Shanzhai Biennial: Dark Optimism

The Genre-Splicing Artist Trio Subverts Notions of Authenticity and Design at MoMA PS1’s Summer Festival

Chinese model Wu Ting Ting lip syncs to an opaque cover of Sinead O’Connor’s Prince-penned “Nothing Compares 2 U” while wearing a sequined gown emblazoned with a deliberately misspelled shampoo logo in this new video from Shanzhai Biennial. The New York-based artist trio, comprised of Cyril Duval, Babak Radboy and stylist Avena Gallagher, has described itself as a “multinational brand posing as an art-project posing as an multinational brand posing as a biennial.” Taking inspiration from China’s infamous and rich culture of “Shanzhai” imitation goods—faking products from supermarket stock to high-end luxury items—the project seeks to liberate branding from the obligation to make a sale. “Selling things is always a drag on the aura of a brand,” says Radboy, who also works as Creative Director of Bidoun magazine. For ProBio, a group show curated by Josh Kline as a part of this summer’s large-scale Expo 1: New York at MoMa PS1 that is dedicated to the theme of “dark optimism”, he and Duval, who has exhibited internationally under the moniker Item Idem, reached out to Helen Feng of the Beijing musical act Nova Heart (the “Debbie Harry” of China, as she’s been called) for the Chinese rendition of O’Connor’s 90s classic, which they adapted from an amateur online production. “The relevance of the song is right there in the title,” says Radboy. “We were searching desperately for a version in Mandarin and finally found a recording on an obscure and outdated Chinese social networking site by a pretty busted looking queen in his 40s—so there are four levels of separation there.” The result couldn’t be truer to the illogical form embodied in Shanzhai products. “It’s a very Shanzhai production!,” says Duval.

ProBio, part of EXPO 1: New York, is on view at MoMA PS1 through September 2, 2013. L.E.D. technology courtesy of Gordon Lights,

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Conversations (1)

  • Rosita Muniz
    They better watch out either Prince or Warner Bros doesn't hear about this. 'Sinead O’Connor’s nothing compares 2 u' indeed. This is a purple jam.

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  • On Replay
    On Replay

    Takeru Kobayashi: Hunger

    Five Days of Food, Part Two: The World Champion Eater Devours Grapes in Artist Item Idem's Dionysian New Short

    A conceptual artist, a film director, a competitive eating champion with four Guinness World Records and 25 bunches of grapes collide in Item Idem’s experimental film Hunger. The Paris-born, New York-based artist Cyril Duval teamed up with fashion film director CyCy Sanders to direct this faux-cinematic trailer conceived for new-to-the-scene food magazine White Zinfandel starring Japan’s infamously voracious competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi. Beginning with a rapid montage of Kobayashi's greatest triumphs devouring such American classics as hotdogs and bowls of spaghetti, the work parodies the high-octane feel of American sports television, piggy-backing on Hollywood themes found in campaigns for blockbusters like Gladiator and The Hunger Games. As Kobayashi devours clusters of grapes while reclining in a tunic and laurel wreath, the Greco-Roman-inspired scene typifies the notorious pop sensibility of Item Idem, who has exhibited at Design Miami and collaborated with the likes of Comme des Garçons, Bernard Willhelm and Colette. “I had been toying with the idea of using him as my muse for quite some time,” says Duval of the eating legend. “Kobayashi exists as a superstar in his own parallel world and I wanted to bring his stature as a celebrity athlete into different spheres.”

    Kobayashi's World Records 

    August 26, 2012: Hot Dogs
    World Record: 110 hot dogs (without buns) in 10 minutes at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, New York.

    March 25, 2011: Spaghetti
    Guinness World Record: 100g (3.53oz) in 45 seconds at the Lo Show Dei Record, Milan. 

    August 29, 2010: Hamburgers
    Guinness World Record: 10 hamburgers in three minutes on the set of Bikkuri Chojin 100 Special #4 (Fuji TV), New York. 

    March 8, 2010: Meatballs
    Guinness World Record: 29 meatballs in one minute on the set of Bikkuri Chojin 100 Special #3 (Fuji TV), New York. 

    The third issue of White Zinfandel, “Food Fights”, will be launched at NADA Miami on 6 December.

