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August 8, 2014

Chinese Art Stripped Bare

Ren Hang, the Beijing Photographer Shooting Down Taboo

“I’d love to have sex with all the models that I’ve shot—the urge to shoot nudity probably originates from my own impulses,” says prolific Chinese photographic artist Ren Hang, whose entwined and contorted sculptural compositions are often derided as obscene in his own country. “Most of the subjects are friends of mine,” the Beijing-based Changchun native adds. “I just want to organize parties, not tell a story: everything you see in the pictures you can find in real life.” Today’s series of portraits are featured in his alluring, disinhibited first solo exhibition Physical Borderline at Beijing’s Three Shadows +3 Gallery. Hang’s seemingly nihilistic exploration captured over the past six years—and featured in Purple magazine and Rencontres d'Arles Photography Festival in France—examines the confines of our bodies, or in his own words, “the lack thereof.” The artist’s courageous pursuit has not gone unnoticed in the West, but his unwavering passion for unrestrained nudity is still a taboo subject in China. “Being routinely banned here has made me feel numb towards any change,” says Hang of the exhibition’s unapologetic attempt to penetrate the uptight censorship culture of his home country.

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Spotlight

Daniel Arsham: Future Relic 01

The Multidisciplinary Artist Teams Up with Swizz Beatz and Richard Chai for His Debut Film Work

A mysterious archeologist plays out a search for meaning along an ambiguous shoreline in Daniel Arsham’s new video work, “Future Relic 01”, that premiered as part of a series in the artist’s hometown of Miami as part of Art Basel this week. “Much of what I create presents an undefined scenario,” says the artist. “In 'Future Relic' you see these objects that seem as though they have been uncovered on some future excavation, but it’s left to the imagination of the viewer.” The work was shot in a secret New York City location that perceptive viewers can locate through coordinates included somewhere in the piece; realized with the help of directors Ben Louis Nicholas and Sam Stonefield, as well as fashion designer with Richard Chai and hip-hop producer Swizz Beatz, it marks Arsham’s first foray into filmmaking. The Brooklyn resident is no stranger to collaboration. Since being invited by Merce Cunningham to work on stage design for the choreographer, he has created a keyboard made from volcanic ash with Pharrell Williams, and paired up with Alex Mustonen to found Brooklyn architecture practice Snarkitecture. Today’s film also introduces his “Mobile Phone”, the first work in a new series of limited editions that premiered in Miami with OHWOW gallery, and Arsham also presented his large-scale performance project with Jonah Bokaer, “Occupant”, at the international event. “Much of my work is about taking something normal and everyday, and making slight adjustments to it,” he explains. “It brings people outside of their normal experience and becomes about a shift in time.”

What did you draw on in order to create the world within “Future Relic 01”?
Daniel Arsham:
The visual language draws from Lawrence of Arabia. The film was shot entirely at dawn, which is the same technique that was used in the 1962 film, this day-for-night quality. So we shot everything in the day and then the color was adjusted so it appears like moonlight.

Why was film the right medium for this project?
DA:
A lot of the work I do is static. I work in many different mediums, and about six years ago I started to work with the choreographer Merce Cunningham, doing stage design. This notion of time-based art, something that creates a kind of arc, is a very different process from creating a static object in the form of a sculpture or a painting. Film is something that I love, but is definitely the sort of medium that requires collaboration. There are 20 or 30 people who worked on this film—it’s not like a painting that I can make myself. So it was really about waiting for the perfect moment, and finding the right collaborators.

How important is collaboration to your work?
DA:
I think it’s extremely important. First of all, I can be a master of certain things that I do within the studio. But I can never master all of these other qualities in film. For me, collaboration has always been a way to recognize and learn from other people who have these amazing skills. For example, Swizz Beats did the score. This was something that was very outside of his normal way of working but I think he really made a beautifully subtle piece that was very much in key with what I was looking for.

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Spotlight

Mike Mills: Kids' Wisdom

The Director Meets Children from Apple's Hometown to Ask About the Future of Planet Earth

In a commission for the SFMOMA, Mike Mills, creator of notable album artwork for Sonic Youth and the Beastie Boys, and director of films including Thumbsucker and Beginners, has created a triptych of new work for the institution’s current off-site exhibition, Project Los Altos, inspired by the Northern Californian hub and birthplace of Apple computers. Today’s excerpt is from Mills’ 38-minute film A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought Alone: Silicon Valley Project, created alongside the project's two other components, a broadsheet newspaper and an installation of costumes as documents of the town. “When you walk around Los Altos, you’ll notice it’s going through a change. It’s an old, sleepy California town and reminds me of Santa Barbara in the 1970s, where I grew up," remarks Mills, who says that Silicon Valley "struck me as a place of innovation and real economic and social power.” The director's interviewees are children whose parents work in the tech-industry—from high-level product managers to a chef at Google—discussing their depictions of the future. “To hear it from a cheery, happy ten-year-old, is somehow particularly icy, and really spooky," he adds. “There is this whole industry of adult futurists making these predictions, but what about the people who will actually be inhabiting the future, which is all these kids.” 

When you were given this assignment on Silicon Valley, what was your first thought? 
Mike Mills:
I didn’t know anything about it, and I’m not really a techie person. While I’ve heard of Silicon Valley, I really haven’t focused on it. And so I started doing typical Google/Wikipedia research and thinking about it more. It really did just strike me as such a place of contemporary American power. I wanted to talk about the tech part of it but in a way that I could be good at and not cliché.

How was it to revisit this part of the world?
MM:
Los Altos is like a little time capsule, and it’s changed mostly into a souped-up, new consumerist, social media-driven economy. That’s the biggest change since when I was a kid––Sort of the Facebook-ization of all these stores and this whole little community.

Do you have any ideas about developing this into another piece of work? 
MM:
I just really love interviewing people. When I’m done, I feel invigorated and refreshed and full. Sometimes when you direct filmmaking, you feel way to full of yourself by the end. With these things, I feel like I’m a listener. That’s all I really am.


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