into the dark with a sense of humour, it nevertheless constantly evolves.
In a recent bit of writing on this past summer’s London riots, Slavoj Žižek brings up Alain Badious’ argument that the social space in which we live is increasingly experienced as worldless. Such irrational outbursts on the streets of Hackney appear devoid of any sense but that seems the point. Meaningless outbursts of violence may be a consequence of rampant global capitalism where impotent rage is the rabble’s only outlet and what Hegel called abstract negativity.7
Abstract negativity is on view for us all to see more and more each day. Artists sometimes hold up a mirror. The mirror itself sometimes warps and mutates. Our shifting, evolving viewpoint changes with it. Recognition may come in the warped yet banal public spaces depicted by Nam Nguyen, Sophie Baker’s forgotten yet romantic landscape, the breaking voice of Gwendolyn Noel Repass, the appropriated ammunition worn defiantly by Josephine Turalba, the wry drawings and paintings of Dennis Gonzales, the reflections in Guocheng’s supposed abstractions, the shifting and evolving viewpoint of Anahita or the swishing ink trails from Christian’s larvae. The state of being in flux is nothing new to many artists. It seems more common all the time. The territories that artists map are transitory. They are precarious and not static but constantly moving, shifting, mutating, warping, becoming….
These eight international artists provide an example of the physical, emotional and critical trajectories and journey-forms chosen by artists. Their work will continue to expand and evolve along with unfolding global aesthetics.
Matthew Carver is a Canadian artist who has shown internationally in locations such as Berlin, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, London and last winter’s 12th Cairo Biennale. He has been profiled by Asian Art News magazine, is a winner of The Canadian Emerging Artist Prize (RBC Painting Prize), received his Masters with “Distinction” from The Chelsea College of Art and has written about contemporary Chinese and Filipino art for Canadian Art and Border Crossings magazines. The exhibition includes an essay by Matthew who has spent most of the past decade far away.
1 Lotringer, Sylvère “Intelligence Agency”, Frieze http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/intelligence_agency/ (Issue 125 September 2009)
2 Kwinter, Sanford, Architectures of Time: Toward a Theory of the Event in Modernist Culture
3Virilio, Paul , The Vision Machine, p. 31
4 Bourriaud, Nicolas, The Radicant, p. 7
5 Bourriaud, Nicolas, The Radicant, p. 102
6 Bourriaud, Nicolas, The Radicant, p. 156
7 Žižek, Slavoj, “Shoplifters of the World Unite”, London Review of Books http://www.lrb.co.uk/2011/08/19/slavoj-zizek/shoplifters-of-the-world-unite