Abstracts

Keynote

Chris Berry (Goldsmiths)
The Precarious Gesture: Yang Fudong between China and the International Art Scene

In Yang Fudong’s mysterious and beguiling multi-screen work, Fifth Night (2010), figures wander in and out of seven different angles on a set dressed to look like 1930s Shanghai. We never really figure out what they are doing or why. But somehow it all feels both elegant and yet also foreboding. The reliance on gesture, affect, mood and other elements that elude straightforward signification characterize much of Yang Fudong’s work, as does invocation of a connection – or is it a disconnection? – between contemporary China and the past. In this case, models in contemporary clothes and make-up wander around a 1930s set. Similarly, Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest (2003-7) refers to the story of intellectuals from the Wei and Jin dynasty but features contemporary actors.

Yang’s work marks itself as Chinese, invokes the question of the connection between past and present, and circles around the mysterious gesture. What should we make of this? In this talk, I discuss the complex politics of marking oneself out as Chinese on the international art scene today – its benefits in terms of self-positioning, fashion, and marketing, and the need to resist, elude or at least step beyond the narrow frame of demands and expectations from critics outside China to “say something” about China. The precarious quality of perching on the gesture is multiplied by the Chinese domestic context. There, the alternative is permitted but the oppositional is not, as recent events in the art world have underlined. In these conditions when one cannot say many things about China, not to do so risks complicity with the regime. In these circumstances, the most exciting art that comes out of China today, including Yang Fudong’s, not only works with contemporary forms such as multi-screen video, but also engages these complex and contradictory conditions in ways that make them visible and play across their borders.


Panel I

Juliet Steyn (City University London)
The Blind Spots of Representation: The Difficulty of Reading

Taking as my pretext Yang Fudong’s photographic triptych, The First Intellectual, I shall explore the conundrum of the idea and practice of the artist as a ‘global’ figure. I shall examine the blind spots, the misunderstandings and appropriations of this image, occasioned by the promises of global communication, and the rhetoric of transcultural identities as played out in the international art scene. If, as Umberto Eco (1993) has noted, it is ‘difficult to read a book’, how then are we to approach and read art works issued in different cultures and continents, times and places? Whether or not inflected by the assumptions of post-modernity’s cosmopolitan embrace, there will always be blind spots, and misreadings. My paper will try to capture and explore some of these.


Isaac Julien
(Turner Prize nominee)
Rehearsals of Discontent

‘Actors in rehearsal do not wish to ‘realise’ an idea. Their task is to awaken and organise the creativity of the other. Rehearsals are experiments, aiming to explore the many possibilities of here and now. The rehearser’s task is to expose all stereotyped, clichéd and habitual solutions.’   (Bertolt Brecht)

Taking the 2010 Shanghai Biennale’s theme of the ‘rehearsal’ as a starting point, Isaac Julien will explore themes of chance, improvisation and performance as ‘actions’ in Yang Fudong’s work; his use of actors as a type of ‘Bressonian’ model; and his unique development of the notion of accident or coincidence as integral to the cinegraphic mise-en-scene or image-making process. Drawing together Yang Fudong’s use of choreography and scenography in his multi-screen film works and his own concept of ‘Parallel Montage’, explored most extensively in his own nine-screen installation Ten Thousand Waves (2010) (which also starred Yang Fudong), Julien will discuss the role of political allegory, lyricism and poetics of performance in the context of contemporary moving image.


Anthony Gardner
(University of Melbourne)
Exhibitions on the Move: Biennales, Borderlines and Politics of Itinerancy

This paper examines the emergence, especially in Europe since the early
1990s, of ‘itinerant biennales’ – that is, biennales that shift location
each time they are held. Two particular exhibitions stand out: the
Emergency Biennale, in which an exhibition of art was sent by suitcase to
Grozny at the height of the Chechen wars, so as to show artistic support
for local residents (the ‘biennale’ traveled elsewhere in Europe as well);
and the European biennale of art, Manifesta, that has taken
particular instances of European politics as its focal point every two
years (including East–West relations in Ljubljana in 2000, Turkish-Greek
disputes in Cyprus in 2006, and Europe–Africa tensions in 2010). Does the
itinerancy of these biennales reinforce or problematise the usual
presumption that contemporary art, and especially large-scale exhibitions
of art like biennales, are mere handmaidens to neoliberal globalisation?
Is migrancy a trope or a politics in these exhibitions? And have itinerant
biennales engaged exploitatively or in more constructive and nuanced ways
with politics of migration, and those of conflict or asymmetric relations
of development that are often the catalysts for migration in the first
place?


