Sleep No More

在下着微雨的上海冬日午后,穿着一身黑色、金发在脑后扎成一个髻的Felix Barrett在钢琴前坐下,指尖轻轻触碰琴键,一首《My Funny Valentine》便开始将整个昏暗、密闭的房间包裹起来。印着孔雀羽毛图案的朱红色墙纸、厚重的天鹅绒窗帘将房间裹得严严实实,房间里透着老家具、旧物件和干掉的苏格兰蓟混合的气味。随手拿起茶几上发黄的黑白照片,上面是两个脸被模糊不见的小男孩。伸手掀开窗帘,窗外是一片泯灭不定的树林。这里,是浸入式戏剧(immersive theatre)《不眠之夜》(Sleep No More)的创始人、艺术总监Felix Barrett创造出的存在于1930年代上海的麦金侬酒店(McKinnon Hotel)的802房间。今夜,我们将在此入眠。

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出于观众对这部“cult”剧的热爱和迷恋,在《不眠之夜》于上海演出了两年之后,Felix和他的团队决定在这里实现他酝酿了长达十年之久的想法,来创造一个能真正让“客人”来“check in”入住的房间。“上海的观众希望获得在麦金侬酒店过夜的体验,”Felix说,“因为他们远远不满足于在剧中停留的三个小时。”而802房间并不仅仅是一间可供预定过夜的房间,更是剧中故事和人物抽茧拔丝一般的延伸。熟悉《不眠之夜》的的人都知道剧中有一段男巫与酒店门童的故事,两人在剧中三次相遇,却如触不到的恋人,每每欲说还休。而802房间正是两人在酒店中的居所:神龛上别着的便签纸、收据单和随手撕下的圣经页、那些未曾寄出的礼物和明信片、花瓶中插着的孔雀羽毛和苏格兰蓟、洗手间里收集了男巫眼泪的玻璃瓶,无不在这间位于酒店阁楼的客房里,等待入住的客人去寻觅和探索这两个角色的存在以及他们的前世今生。

在2017年9月出概念和开始设计,802房间的设计在《不眠之夜》的主设计师Maxine Doyle的带领下由国际和上海本土两组设计团队共同完成。Felix指出,与其说这是一个剧场的团队阵容倒不如说更接近电影的制作团队,从设计师到木工、布景绘画师、道具买手,“整个团队都将他们各自在美学上的技能带进这个项目,而上海本土团队更带入了许多本地知识和专长,去考察了上海档案馆、博物馆、以及和平饭店去看30年代的上海酒店应该是什么样子。”整个设计和搭建历时六个月,从贴瓷砖、刷墙、搭家具、设计墙纸、窗帘,再到细节的陈设,都经过了很多轮的改造。“这个过程就像刷墙一样,”Felix回忆说,“需要刷五遍,一步一步地来,直到将其完善,让802房间与整栋楼一起呼吸自如。”

尽管与《不眠之夜》其余的五层楼相比,802只是一间套房,然而房间里的家具、装饰和摆件都无一不落实到每一个细节之中。由于在中国很难找到房间所需要的古董家具和摆件,Felix的团队在位处于纽约与波士顿之间的一个古董市场花了几个星期的时间去淘,再将所有的东西运到纽约的港口,装进集装箱运往上海。“因为所有的东西必须具有真实性,整个房间必须体现有人居住过、被那些过往的鬼魂所萦绕的感觉,而只有二手的物件才能将此体现。”

如此大体量的创意项目对Felix而言,设计的第一步,也是关键一步永远都是空间。“在我看到空间之前,我对一部新的剧将会是怎样完全没有概念,”他强调说,“只有当空间敲定下来之后,我才能够开始围绕空间去描绘一幅情感地图,通过对空间所作出的情感反应来找到这个空间中什么地方是最安全的、什么地方是最具威胁性的。”从安全到危险之间的平衡出发,Felix才开始酝酿故事的情节,再接着就是去寻找主题音乐。在有了空间和音乐之后,大概再要六个月到五年的时间逐渐去将想法延伸,将故事情节在空间的每一楼层进行扩展。“这是一个非常漫长的过程,”他说,“接着是彩排,一般的百老汇剧目用四周的时间来做彩排,而我们的剧则要十二至十四周的时间。”然而,麦金侬酒店对Felix来说却是一个特殊,“因为我们已经知道要在上海做Sleep No More,所以这栋楼是为这部剧找的,而原本只是一个空壳的楼里面的一切也都是为这部剧的需要去设计和搭建的。”

音乐亦是他灵感的首要来源,“没有音乐,我就做不了,”而对于《不眠之夜》,Felix解释说:“主题音乐均来自黑色电影中的配乐,当你听到音乐响起时,整部剧才开始脑海里视觉化。”大约30首来自希区柯克电影中的音乐分布在酒店的各个角落的音箱,而每隔一小时就会有3分钟的时间在各个角落响起同一首歌,这个时候整个空间就开始同步起来,继而又消失不见,形成氛围上的主题。三个小时的《不眠之夜》,《My Funny Valentie》反复唱响,对于这首歌Felix说,“它神秘、浪漫、忧郁、情绪化、充满爱意,叫人牵肠挂肚,欢愉却又让人黯然神伤。一首好的音乐可以瞬间将我们转移至另一时空。”

至于Felix和他的闻名全球的Punchdrunk团队是否将会把802房间的入住式戏剧体验进一步扩展,Felix说观众已经习惯浸入式体验,所以入住式甚至可能成为未来五年里新的度假方式,“当你入住酒店时,你永远不知道你遇到的人谁是真实世界的人,而谁又是戏中的演员。”

This story originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of AD China
Words by  Xing Zhao | Photos by 吴俊泽
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One House, Three Worlds

