Following Paolo Gioli’s solo show, offiCina curates a group exhibition showcasing a fascinating selection of photography and video works by five Chinese and one Italian artists.
The word ‘Private View’ refers to an exhibition opening for a small group of people, a special visual inspection of a piece of art. It also alludes to a specific field of vision and to personal opinion or attitude, thought or observation. Playing on the double meaning of the expression ‘Private View’, this exhibition explores, on the one hand, the relationship between inner and outer space, private and public, individual and group. On the other hand, it wishes to call attention to public participation to art exhibitions in Beijing in recent years. Whereas contemporary art has gained growing audiences, more and more shows are now set up almost exclusively for commercial reasons. Opening receptions are attended for their networking potential and seen as fashionable, mundane occasions. Within this crowded context, personally we only feel attracted by those events that allow us to approach more ‘privately’ a work of art, set up a pause for thought and create some space for reflection.
Presenting one rarely seen work by Xing Danwen and other artworks by prominent Chinese artists dating from the mid-1990s’, as well as a very recent video work by a talented young Italian video-maker (this one is accompanied by an essay by art critic Bruno Di Marino), the show juxtaposes diverse and very personal modes of representing a shared content.
‘Private’ signifies individual, ‘View’ implies being seen, watched by others and suggests therefore the element of public. The personal space provides us with a location in the world and also outlines a barrier that identifies an individual from the outside world. However everyone’s privacy - though setting up a disengagement from others - only exists with reference to the outer world, to the existence of others, to viewers and audiences.
Private and public and a focus on people are common to all the works - basically very different from one another - presented in this exhibition. In the photography group Born with the Cultural Revolution (1995), Xing Danwen portrays a close friend in her own apartment. The woman, same age of the artist, belongs to a generation when there was no separation between the private world of the individual, the family and the whole body of public socio-political realm. Mao’s memorabilia, that people were used to collect and hang in the house, are here juxtaposed to the woman’s pregnant body. “The images behind her date from the Cultural Revolution and suggest that her identity has been formed against the backdrop of that history”, states the artist. Such public images and the woman private experience of pregnancy represent two parallel worlds once strongly interconnected.
Public Bathhouse (Women) (1998) is a piece related to social life and inspired by Zhuang Hui’s personal experience. The artist was a worker in a large state-owned company for many years, and dealt with the notions and issues of collective and communal life. In his works the focus remains on the everyday and in this piece made up of 12 photographs he follows the daily ritual of bathing from within a traditional public bathhouse. What is commonly felt as a private habit, was once in China a very public practice as well as a distinctive aspect of a collective existence. Besides bathing, these toilets were places where to spend time chatting, playing, being with others. In today’s context the photographic series documents a fast-disappearing public lifestyle formally highlighted by its ‘steamy’, blurred rendering.
Yang Yong’s work remarks privacy even in its title. Xiaoyin Alone (2002) portrays a slice of life of a young woman. She is at home and alone. The artist’s lens peers through the door of her kitchen without physically entering it. She is one of the many women portrayed by Yang Yong in Shenzhen – the artificial model of a today fast changing China. She is also one of the many daughters of the new urban economy that populate the artist’s portfolio. These women are representative of a young generation disoriented, dreaming and that live in the trivial, the repeated. It has been said about Yang Yong’s work that it decodes and recodes “the sense of the self in the most intimate space such as bedroom, toilet, hotel room, and also in the most alienating non-places such as airport, overpass bridge, or underground garage” and provides “a feeling of freedom and escape which may be just as illusionary as the environment” [Manray Hsu]. Xiaoyin is absorbed in her own world, derives pleasure answering the phone, careless of anything that happens outside. Her kitchen becomes a territory that cannot be invaded. Like those of her generation, however, she is very much connected to the outside reality and depending on it. That reality produces a kind of inexplicable void, a feel of boredom that unfolds from her glance, postures, and her attractive gestures of routine.
As Michel Nuridsany puts in an enlightening essay, Wang Jianwei’s bright observation of what goes on around him – his attention to public squares, apartments, society, people produces a unique focus on existence. The video installation Connection (2000) is installed on two opposite display units. One shows families sitting on more or less alike sofas in more or less similar poses. They are completely absorbed watching a tv screen. The screen in front of them shows a montage of all alike big-budget American, Hong Kong and other countries movies with two basic themes of violence and love. The montage was made by the artist himself who collected a number of movies after having asked to diverse families what dvds they were watching. Focusing on mutual relationship between families and blockbuster movie industry products, this video installation shows how they depend on each other, one watching, the other being watched and eventually affecting the viewer again. Wang Jianwei decodes the riddle of modernization and invites us to reflect on the reality of families with a new center: the television. Ironically those things in life that we manipulate silently manipulate us. Conformism, dull uniformity and similarity mark people choices to the extent that deep down there is no separation anymore between individual and public.
Liang Yue’s Stop Dazing (2005) is a 35’ long and slow video narration recalling personal memories, emotions, sorrow and continuously shifting between dream and reality. Here the borders between the exterior and interior are vague and indistinct. There is a persistent intention to blur the time and space outside, to make it appear more similar to what lays inside. The external landscape is painted in dazzling, dreamlike colors to accompany the chain of emotions that weaves around. It often becomes a nocturnal world interspersed with glowing lights. At night the city becomes a non-place suspended in a timeless dimension. The night itself – through its indefiniteness – is a territory adapts to welcome a personal universe of intense subjectivity. There is in this poetic video a contrast between familiarity and strangeness, and it is precisely this feeling of contradiction that fascinates and captures.
Debora Vrizzi’s video work Submergency (2007) is very different from Liang Yue’s video. In the span of 1’ it performs a humorous metaphor of human existence. Similarly to the first, however, it stages a suffocating experience, an opposition of dream and reality, a separation and interference of the inner and outer spheres. Photography and video of this artist have recently captured art critics’ attention. In his recent essay on Vrizzi’s work, Italian art critic and video curator Bruno Di Marino states: “disguise is certainly one of the featuring aspects of Debora Vrizzi’s art. However, her performances are conceived and carried out only for video staging or photographic pose, in short for a kind of representation in which her conceived characters and situations have their own existence and narrative logic…In Submergency Vrizzi is a swimmer getting ready for her athletic performance. A few instants for concentration, then she dives into the water. However what she plunges into is not a swimming-pool but much more simply the every day life reality: her house’s spaces seen through a frosted glass become a liquid underwater landscape, the setting for an apnea of some endless seconds; just the time to pick up two stiletto heel shoes and write on the videocamera’s glass the word “submergency” (a declaration, a cry for help) and the artist comes up again to the surface to breathe. The ironic gap between fiction and reality is obvious. Through simple gestures and a technical craft made device, Vrizzi creates a non-place where to set a metaphor of the stifling every-day life…An awfully familiar place (a common apartment as many others) but, exactly for this reason, even more surreal, as it is observed from an ambiguous point of view, with the purpose of staging an existential condition that affects and involves everyone.