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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

Weekend in Gstaad: Busy Town

Roberto de Paolis and Carlo Lavagna Take to the Swiss Alps For Neville Wakefield's Elevation 1049

A local ice rink in Gstaad, Switzerland is converted into a canvas for Claudia Comte and a wooden chalet careers down a mountainside at the behest of Roman Signer in this free-form short by directing duo Roberto de Paolis and Carlo Lavagna. The film captures site-specific art summit, Elevation 1049: Between Heaven and Hell, which takes its name from the altitude of the village. The exhibition is the brainchild of Neville Wakefield, a former curator of Frieze Projects and MoMA’s PS1, and his partner, the artist Olympia Scarry. The pair reappropriated the snowy mountains to create a spirited alternative to the ‘white cube’ galleries of the international art market: “The show was curated by the landscape, and the brief was to create work that was a reflection of each artist’s relationship to the place itself,” says Wakefield. The Alpine resort’s reputation for natural beauty and après-ski glitz and glamour attracted the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Yehudi Menuhin and Grace Kelly during its heyday, when Time magazine aptly named it “the place to be seen.” It was also the inspiration for Olympia Scarry's grandfather Richard's much-loved children’s series, Busytown. “Gstaad was the backdrop for a lot of my grandfather’s books,” she says. “In many ways Elevation is a continuation of his tradition: he was eccentric, and this is a quality that the artists who exhibited at Gstaad share.” NOWNESS talked to intrepid filmmakers De Paolis and Lavagna, who gave us the lowdown on their mountainous adventure.

Was there any particular piece that you loved?
Roberto de Paolis and Carlo Lavagna:
Olivier Mosset’s “Toblerone” was cool, especially on account of the location. It was on top of the highest mountain in the valley. It took us three hours to get there, and then we still couldn’t find it. It was so very cold, we couldn’t use the camera to film it, because the battery would just break. We had to warm up the camera battery with our hands for over an hour. It was so cold you couldn’t even speak. All that to have two minutes of footage!

If you could contribute a piece to Elevation, what would it be?
RP & CL:
We thought many times about the end of The Shining, where Jack Nicholson goes mad and starts looking around for his wife and son in the snow. He ends up dying there. We thought about making a fun homage to that set in the mountains.

Our Weekend in Gstaad continues tomorrow with an exclusive photo series from Benoit Jeannet. Elevation 1049 runs until March 8.

Thanks to LUMA Foundation.

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Spotlight

The Foundry

Step Inside the Workshop Favored by the Art World’s Most Venerated Sculptors

When on the hunt for bronze, lead or stainless steel for one of their large-scale creations, Gavin Turk, Anish Kapoor and Marc Quinn turn to the southeast London specialist AB Fine Art Foundry. “We are facilitators and custodians of a craft that is thousands of years old,” says manager Jerry Hughes. “It needs to be kept and passed on. Most of our staff have been to art college. They empathize and are passionate about what they do.” The industrious premises of the respected craftsmen are documented here by French photographer Franck Sauvaire. Taking a tour of the foundry, he uncovered pots and pans flowing with molten wax, as well as objects being covered in yellow silica to be burned at 1000 degrees. A nearly-completed sculpture by Jake and Dinos Chapman, “The same thing only smaller, or the same size but a long way away”, sits in one corner while a segment of Bill Woodrow’s “Sitting on History” is waiting to go into the kiln. All around, men and women in protective boiler suits strive to help create objects of wonder. According to Hughes, the Cuban artist Yoan Capote recently went to a Gavin Turk show and the first thing he thought was, “I want to know where this work was made.” The answer: the magic happened here.

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