敲开艺术家弗朗西斯科·克莱门特(Francesco Clemente)位于纽约曼哈顿下城区的家门时,克莱门特身穿一件他常搭配在COMME des GARÇONS的西装夹克里面的印度长袍来给我们开门,脚下蹬着一双印度手工皮拖鞋。刚一进门,还未见到他的太太Alba的面之前,便听到她低沉且爽朗的笑声。这是我第一次见到曾在克莱门特的肖像画中见过多次,且曾是Andy Warhol、Jean-Michel BasquiatAlex Katz、以及Robert Maplethorpe等著名艺术家作品中的缪斯的的Alba Clemente

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走进克莱门特的家,仿若亲身步入这位以水彩画著称的艺术家的作品之中。色彩鲜丽、流转却又不失沉稳,大地色系贯穿了整个家的始终:墙面的赭黄、地板的庞贝红,以及其他细节上选择的土绿和生棕色,克莱门特说都是运用了传统壁画颜料,如绘制壁画一样漆成。这位曾经为许多著名艺术机构绘制过永久性壁画作品的艺术家让自己住进了自己亲手“绘制”的壁画空间里。

被公认为“超前卫艺术”(Transavanguardia)最具代表性的艺术家之一,克莱门特出生和成长于意大利的那不勒斯,70年代开始在印度建立画室,并深受印度哲学、苏菲神秘主义的浸染,而后成名于80年代的纽约。意大利、印度和纽约三个地方对克莱门特的人生和艺术创作都具有非凡的意义,而他纽约的家用视觉的形式体现了这三个地方对他的影响。客厅的六边形凳子和木头茶几,边厅的餐桌椅和皮靠椅,以及厨房的六边形桌子,均出自设计古根海姆美术馆的建筑师和设计师弗兰克·劳埃德·赖特(Frank Lloyd Wright)之手。而底部如雕塑般造型的Akrai和风纸灯和咖啡桌,则是雕塑家和设计师野口勇(Isamu Noguchi)的代表作。“美国艺术上的精华、印度宗教仪式中的器物,以及意大利的设计,共同组成了家里所有物件的欢乐大家庭。”克莱门特一语中的地概括自己对家具与物件的选择。

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与他的家的色彩搭配得相得益彰的另一组家具,既是意大利的设计,又与影响他一生的印度有着紧密的联系。客厅鲜艳的橘黄色立柜、边厅的长方形矮柜、两厅之间高及天花的白色立柱,以及卧室中粉绿色的床和柜子,均出自意大利设计史上的重要人物、80年代早期孟菲斯小组的创始人索特萨斯(Ettore Sottsass)之手。卧室里,索特萨斯设计的床与印有甘地头像的靠枕、印度的宗教铜像共处一室,让人不禁想到印度。克莱门特说:“索特萨斯同样在印度看到了对高端与低端两种类型材料的结合,而我也对孟菲斯的设计抱着仰慕之情。”

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尽管家里的每一件艺术品都足以让任何一位当代艺术收藏家艳羡,然而,克莱门特并不认为自己是一个收藏家。他说纽约的这个房子是他“人生的自传、生命中的运气,以及对自己作品的灵感来源”。对他而言,这些艺术品记录和见证了他的人生和创作历史:他14岁起便仰慕的艺术家塞·托姆布雷(Cy Twombly)的一张绘画作品挂在壁炉边的墙上;曾深深启发18岁时的克莱门特的布莱斯•马登(Brice Marden)的绘画也近在眼前;客厅的Frank Lloyd Wright桌子上是Joseph Beuys的一件雕塑作品;他人生购买的第一件作品是意大利画家菲利波·德·皮西斯(Filippo De Pisis)绘画的全身赤裸、仅穿一双鞋子的男孩;他购入的第二件作品——伊夫·克莱因(Yves Klein)则还挂在厨房的墙上。卧室中的地毯则由克莱门特艺术生涯的导师阿利吉埃罗•博埃蒂(Alighiero Boetti)所创作:“当我开始绘画时,博埃蒂觉得我背叛了他,因此我们断绝了联系。在他临终前我们重归于好时,有一天我陪他去罗马的鲜花广场,他买了一大把的野黄花,之后他就送了这块地毯给我。”

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这座房子也代表了一个时代的纽约对克莱门特的意义。Bob Dylan在70年代曾经居住在这里,克莱门特于80年代末将它买下,夫妇俩与建筑师Richard Gluckman一同重新设计并装修了这里。当时的装修工队也很不寻常,其中包括了后来创立纽约著名的出版物The Brooklyn Rail的艺术家和策展人Phong Bui,而墙壁则由艺术家Jim Long亲自操刀刷的漆。可以说,他们夫妇认识纽约所有的艺术家。“那时的纽约是一个充满了创造力的纽约。”克莱门特充满感怀地说。

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他的家为他开启了移居纽约后的一个新篇章。“搬进去的那天是感恩节,我的两个双胞胎儿子刚要满一岁,”克莱门特对那日场景的回忆充满了诗意,“那天下了雪,我们吃了很大一顿午餐,诗人艾伦·金斯堡(Allen Ginsberg)祝了一杯酒,两只躲避大雪的小鸟从烟囱掉进来,飞进了屋子里……”

