Culture Rover

#43 - Bulls in a China Shop

Last chance this week to see Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art and Smart Museum.

These photographs and video installments explode with the forces transforming China since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. There is a tremendous energy circulating through these exhibitions-- the energy of art being fashioned in the belly of a rising world power. Funny, wry, fresh, daring, these photographs and videos beckon to a future in which the United States recedes as a world power and countries such as China and India emerge, with their own intriguing amalgams of old and new, traditional and hypermodern, nationalist and global.

Disrupted pasts and bold new imagined futures manifest themselves on the bodies of performance artists. Sometimes the past and the future are terrifying, but there is a confidence, a brightness, a horizon, even in the most abject images. Landscapes bear the same feeling. Scenes from ancient scrolls are reimagined in hypermodern photographic spaces: mirrors and image manipulations mix fantasy and reality, dreamscapes and the mundane, memories and visions of the future. Through the ruins of destroyed old neighborhood, we glimpse the skylines of cities such as Beijing beginning to look more and more like Houston -- non-descript office towers anonymously scraping the sky.

There is a moment of hesitation in many of these works, a sad look backward at something vanishing. But very quickly, the feeling of loss is replaced by a seizure of the properties of change. There is, above all else, a sense of wonder at transformation. "Go for it" seems to be the prevailing spirit.

Was the torch passed in the 1990s from New York's gentrifying East Village to Beijing's short-lived but influential East Village artist's community? Time to start learning Mandarin, a friend remarked at the exhibition.

11 January 2005

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