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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

Alex Prager: Crowd Pleaser

Get Lost in the Photographer’s Retro-Styled Studio on the Occasion of Her First Museum Show

“There's something strange about the rift between reality and fiction,” says LA-born photographer and filmmaker Alex Prager of her work that sees her play dress-up with her sister and muse Vanessa in her Silver Lake studio. Inspired by Prager’s cinematic images, director Arnaud Uyttenhove translated them into a playful portrait, juxtaposing her color-saturated archive with still lifes of vintage costumes and props. Following bouts of agoraphobia, the MoMA 2010 New Photography artist began to explore the loneliness and alienation that crowds can provoke, coating her images’ dark mood with a saccharine veneer. “I'm interested in creating a world for these characters to live in,” explains Prager, whose work is part of collections at the Whitney Museum in New York and Moderna Museet in Stockholm. For her latest series Face in the Crowd, exhibited at her first solo museum show at Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, the photographer channeled the voyeuristic gaze previously employed by Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin through the lens of 21st-century surveillance paranoia and post-Facebook isolation. “I want there to be a sense that something isn't quite right,” adds Prager, whose show includes a self-directed film with the all-American actress Elizabeth Banks. “Is it real or is it fake?” Frequently injecting her series with a noirish mood that brings to mind the psychologically haunting clichés of Hitchcock, as well as pioneers such as William Eggleston, Weegee or Martin Parr, Prager’s portraits blur the boundaries between the real and the surreal, the immediate and the staged, the contemporary and the nostalgic.

Which emotions do you associate with crowds?
Alex Prager:
Anxiety, boredom, fear, terror, frustration, curiosity, strong interest, warmth.

Unlike Eggleston, who captures the fleeting moment, your images are staged.
AP:
By staging them, I can create an emptiness or flatness that wouldn't otherwise be there. I am not interested in taking pictures of real crowds.

How does cinema inspire you?
AP:
The production aspect is really important to being able to make my work. I'll see shots in old movies and think, wow, I didn't know you could do that. I guess the thing about movies is that everything is possible. Knowing that opens a lot of doors in the imagination that wouldn't otherwise be there.

Face in the Crowd at Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC runs through March 9, 2014.

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