拜访的那天,Alba在墙上挂着一组Fornasetti于1950年代出品的陶瓷盘子的厨房里为我们做了porcini mushroom  risotto。Andy Warhol曾形容Alba:“她看起来像个星光熠熠的电影明星,更难得的是,她还擅长做菜!”独特的个人魅力不仅让她成为诸多艺术家的缪斯,作为一名舞台剧演员和剧场服装设计师,Alba更曾为许多歌剧、舞台剧设计服装,为著名乐团Pink Martini的歌曲’Una notte a Napoli’ 作词和献声,并且设计了纽约的Lexington Hotel的酒店大堂。“Alba在家里最喜欢的房间是客厅,她常在那张巨大的Frank Lloyd Wright桌子上绘制她的点缀了羽毛的舞台剧服装。而我最喜欢的是卧室,我可以在那张Sottsass床上读上一整天的书。”作为年过六旬却仍是纽约艺术界最chic的一对夫妇,克莱门特说他们的家是两人品味的结合,而品味不仅是他们之间的联系,更是一种善待人生的生活态度。

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对于像克莱门特这样一位一年只有三分之一的时间停留在纽约的“游牧式”生活的艺术家,家之于他,有着普鲁斯特式的身在此处回忆着在彼处想念此处的意味:“在纽约我想念印度,在印度我想念意大利,而在意大利我想念纽约。家给了我一个空间去记忆和想念所有我热爱的地方。”

This story originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of AD China
Words by  Xing Zhao | Photos by Manolo Yllera | Stylist: Patricia Ketelsen

My piece on Lin Tianmiao for AD China

My piece on the Chinese conceptual artist Lin Tianmiao and her most recent exhibition Systems at Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum is now out in the September issue of AD China.

This was probably one of the most intense interviews I’ve ever done. The moment of me conducting the interview was accidentally captured by a photographer friend on camera.

I’ve got to say, intense people are… intense. This reminds me of another contemporary artist I worked with for a very long time.

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Mu Xi: Portrait of a Youth

By Xing Zhao

Born and bred in Shanghai, 27-year-old Mu Xi is a young gay man who drinks green tea, practices calligraphy, and grows plants at home. He is also the artist who creates delicate, yet erotic portraits of a youth with deer horns growing out his head, and tree branches germinating out of his chest, reflecting pain and confusion.

Youth, beauty and desire, Mu Xi claims are his self-reflection as well as inspiration that stimulate him to portray the loneliness and the desire of youth.

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Where were you born and where did you attend school?

I was born in Shanghai and I went to Shanghai Arts and Crafts College, majored in art and design.

When did you first start to draw?

In 2004, I started to draw the Erotic Picture series on a notepad, simply for fun. Later I drew more and more and started to fill them in with colours by using a computer programme and also with water colour paint.

Portrait of Youth is the main motif in your drawings, is it an obsession with youth?

I read the first half of Oscar Wilde‘s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and felt the affection and admiration for the beauty and youth of Dorian Gray in the novel resonates my self-reflection and expression of emotion.

Is “beauty is greater than talent”?

I think before getting to know other qualities of a person, one’s physical beauty is the first thing that strikes and moves you, without any explanation. That’s the idea I want to express in my art. 

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Why do you make deer horns, trees and flowers that germinate and grow out of the youth’s body?

The deer horns grow out of the head of the youth is a metaphor for growing pains. There is so much confusion and pain in a young man’s life when he goes through the transition of becoming a man. I also read a story written by the late Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima, who is well known for depicting violence as a form of aesthetics. In the story, when a Greek youth tied to a rock is killed by arrows, the onlookers feel thrilled. I wanted to depict that beauty and cruelty can go hand in hand. When the youth’s soul is wounded, or when it dies, a tree or a flower grows out him. It is a lot of pain, but it is also reincarnation.  

Do you use models to draw?

No. Some people say the youth in my drawings look like me, but they are not self portraits. However, he is a youth figure that I’m familiar with. He is not someone that we would consider a beautiful youth, but he is suitable for my expression.

Has the expression of homo-eroticism in your drawings caused you any troubles, especially in a rather conservative society?

Although I couldn’t upload some of the more explicit drawings online in China, the homo-eroticism is a natural outcome in my work. I think sex and desire exist in every detail of our lives. I do not particularly intend to picture that, and I do not try to avoid that either. I am happy to let viewers see what they want to see.

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Who are your artistic influences?

Oscar Wilde and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry‘s fairytales, ink and wash paintings by Bada Shanren of Qing Dynasty and calligraphy by Yan Zhenqing of Tang Dynasty all inspire me in terms of the temperament and style of my work. Gus Van Sant, Jan Svankmajer, Matthew Barney are my favorite filmmakers. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photography and Goto Shigeo’s architectural designs also give me new, fresh ideas.

What’s a day in your life like?

I water my plants before going to work (as a graphic designer) in the morning. After work, I draw at home, and upload some of my drawings online. On the weekends I often go to second hand bookstores or flower markets. Sometimes I meet my friends for tea. But I spend a lot of time alone.

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The youth in your drawing often look sad and alone. Are you lonely?

I am. But on the other hand, I really enjoy the loneliness. I need the time to be alone and think no one should waste their time if they are own their own, even when it’s lonely, because that’s the time one can have conversations with himself.

I need to eat and sleep at the exact fixed hours. I don’t work after midnight. I live like an old man.

What’s most the important aspects of your daily life?

Health and routine. I cannot work at all if I feel under the weather. I need to eat and sleep at the exact fixed hours. I don’t work after midnight. I live like an old man.

Do you have any ambitions?

Yes. I’d like to have conversations with creative people from different areas, to have a small garden of my own, to draw and paint on a quiet island or in the mountains.

This story first appeared in the Beauty Issue of OutThere Magazine.

Memories of One’s Own

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By Xing Zhao

When many people describe Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale as science fiction, I read it with my eyes wet, as an emotional journey. Indeed, it is a science fictional story set in a democratic a United States of America-turned theocratic state after nuclear, biological and chemical pollution render a large portion of the population sterile, and a terrorist attack abolishes the US constitution. Thus an imaginary state the Republic of Gilead is formed under the rule of a military dictatorship. It’s a state run by a government which degrades women’s status down to merely a means of reproduction under the name of God and the Bible. Comprising a few social critiques, including religious movements, feminism, the backlash against feminism, and terrorism, the novel presents a dystopian vision of life in a country under a totalitarian regime.

