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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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Trick of the Trade

An Abstract Ode to Photographic Craft from Michael Bodiam

It’s impossible to look at a set of images without bringing yourself into it. The argument you had with your partner that morning, the flighty thought of hooking up with your confidante at Art Basel Miami or the inescapable fact that this Christmas is your turn with the in-laws. Michael Bodiam’s series The Tools We Use invites you to step on the merry-go-round of synaptic thought. What are we looking at? A Takashi Murakami origami monster? The set for Tron: Legacy II? A 3D dancefloor? Our minds try to make sense of the images, whether the curled photographic paper makes you think of Yves Klein’s “1959 Untitled Monochrome” or simply a stolen kiss; whether the smoke billowing out of a curtain reminds you of a forbidden cigarette you sucked on surreptitiously. Bodiam stumbled upon the subject matter while looking for something to photograph with art director Yarra Jones.  “When you try to shoot something that’s commercially relevant, you need an object,” he says. “I soon realized, I had an enormous collection of design items, in the form of the photographic equipment that I spend my days with. We had what we needed already.”

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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?
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? 
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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