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    Slater Bradley: she was my la jetée

    The Artist and Cult Hero Reflects on Love, Media and Melancholia

    “Sie war mein Vertigo” (“She was my vertigo”) says the German female narrator in Slater Bradley’s “she was my la jetée,” the American artist’s latest video and an homage to Chris Marker’s famously experimental 1962 sci-fi featurette. Working in a variety of media, from drawing and painting to film and video, New York-based Bradley became known for his lo-fi videos such as 2000’s “The Laurel Tree (Beach),” in which Chloë Sevigny recites Thomas Mann on a cloudy beach. Shortly thereafter the California native began experimenting with the notion of “The Doppelgänger,” casting model (and Bradley’s spitting image) Ben Brock in a series of works that explored illusion, identity and popular culture. Shooting on super 8 and HD film and integrating subtly moving stills, in “she was my la jetée” Bradley fixates on the face of an alluring woman, whose hair blows in the wind as she speeds down a river atop a boat. The resulting meditation on the changing nature of film in the modern world is mirrored in the narrative, in which the artist looks back at an unattainable past love, as though recalling a dream. Bradley’s work is currently being displayed by the Max Wigram Gallery at Sao Paulo International Art Fair and at Slater Bradley and Ed Lachman: Dead Ringer at the 21C Museum, Bentonville, Arkansas. In September 2013 the artist will have solo shows at the Galería Helga de Alvear in Madrid and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. 

    Your early works were known for a lo-fi approach but your use of media has since evolved. Are you reacting to new technologies?
    Slater Bradley:
    I was making single-channel “amateur” videos 15 years ago, when nobody had seen it before in art galleries. In the late 90s, everybody was making over-produced, Hollywood-style film installations. Then YouTube came out and I had to adapt to the fact that this amateur aesthetic that I was kind of playing off of was totally blown out. Back then, people couldn’t see a video on their phone, because they didn’t have one, and now they can. So you’re making a video that you hope looks good on an iPhone and in a gallery. I never thought like that before. There’s been this huge paradigm shift in media, and it just happened so quickly. It was like an artisan being trained in developing some woodworking skill and then it being made obsolete by some machine technology. But that’s what a lot of my work is about—things become obsolete and forgotten, but they can be resurrected.

    Does that tie in to this theme of melancholy or nostalgia that we see in a lot of your work?
    Maybe. My generation is on the analog/digital cusp, as it were. There will always be changes in technology—especially if you’re making media-based work. And when a certain technique or kind of film becomes obsolete, there’s a whole process of mourning that comes along. You develop an aesthetic and a love of working with a certain medium, and then it’s gone—but there’s a digital filter there instead to create the same effect! In “she was my la jetée,” I tried to get a little bit of a sense of this disconnect between film and video. I shot some of the super 8 projection, the film stills sequence, on an iPhone but I still have the film loop sound going in those scenes. The idea was to create a distance within the structure, to make you aware that there’s a weird magician-like illusion. That’s the nature of film anyway—to create these spaces of illusion. 

    The title of the film refers to Chris Maker’s La Jetée. Can you talk a little bit about that influence?
    I had been obsessed with that film since I saw it in college in the mid-1990s. I made a series of works in which I was wearing a mask with wires coming out of it, reenacting that famous image of the male protagonist. Around 1999, I started thinking about female identity. I made “JFK Jr.,” in which a young girl drops a flower at John F. Kennedy Jr.’s makeshift memorial and it’s a voyeuristic moment—I’m following her, stalking her even, and she turns around and looks at the camera. Then I did a piece called “Female Gargoyle” in which a girl is straddling the parapet of a building wanting to kill herself and then she covers her face with her hands in this really dramatic gesture like the woman in La Jetée. For whatever reason, the image of that gesture is sort of buried in my mind. 

    Why do you think that is?
    Surely it’s not from La Jetée—surely it’s the film tapping deeper into me, something that’s been there for a long time. Every time I make work about a woman, it comes back. For this piece I remember shooting her all day and there was this one moment where she looked back at the camera—it was literally for like three seconds—I knew I could make a piece based around that look. That’s how I decided to make the piece; that’s why I needed to make it. It’s probably something to do with my mother [laughs]. 

    Who is the girl in this film?
    Alina, who was modeling for me—I had this weird pattern of starting long distance relationships with people that would somehow exist outside reality. Part of making art is that it allows you to manifest this dream, but sometimes I go overboard and I believe in things that are totally impossible. As a result I’ve had a lot of connections with people that probably shouldn’t have been what they were. Doomed relationships. But I had a very transformative relationship with Alina, a really beautiful and amazing thing and even now I don’t really understand what it was about. Shooting the film was the last time I ever saw her. 

    It sounds like the goal is to make dreams real, on a certain level, or in a certain universe.
    SB: I’m really interested in projections—in taking something from reality and turning it into a projection of subconscious desire, or our collective desires. Something I do for whatever reason is see something and want to recreate it, to remake that or have my own version of that. So that’s what I was trying to do. It’s like in the film Rushmore when Jason Schwartzman’s character says, “She was my Rushmore.” I’m trying to make my own Rushmore, and to communicate that desire in a very cinematic gesture for people to understand.

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