Offred, the protagonist narrates the story of her life being a handmaid who along with other women, exists in a void-like world with no trus t, love, or escape. She tells her story in fragments, with many flashbacks through which the readers slowly envision her life before and after she became Offred.  The story is quietly told in a subtle atmosphere and it exists only because you are listening.

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In a world without freedom, Offred has a lot of free time. “Time as white sound”; “the long parentheses of nothing.” She travels through time in her memories to her rebellious lesbian friend Moira, her peculiar feminist mother, her lost daughter, and more often her husband Luke. In Atwood’s poetic descriptions, these passages of memories with Luke are lovingly tender but also heartbreaking to read. “I have them, these attacks of the past, like faintness, a wave sweeping over my head. Sometimes it can hardly be borne…it’s the lack of love we die from. There’s nobody here I can love, all the people I love are dead or elsewhere.” 

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As the story moves forward, the Commander starts to summon Offred to his office at nights. There is a possibility of an affair between them. However, she does not like him and he only wants to play Scrabble with her. She still takes in what he has to give to the emptiness of her life: moisturizer, a women’s magazine, a cheap lipstick, a costume-like dress with feathers, and a night out in the underground brothel.

Love happens in the very last part of the book, or it almost does. In order to have a baby, the Commander’s wife Serena Joy arranges Offred to meet Nick, the chauffeur. In Nick’s single room above the garage, sex isn’t a ritual anymore. Desire and love sparkle in Atwood’s again poetic but also fast-paced descriptions. “Love, it’s been so long, I’m alive in my skin, again, arms around him, falling and water softly everywhere, never-ending. I knew it might only be once.” She herself isn’t sure how it happens either, “the way love feels is always only approximate”.

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She then takes risks and goes back to him again and again. In the glow of the searchlight filtered through the white curtains she memorizes him, to save him up so she can live on the image. “The lines of his body, the texture of his flesh… I ought to have done that with Luke, paid more attention, to the details, the moles and scars, the singular crease; I didn’t and he’s fading. Day by day, night by night, he recedes, and I become more faithless.” She knows each time with him might be the last, and if more, that is a surprise, extra, a gift. Love is a spark, lost in the dark. Her momentary happiness bears as much hopelessness as love.

However, when the story is at its climax, it also abruptly ends. Offred is taken away by the authorities that are led to her room by Nick. He tells her to go with them and says “It’s alright.” So she sets off into “the darkness within; or else the light.” Her memories end here with an ambiguous ending of not knowing whether she escapes or dies, whether Nick has betrayed her or saved her.

In this beautifully written book, it looks like nothing much happens within pages of the poetic style of writing, but at the same time a lot happens intensely like waves one after another. Atwood imaginatively creates a dystopian society, but more importantly she weaves together one’s memories of the past and the feelings of love. Love and desire are sensually described with metaphors such as flowers and water, but moreover, are heartfully perceived. She tells the story with great compassion. It is not only a story that gives you the chill to consider about society, but also a story that brings out your own memories till you’re in tears.

This story originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Zing

Art Hong Kong’s Last Edition Before Art Basel Sees Asia’s Market on the Rise

By Xing Zhao

With men in their sharp designer suits and women in their black tie event dresses, a glass of wine in hand, the striding guests at the VIP vernissage of the Hong Kong International Art Fair, aka ART HK 11, gives the feeling of a high-profile fashion event. “Every time I came to the Fair I felt like I was dressed like a student” says a Shanghai-based gallery director, “People are very serious about it.”

During the five-day event in Hong Kong, art is serious business. Although still a very young art fair, ART HK has been recognized as Asia’s leading international contemporary art fair. Every May, artists, gallerists, museum professionals, curators and collectors from around the globe flock to Hong Kong for the non-stop feast of art and the business opportunities that come with. This year, the Fair opened its fourth edition on the 26th of May (with the preview on the 25th of May), showcasing 260 galleries from 38 countries, bigger than it has ever been before.

ART HK 11

Divided into three sections, the main fair section featured 168 leading galleries showing world class artists including Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson‘s new works exhibited by Tanya Bonakdar Gallery of New York, South African artist William Kentridge‘s anamorphic projection What Will Come, presented by Goodman Gallery from Johannesburg, Kazakhstani artist Erbossyn Meldibekov‘s group of politically-charged resin busts showcased by London-based gallery Rossi & Rossi and Tracey Emin‘s pink neon light installation You made Me Love You, presented by New York’s Lehmann Maupin Gallery.

Tracey Emin You Made Me Love You, Art Hong Kong, by Xing Zhao

However, what really brought out the fair’s uniqueness was its two new sections. ASIA ONE is dedicated to showcase solo presentations of Asian artists brought by galleries in Asia Pacific and the Middle East. The ART FUTURES section, which showcased emerging artists represented by 45 of the world’s best new galleries under five years old, gave guests the opportunity to spot fresh talents.

Throughout the Fair, the Hong-Kong-based non-profit research center Asia Art Archive (AAA), as the fair’s official education partner, presented a series of panel discussions Backroom Conversations, as well as a new perspective of recent history of Indian art by staging a recreated Delhi studio of critic and curator Geeta Kapur and artist Vivan Sundaram.

Despite the topic “Art Must Be Beautiful”, a debate held by the Intelligence Squared Asia Debate, remains contentious, the fair was full of eye-candies.

