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New voices, other aesthetics

Douglas Leonard


“MAAP is a concept and a vision, not a place or a time,” according to Kim Machan, speaking indefatigably as director/curator of Excess, Multimedia Art Asia Pacific Festival 2001. This vision over 4 festivals has seen major partnerships developed between regional new media organisations in China, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Australia. Making her stand on behalf of the immediate cultural exchange of artistic voices, Machan warns that the developing economic rationalist rhetoric in Australia seeks to divide the arts and cultural community into those who make money and those who don’t, stigmatising the latter as ‘elite’ and out of touch. The media here is the internet. Lack of infrastructure becomes a strength that allows MAAP to be whatever it wants—international, cross-cultural, transportable.

MAAP 2001 installations were as varied in form as in their conceptual concerns, sometimes savagely sardonic or wittily confronting. Ruark Lewis’ video installation, Untitled 1, deconstructed the written word (Helen Demidenko’s The Hand that Signed the Paper, a notoriously fake historical reconstruction) by physically ripping up the book. Golden Time, by Japanese artists’ collective Candy Factory, projected repeats of a televised aerobics class from Australia to an empty wheelchair located directly beneath a glitzy, suspended noose made from display cable lighting (“we move domestic boredom into different media, to show exactly the same program people are bored with…”). Korean artist Oh Sang Gil’s comment on excess and waste seemingly dripped blood into a toilet bowl until the flushing revealed it as the formalised “minimal aesthetic of an everyday motion.”

My point of entry began at the Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Art where, meditating upon (being meditated upon by) Gong Xin Wang’s triple-screened My Sun (see RT45 p22) coloured and toned subsequent encounters: the fallen jacaranda blossoms while walking to the Powerhouse, experienced as psychedelic tessellations; the pure Zen task of ‘sitting’ in the AO: Audio Only sound art gallery curated by Andrew Kettle. Yan Zhenzong’s I Will Die 2001 completed this trio of contemplative exercises.

Zhenzong’s work relentlessly and fascinatingly presented ordinary people, young and old facing the camera, speaking the words of the title in their own languages. Sometimes with embarrassment or evident disbelief, sometimes with authentic solemnity—inducing a cumulative effect of stilling the mind from asking Western style, cooler aesthetic questions.

Viewing the Excess Chinese video program curated by Wu Meichun and Machan, I particularly liked Yang Fudong’s Backyard: Hey the Sun is Rising! which decontextualised traditional Eastern martial arts into an absurd choreography with, at times, a Buster Keaton-like wistfulness for a more innocent version of masculinity. It was also a privilege to see an earlier work of Wang’s Myth Power (1990), which, in a ‘worked’ anthropological documentary style, demonstrated his ongoing investigation into belief systems and post-Communist tensions between individualism and the masses. With an underlying sense of loss of community, the sun here is sometimes shown in negative (the black sun alchemists took to symbolise the unconscious in its base, ‘unworked’, state prior to individuation). Wang’s new work for MAAP, Prayer, continues this line: visuals pan from a pair of hands praying before an altar, continue up through the temple architecture to the sky and descend again into a ‘cityscape’ of uniformly replicated stone plinths. Antennae of wires open and close in systolic fashion to an invisible sun, duplicating the praying hands. The suggestion is that even the endeavours of modernity are supplications.

By introducing the notion of ‘sublimity’ in her essay on Wang, and with the Blakean intimations of Excess, Machan reveals an extant neo-Romanticism. Certainly there are more than echoes of 70s ‘happenings’ in Post Sensibility: SPREE 2001—documentation of a wild underground event held in Beijing. Machan considers that Chinese artists have been digesting the whole of Western art history in the past 3 or 4 years (installation art was still banned in China 4 years ago), and are pushing limits, searching for individual expression. This new wave of Protestantism in the arts invites comparison with our own, relatively staid, practices.

But it was Sydney-based Melinda Rackham’s interactive, computer-generated cosmos, empyrean, that chimed on a different front, particularly with Wang’s preoccupation with the human desire for transcendence and ambivalences about traversing a non-referential universe. At once ‘charming’ (like the quark), and terrifying.

And there was so much more…


MAAP01, director Kim Machan, Brisbane Powerhouse
Centre for the Live Arts, Oct 12-14

RealTime issue #46 Dec-Jan 2001 pg. 22

© Douglas Leonard; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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