Panel II

Marianne Franklin (Goldsmiths)
Visible Veil Dressing & the Gender Geopolitics of ‘What (not) to Wear’

The talk discusses ‘Burkha Ban’ legislation in Europe and surrounding public
controversies by drawing links between the visual aesthetics of makeover reality
TV, the veil, and the cultural politics of ‘visibly Muslim’ dress in western societies.
In all cases we see women’s bodies and comportment under increasing scrutiny
at the intersection of post 9/11 geopolitics, the global fashion industry, national
identity, and everyday life.


Shani Orgad
(London School of Economics)
The Horse, the Stranger and the Therapist: Media and Estrangement in the Age of New Visibility

The paper explores the role that media representations can play in the age of ‘new visibility’ (Thompson, 2005) in cultivating a degree of estrangement from one’s own culture, history and local narratives. I use three metaphors for thinking about the possibilities and dangers of estrangement as a moral project that the media facilitate, namely: (1) the horse (based on Shklovsky’s reading of Tolstoy), (2) the stranger (Simmel) and (3) the therapist. The implications of each of these metaphors are demonstrated by examining empirical examples of mediated representations of local happenings, and how they shape and are shaped by the politics of today‘s ‘new visibility’.


Alan Ingram
(University College London)
Experimenting with Geopolitics: Contemporary Art Practice and Global 
Political Space

Art practices can be understood as geopolitical in terms of a duality between the representative (art about geopolitics) and the  performative (art as geopolitics). Here I use this approach to discuss works by Wafaa Bilal and Jeremy Deller as experiments with  space and suggest that their interventions open up moments for experiencing and thinking about geopolitics differently.

Panel III

Rachel Garfield (University of Kent)
The Contingencies of In-between through Video

This presentation will be looking at the work of Vivienne Dick to think through some of what is at stake in the Global and Local. Drawing on Saskia Sassen and Sara Ahmed, I will be positing Dick’s work against that of the nomad, arguing for a situatedness in the local that reaches out to the global through the multi-positionality of simultaneous editing.  I will be thinking about some of the way video or film can incorporate contingency in its form, building on Janet Harbord’s writing on Krakauer in what is at stake in the contingencies of the edit in envisioning a humane ethics through the filmmakers work that relies on the drawing together of the local and global.


Janet Harbord
(Queen Mary)
Ghosts, Animals, Aliens: Cultural Translation in the Films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Once celebrated as the ‘first global vernacular’, a transnational language of images, film has a long history with both border crossings and the utopian longing for a shared transnational discourse. The coming of sound dealt an early blow to these ideals by reinstating the specificity of language in spoken dialogue, creating a need for either dubbing, or translation in the form of an inscription overlaying the image. The film from elsewhere became a literary and an audiovisual experience of difference. The questions of how a film is translated by other cultures and how its difference may be interpreted is a concern played out in the films of Thai director, Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Whilst his earlier films are a curious blend of documentary style and loosely fictional happenings,  creating disorientation about the status of the ‘real’, his more recent films involve ghosts and animals as characters inhabiting the same fictional world as characters but with their alterity remaining in tact. Tropical Malady (Sud Prad meaning alien in Thai), is a film of two parts, a split structure where animal and human form are superimposed as two separate stories collide, whilst Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives has a child return from the dead as a monkey ghost. Weerasethakul’s films are located in rural Thai culture, and present pressing questions of how this local culture might circulate in a global network, and how cultural translation is an enduring feature of film viewing.


Philip Crang
(Royal Holloway)
Textures of Displacement: Local Sites, Global Stuff

Commentaries on cultural globalisation are often criticised for their preoccupation with the visible, material expressions of cultural traffic. All too often, it is argued, such accounts mistake visibility for recognition and commodity consumption for culture. This talk offers a counterview. It considers the seen, but also often overlooked, visual economies of global stuff. Reflecting on visual studies of shops, based in genres of drawing research and street photography, its particular concern is with seeing the complex forms of local sites. Rather than dismissing the visible as the superficially apparent, I reflect on seeing as a way of sensing the textures of displacement that characterise modern worlds.

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