A Marketplace Where East Meets West

This year the fair received 63,511 visitors, including high-profile collectors from Asia, Europe and the US. Paris Neilson of Sydney’s White Rabbit Collection finds the ASIA ONE and ASIA FUTURES sections refreshing, “And that’s why experienced collectors come to the fair, to get exposed to new things” says Neilson. Don and Mera Rubell of the Rubell Family Collection and the Contemporary Arts Foundation (Miami) take the fair as an opportunity to learn about Chinese art, “There is a unique opportunity at the fair to compare and contrast Eastern and Western art, to see the similarities and the differences” say the Rubells. 

Galleries made major sales to mainland collectors see an increase in mainland collectors with a broader interest in Western art.

While high-profile Western collectors made a strong appearance at the fair, the number of mainland Chinese collectors hasn’t caught up with its Western counterparts. International galleries expecting to meet more collectors from mainland China find most of their big Asian collectors coming from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia.

Nonetheless, galleries made major sales to mainland collectors see an increase in mainland collectors with a broader interest in Western art. “We have placed works by artists including Bharti Kher, Christopher Orr, Whihelm Sasnal, Phyllida Barlow, Henry Moore and Roni Horn in major Chinese collections and private museums in Beijing and Shanghai” points out Neil Wenman of Hauser & Wirth from London, New York and Zurich.

Cheim & Read Gallery sold works by Louise Bourgeois and Zao Wou-ki to mainland Chinese collectors on the first day of the fair, and the New-York-based gallery is also pleased with its experience at the fair. “We met a large number of collectors,” says Adam Sheffer, partner of the gallery, “All from the East and all previously unknown to the gallery.”

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Many exhibiting galleries find the visitors “open, curious and interested” in what they were showing. “We really enjoyed the positive reception we received from the visitors” says Amy Gold of L & M Arts from Los Angeles and New York, “and we believe in ART HK and feel the potential.”

A Bright Future

A few weeks before the opening of ART HK 11, the Swiss MCH Group, organizers of Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach made the announcement of the purchase of sixty percent of ownership stake in ART HK. While retaining its current name and directorship, ART HK will become the third global contemporary art platform in the Basel brand. This integration further proves Hong Kong’s significant position as one of the world’s hottest arts hubs. ART HK 2012 is now set to take place from 17 to 20 May 2012, and hopefully with more mainland Chinese collectors.

This story originally appeared in Deluxe Swiss Made Magazine.

Men in Uniform: Male Masculinity and Intimacy

An American artist based in Beijing, Ain Cocke‘s florid yet ‘historical’ portraits of soldiers from the World War I and II eras intentionally capture the nature of masculinity and the intimacy among men in the context of military and war. 

Beautiful to look at as they are, Cocke claims the portraits are his investigations into what it means to be human.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you grew up.

When I was very young I went to Israel with my mother and stepfather, who were doing work on archaeological digs, and my earliest memories began there. This is also where my first fond memories of men with machine guns were born, because of the constant military presence around us.Goff-062510 0017

Since there was a bit of the “terrorism ” going on at the time I had to leave ahead of my parents due to the heightened risks. Incidentally the next plane out after us was highjacked. On fleeing the violence and landing in Cyprus to meet my grandparents, I remember being greeted by a statue of Priapos, the greek god of sexual desire. The statue had an extremely large organ and I made a loud proclamation about my discovery to the giggles of tourists and the embarrassment of my grandparents. Sexuality and violence to me were curious, intriguing, beautiful and related.

While I was living in Los Angeles I developed a fascination with the G.I. Joe, the military, war and the television reruns of old Hollywood musicals.

What was your perception of the male identity when you were growing up? Has this idea changed over time?

I never really had any direct male role models or heroes when I was young, so the male identity was kind of a nebulous idea. I had to take my cues from other children, which could be awkward, as I never really knew how to act on my own. I watched a lot of movies for answers when I was young, and I still do now.

As I have become older I still  think the male identity is malleable, there are of course many historical precedents as to how to behave as a ‘man’, and there are probably also genetic factors, but we can still make our own decisions. Over time my perceptions have evolved. I have developed an intellect that is better equipped to analyze my perceptions.

Kapa Zhao Ain Cocke 2

Are these paintings romanticized portraits of masculinity and power?

On one level the paintings I make can be seen as cultural portraits about who and where we are as humans. How we want so badly to believe we are beyond or going beyond violence but in actuality force is still the dominate vehicle of change and containment. These portraits are about power and how it is extended, romanticized, glorified and desired. As well they are an intensely personal investigations into what it means to be human for me; they are kind of questions or searchings for a way to make a self-portrait or become my own hero.

A man in an expression of masculinity is often beautiful whether we want to like it or not.

Most of your paintings and drawings have rather florid and decorative backgrounds, is it intended as a contrast to the masculinity you want to portray?

Certainly on a first impression they appear as a contrast, but maybe on closer inspection they are the reality. A man in an expression of masculinity is often beautiful whether we want to like it or not. And besides, lets face it, the military is ‘the church of man love’, and I don’t mean sexually, although I’m sure that exists. I  try not to editorialize the paintings too much, I think they speak for themselves.

Have you drawn any inspiration in terms of narrative and style from films set in the World War I and II eras?

Yes; when I was between the age of 8 and 16, I loved watching films from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. The cinematic quality that exists in some of the paintings comes directly from there; however not so much the fighting type of films, although I did like those too, I much preferred the films that provided entertainment and distraction during times of war. Maybe our distractions say more about us as people than the reality of what is happening.

Kapa Zhao interviews Ain Cocke

Besides the figures from the old photographs you collect, do you use yourself or those around you as models?

Only in the way that the accumulation of my knowledge about the human form comes from observation of  those around me, not to mention countless years of schooling. Some of the photographs I use for paintings are really not very good in quality, so in a way the finished pieces become portraits of myself and those around me just as much as the actual person in the photo.

You are based in Beijing. How long have you been living in the Chinese capital?

 I’ve been living in Beijing for 3 or 4 years. I first came to China in 2006 and eventually just stayed. It is as fascinating as it is maddening, a bit like the Wild West, essentially lawless. The expressions of masculinity are quite different here, there appears to be much less machismo, but on a closer inspection it is there, it just takes a different form than the West.

What made you decide to move to Beijing, and has the city influenced your creation of work at all?

I came here in 2006 to do a project with another artist: I just found it fresh here. There is a kind of freedom of space here to make things I may not make back in the States. My next show will have many different kinds of sculptures in it as well as paintings. I wouldn’t say there are direct Chinese influences in the work. For me, it’s more about the possibilities that working here opens up.

Kapa Zhao Ain Coke 6

Have you done any research about China during that period of time and have you thought about making work based upon Chinese male relationships during the era of and between the two World Wars?

Yes, I have done some research into that specific subject. I have also collected many photos from that time and shortly after. I have thought about painting them but I am hesitant; it makes more sense to me at the moment to focus on American soldiers. I’m now in the process of creating a series of very high-resolution photo portraits of contemporary young Chinese military men, which is a bit of a departure from the older photographs. I say in the process because it is very difficult to get into the right situation where I can take those photographs, it is not ok to photograph the military in China, especially if you are a foreigner. So the process may be the more interesting part of the project.

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This story originally appeared in the Art Issue of OutThere Magazine.

Shen Wei: Almost Naked

“You can never have a real friendship with foreigners here in New York,” Vivi, a Shanghai native living in New York says to me in a café in Manhattan’s Soho area. By “foreigner”, she refers to anybody who is not Chinese. Several weeks later, photographer Shen Wei tells me his thoughts on the exact same topic in his Wall Street apartment. “I find it much harder to have a deep conversation with a stranger in China, while in the US it’s much more possible to have deeper communications with someone you’ve  just met.”

Shen Wei 1Born in Shanghai in 1977, Shen Wei grew up in the Shanghai of the 1980s and 1990s. “It was then a conservative China,” he recalls. “Individuality was not something important.” Over a decade ago, Shen Wei moved from Shanghai to the US to study photography and video art. Upon arriving in the US, Shen remembers how the relationships between people in American culture came as a shock to him, but they soon grew to become an inspiration for his work. He says relationships between people in America are much simpler and more straightforward. “I wanted to explore the ideas of identity and sexuality,” he says, “and to understand the complexity of emotion, desire, introspection and instinct.”

Shen Wei began to photograph portraits of strangers he met on the street, friends of friends, and random people he found online. He photographed people in their homes, some naked, some half-naked, while others are fully-clothed. He named the series Almost Naked to highlight the fact that these people are revealing their most intimate and vulnerable moments in front of the camera.

My sexuality is an important element which I enjoy exploring, but my work is also about human nature, desire, struggle and rebellion.

After the Almost Naked project, he wanted to take a personal journey to reconnect with his roots, to make sense of the China that existed in his memories but also with a China that is rapidly changing day and night. Shot in various Chinese provinces as well as Shanghai Chinese Sentiment is a mixture of poetic landscapes, nostalgic cityscapes and intimate portraits of people in their personal spaces.

I Miss You Already is Shen Wei’s most recent series, a series of self-portraits of himself in various settings: standing by a waterfall in the mountains, bending his body inside an isolated cave, gazing behind blooming flower trees, carefully posing like a Renaissance statue on top of a white table, leaning against the railing on a balcony of a New York apartment, mostly naked and alone. The photos carry a sense of theatrical mood, as if the man portrayed is wandering around, thinking and looking for something, reflecting on his or man’s relationships with nature.

Lima

For Shen the project is “a process of self-observation and self-discovery. It’s also a way to explore my sense of security through understanding the tension between freedom and boundaries”. His interest in such exploration, again, goes back to his past life in China. “I did not have many opportunities to be naked when growing up in Shanghai,” he says, “But now I can be naked as often as I want, it’s not only a free and relaxing feeling, but also liberating.”   

Although most of the time he is the only figure in these pictures, Shen is occasionally accompanied by a second person: sometimes another man, sometimes a woman, and sometimes just a mysterious hand. He won’t reveal the nature of these relationships,  nor even the relationship between his portrayal of himself and the ‘real’ person behind the camera. Insisting that it’s the mystery of these unknown elements makes the images intriguing. “It’s up to the viewers’ perceptions, it’s not for me to impose my narratives” says Shen. But he does confess to having complex relationships with both men and women, “They are both very important in my life, I cannot live without either of them; they bring me different experiences.”

Shen Wei 2

While admitting sexuality has its notable role in his work, Shen thinks that’s not where the self-discovery in his work ends. “I am a sexual person,” he says, “and my sexuality is an important element which I enjoy exploring, but my work is also about human nature, desire, struggle and rebellion.”

Shen Wei lives in New York City with his dog Emma.

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This story originally appeared in the Style Issue of OutThere Magazine

All the Broken Ships

A Margaret Atwood book he left behind. A train ticket he used when coming to visit me from Liverpool. A Uyghur hat I bought for him in Xinjiang. A DVD we once watched together. A green hoodie that still has his smell… Do I keep them, do I throw them away, or do I simply destroy them now that he’s gone?

Many people find it painful to be reminded of the ones they used to love, of the relationships that are broken. Yet there are always things popping up now and then to remind us of someone we try so hard not to think about. In the Almodóvar film“Talk to Her”, Marco sleeps on the couch instead of his bed for months after his girlfriend leaves him. In Croatia, after their own four-year long relationship ended, artists Olinka Vištica and Drazen Grubišić decided to set up an art project together, displaying objects from people’s “failed” romances and the stories behind them. The Museum of Broken Relationships is dedicated to broken hearts.

All the broken ships by Xing Zhao

Years after I interviewed founders of the project,  Museum of Broken Relationships is finally traveling from its original location in Zagreb to Shanghai, bringing not only tokens but also memories of love.

Museum of Broken Relationships Shanghai 2018

During our interview with Olinka and Drazen, they sounded calm and humorous. When asking whether they still felt the pain from their previous relationship, Drazen smiled and said, “You are the person who you are also because of who you have been with. Every relationship shapes and defines you as who you are.” Despite their romantic history, they said doing this project together had helped them maintain their relationship and move on with their lives.

Olinka Vištica is a 40 year old art and film producer from Split, Croatia and Drazen Grubišić is a 40 year old artist from Zagreb, who is dedicated to participatory art. They both live and work in Zagreb.

Concept founders of the "Museum of Broken Relationships" exhibition Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic pose in Singapore

▲ Founders: Olinka Vištica和Drazen Grubišić

What was your initial motive for creating this project?

It was during our break-up that this idea came to our mind during our numerous attempts to save, transform or ultimately overcome our relationship. However, it took a period of over two years before the idea was finally realized. We shared our thoughts with friends and it turned out that everybody we talked to reacted so enthusiastically to the concept. It is one of those really simple ideas that comes to one’s mind in normal conversation. What to do with all those tokens of love (material and nonmaterial) that you gathered during your relationship?

Museum of Broken Relationships exhibits_7

You mentioned the project was to create a space of “secured memory” in order to preserve the material and nonmaterial heritage of “broken relationships”. Do you think most people keep things from their broken relationships, or is it quite the opposite? 

It’s hard to tell. If the break-up is painful often we are all tempted to destroy everything that reminds us of our “failure”. But eventually, I think, each of us keeps something. Maybe it’s hidden at the bottom of a closet or a drawer or at the bottom of the heart – but it’s still there. The Museum project is an attempt to bring all those memories to the surface for the richness of the human experiences they can tell.

Why do people still want to preserve their memories even when their relationships have failed?ad18df3c5e27fc4daad11df5d56d2e63

Whatever the motivation for preserving or donating personal belongings – be it sheer exhibitionism, therapeutic relief, catharsis or simple curiosity, we believe people embrace the idea of exhibiting their legacies as a sort of ritual, a solemn ceremony. Our societies consent to marriages, funerals, even graduation farewells, but deny such gatherings as the demise of a relationship, despite the strength of its emotion. In the words of French philosopher Roland Barthes in “Lover’s Discourse‘: “Every passion, ultimately, has its spectator… (there is) no amorous oblation without a final theatre”. It is not clear, though, and it will probably never be, whether we need this final showing to eradicate our love or to make it eternal. We like to think our Museum does both.

Unlike self-help books and prescriptions we think that love pains cannot be considered as an illness from which its protagonists simply have to recover. For us there has always been much more to explore in that feverish but yet introspective state of mind following a break-up. Throughout history,  pain has always been a great impulse for artistic creation. If we ignore it or if we try to eradicate it by destroying memories, we lose a precious opportunity for personal development and expression. That is, we think, a reason people still want to keep their memories alive.

Are you the kind of person who is attached to things?

I would not say I’m a person attached to things but for sure I’m attached to stories, memories, energy hidden behind things. And sometimes we need things to trigger memories.

museum_1Museum of Broken Relationships key

Is there a piece from you included this project? What’s the story of it?

Yes, this was the first exhibit in the museum collection. It is a small plush wind up bunny.  Since we both travelled a lot, the idea was to take the bunny on the trip each time we were not travelling together. The bunny was supposed to travel around the world but it never got further than Iran because the relationship fell apart just after that. But still there is a nice funny photo of the bunny in a desert near Teheran.

What’s the most bizarre piece in this collection?

A leg prosthesis…

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“In a Zagreb hospital I met a beautiful, young and ambitious social worker from the Ministry of Defense. When she helped me to get certain materials, which I, as a war invalid needed for my leg prosthesis, love was born. The prosthesis endured longer than our love. It was made of sturdier material.”

How many cities has this project travelled to so far? What were the receptions like?

The project has travelled to 13 cities so far and despite the obvious differences in cultures and languages of different countries the response has always been overwhelming. We had never seen such great interests from people before during our 20 years of working in art and culture. One of the main reasons for that lies in the universality of love. It takes just a couple of sentences to explain this project to someone. They will immediately understand it, because they can relate to it. Heartbreak is a painful and formative experience for everyone, no matter in what part of the world you might live. The feeling is universal.

Museum of Broken Relationships bear

Do you play music in the background of the show? If you had to choose a song, what song would you choose?

Normally we do not play music as a background. If I had to pick one song I would pick a line-up from the Smiths or a French song used in one of the films of Francois Truffaut (Que reste -t-il de nos amours? Meaning: What’s left of our Love?)2What do you think are the most important things in a relationship?   

Tolerance, trust and humour.

How would you describe Croatia in a few words?

It’s a beautiful (and small) Mediterranean country, only 4.5 mill people, which still needs to be discovered. It is a country that needs to shape and develop its full potential.

Museum of Broken Relationships underpants

What is the art/culture/design industry like in Croatia? 

There are many talented and active artists and designers in Croatia (and also Croatians living and working abroad) creating interesting, globally relevant projects. But still we lack exposure and support to be able to talk about a general concept or brand that could be talked about as Croatian design or art in the manner we today know about Danish design for example, or French cinema.

What do you think happiness is?

That’s a philosophical question. I’m afraid I can only say that sometimes life passes by in our attempts to define happiness. Happiness is hidden in little, precious moments that are always on your fingertips.

What are the things that make you happy?

Discovering places, meeting people and creating.

Museum of Broken Relationships toys

This story originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Zing

 

Museum of Broken Relationships
Columbia Circle
1262 Yan’an Xi Lu, near Panyu Lu
延安西路1262号, 近番禺路
Jun 15 until Aug 1, 2018

一个人自己的回忆

去年Hulu所出的同名美剧,不仅为这部写作于1985年的小说增强了特朗普政权下的美国的现状,更加比小说原著要恐怖太多。

许多人说Margaret AtwoodThe Handmaid’s Tale(使女的故事)是一部科幻小说时,我将其作为一次情感的旅程,读到双目泪湿。诚然,这是一个带着科幻色彩的故事。当生化污染使很大部分的人口失去生育能力以及恐怖分子袭击国会之后,一个民主的美国变为神主的政权,于是形成一个军事独裁的Gilead共和国。这是一个在神和圣经的名义下将女性的地位下降到单纯的生育工具的政权。小说包含了数个社会评论题材,从宗教运动到女权主义,女权主义的反作用以及恐怖主义,展现了一个在极权主义统治下的“反乌托邦”世界。

handmaid's

女主人公Offred叙述了自己同其他女人一道作为使女(handmaid,出自圣经故事)的生活。她们生活在一个没有信任,没有爱,也无从逃遁的几乎真空的世界里。她的故事是片断的,如电影中的回忆片断。读者在这些记忆碎片中慢慢将她的前世今生拼接在一起。故事在很安静的氛围中叙述,仿佛没有太多事情发生。它的存在也只因为你的聆听。

Handmaid's tale cover

在一个没有自由的世界里,Offred有着永远也填不满的时间。“时间如同白色的声音”;“空洞的无限长的插曲。”她于是穿越时空在漫长回忆中旅行,不断地回去与亲人的回忆之中:她的叛逆的女同性恋朋友Moira,她古怪的女权主义者母亲,她失散的女儿,且更多的是她的丈夫Luke.在Atwood的诗歌般的描述中,与Luke的那些片断温柔无限,却又读来让人心碎。

“我们躺在下午的床上,手握着对方,一再谈过…我们怎知道我们是幸福的呢?现在我连那些房间本身也是想念…我想要感觉Luke躺在身边。我拥有,那些来自过去的攻击,如同晕眩,波浪从我头上打过。有时我觉得无法承受。

躺在床上,同Luke一起,他的手在我拱起的腹部。窗外有雷鸣…一道闪电,很近,Luke的眼睛一下变白。我不害怕。我们大醒着,下雨了,我们会很慢会很小心。如果我想到这些再不会发生,我便会死去的…我们会因为没有爱而死去。这里没有我可以爱的人,我爱的人都已经死了或在他方。”

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当故事继续推进,司令官开始在夜晚将Offred召唤到他的办公室。他们之间有着发生什么的可能性。然而,她不喜欢他,而他也只是想要和她玩Scrabble游戏。她仍然将他所能给的尽数拿过来填补她空虚的生活:润肤霜,一本女性杂志,一支廉价唇膏,一件戏服般带羽毛的裙子,以及一次地下妓院的夜游。

A Woman's Place

爱情在小说的最后部分发生,或者是几乎发生。为了让Offred怀上孩子,司令官的夫人Serena Joy安排了Offred与司令官的司机Nick幽会。在Nick那间车库上方的单人房里,性不再只是仪式性的。爱欲在Atwood诗意且快节奏的描述中如同电光石火。“他开始解钮扣,然后抚摸,在我耳边亲吻。”抑或想像抑或真实的雷鸣,闪电以及探照灯交错闪耀着。“他的嘴在我的嘴上,他的手,我等不及而他在动,已经是,爱,过了那么久了,我在我的肌肤上又是活的了,手臂缠绕着他,我在下落,周围都是温柔的水,永不止息。我知道这可能只是唯一一次。”她自己也不确定这是怎样发生的,“爱的感觉从来也只是大概。”

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然后她不断的冒着风险一再去见他。窗外的探照灯经过白色窗帘照进来,微弱的灯光中,她用力去记住他的样子,用来保存起来。“他身体的线条,他皮肤的肌理…我应该对Luke也做同样的事,给更多的注意,那些细节,痣和伤疤,每一道的褶皱;我没有,于是他在淡去。一日一日,一夜一夜,他变的模糊,我变的意冷心灰。”她知道每一次与他都可能是最后一次,若有再多,便是惊喜,是多余,是天赐。爱是火花,失落暗处。她瞬间的幸福中承担的无望是与爱一样的多。

故事在它到达高潮时也截然而止。Offred被Nick引领到她房间的人带走。他告诉她跟他们走,且说“你会没事的。”于是她步入黑暗;抑或是光明。”她的回忆也在此中结束,留下一个模糊的结尾,不明生死,也不知Nick所为是背叛还是挽救。

小说中诗歌般的写作风格中看似章节与章节之间没有太多发生,却又有着太多的发生,如同波澜,一浪一浪的相接。Atwood极具想像的创造了一个“反乌托邦”社会,但更重要的是她将一个人对于过去和对爱的感觉的记忆一针一线的织造出来。爱与欲的声色描绘用花朵与水来做比喻,且用心感知。她满是怜悯的讲述这个故事。这不仅仅是一个让你重新来思索所处的社会的故事,且是一个引出每一个人自己的记忆直至热泪的故事。

This story originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Zing