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2019.04.13 Sat, by
Ways to Get Closer to It—The Inner Flesh of Time—In the Age of Consumable Desires

By Kyoo Lee

On Rituals of Signs and Metamorphosis, Red Brick Art Museum

Nov 03, 2018 – April 07, 2019

Curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh

La scène où toute scène prend origine dans l’invisible sans langage est une actualité sans cesse active.

The scene in which every scene has its origin in languageless invisibility is a ceaselessly active actuality.

— Pascal Quignard, The Roving Shadows (trans. Chris Turner)

Tout n’est pas dit.

All Is Not Said.

— Pascal Quignard, Abysses, citing Quintilian (trans. Chris Turner)

Whether saying good morning to someone passing by, or goodbye to someone who just passed away, we, Homo Performans, give forms to all sorts of embodied encounters in and with life. From the small, simple gesture of daily greetings to elaborate funeral rites structuring the days of mourning that provide buffer zones in the middle of time stopping and spreading itself, all such rituals keep us going and going somewhere in response.

Someone who would drop everything today at 4:30 or 4:31 p.m. to pray is one who makes a decision almost automatically if not exactly. One pauses, entering/exiting into another plane, albeit briefly, not unlike a butterfly. Rather different, although inseparable, from habits, customs, or training in that regard, rituals become performative, unfolding per form; there is that extra-layer, thick or thin, of a sense of actually following them as in activating them, like some priest trying to get up at 4:30 a.m., reading the scripture out loud, alone, fighting the yawning gravity. In one way or another, arbitrarily, rhythmically, one would follow a certain script while writing and riding it along the way. Poetry everyday.

A ritual as a sort of psychospiritual stabilizer, an internalized metronome for life in transcendence, is transformative in its very transitive transitoriness. In the process, you go somewhere and somelsewhere elastically, even a tiny bit. While inhabiting a ritual, one lives in and through time, via an odd interval sliced open and stitched back together.

A ritual per se, even when seemingly formulaic, arbitrary, clichéd, etc., works across and moves beyond human intention, agency, control, or capacity, the allure of contrapuntal asceticism included. Normality, piety, serenity, or sublimity alone does not encompass the self-congealing and concealing semiology of rituals I am pointing to; whether at a festival or at a funeral, once one enters that zone, one’s time gets split open, surrounded by the void that is the live event that will repeat—and differentiate—itself over time, time permitting. Gilles Deleuze’s paradox of “a festival,” which also touches on this concept of differential repetition, is not meant to sabotage any spring festivals with some paralytic analysis by a party-pooping philosopher. Rather it would help one learn to stand aside for a while to see better a passive synthesis of time passing as such. Again, transformative rituals, intriguing.

Go see—sense—these (meta)physical, metaphorical manifestations, forces, and resonances at work at Rituals of Signs and Metamorphosis, the show at Red Brick Art Museum curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh, the alchemist of historical hallucinations or hallucinatory histories, who carefully—perhaps I mean ritualistically?—selected and spaced heterogeneous beats and bangs of time, especially “Asian” oriented, ten works here, to amplify the polyphonic contemporaneity of a re-enchanted world so newly disappearing as we go on. This ensemble of transense & sensibility, designed to “allow the unexpected, the unknown and the mysterious to appear,” as El Fetouh says, is quite, quietly remarkable.

《下沉》 Descension 安尼施·卡普尔 Anish Kapoor 2015 钢、水和发动机 Steel, water, motor 500 x 500 cm ©安尼施·卡普尔  ©Anish Kapoor 摄影:埃拉·比尔科夫斯娃视窗工作室 Photo by: Ela Bialkowska OKNO studio 图片由艺术家和常青画廊(圣吉米那诺、北京、穆琳和哈瓦那)提供 Courtesy: the artist and GALLERIA CONTINUA, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins / Habana

Anish Kapoor
Steel, water, motor
500 x 500 cm
Courtesy: Red Brick Art Museum

installation view 展览现场

installation view 展览现场, Courtesy: Red Brick Art Museum

Obviously, I wouldn’t want to spoil the party but if you will … Enter the museum and you will be greeted with a roaring sound coming from somewhere. First, you wonder if it is a noise from some construction site nearby or sudden thunder outside. With Descension (2015), another rescaled reiteration by Anish Kapoor in the foyer, the exhibition space quickly becomes a makeshift shrine for everyone strolling in, and this instant site comes to house ghosts and you the guests, yes, both. Between the famously selfie-ready beautiful museum and the expansive ground on which it stands, between the roof and the interior, a unique curatorial cocoon arises spirally, upward and downward, like a temporary abode in a dream; and this feeling of getting sheltered under and sucked into the skin of a vital concept finds its compositional correlates in the layout of the exhibition space as a whole, thoughtfully constructed with measured shadows in the corridors, elegantly layered projections in the video rooms, and visually animated wall spaces.

So the focal point of the synaesthetic orchestration is this (hole) thing that is not a (whole) thing, a material mystery. Thicker, darker, and steadier than Alfred Hitchcock’s (maternal) shower scene that would make one scream, this whirlpool of abyssal terror soon becomes rather tender, soothingly repetitive like a lullaby, as the centrifugal dynamism of its sight and sound starts chanting as if breathing. Visitors, if lingering long enough, still alert and inert at once, would start to marinate in the texture of time: expect the unexpected, the “poetry” of it, “what happens or is conveyed on the outskirts of sense” (Fred Moten).

And so what do people do around this thing that is not a thing if not circling around “it” and looking in at “it” like some ritual object? The railings that both protect and produce the viewing subjects instantly complete and perform the ritualistic duet of curatorial vision and spectatorial visit. This particular version installed in this space works like magic: Red Brick Art Museum and Brooklyn Bridge Park, for instance, come together, traversing the scalar as well as spatiotemporal differences, a generative move readable as a more lateral and geocultural counter-gesture for liquidating the naturalized national boundaries.

There is a quest in every question and it is often felt most acutely around the edges. Limit experiences test our inertial complacency, and it is also such active questioning that brings all ten (artists), eleven (the curator), twelve (the writer) voices together.

《廓拉》 Kora 刘肇兴 Jawshing Arthur Liou 2011-12 3k分辨率视频 3k resolution video,  14'00''  立体声 Stereo sound 音轨由阿隆·特拉弗斯和麦乐迪·伊阿特沃斯制作 Soundtrack composed by Aaron Travers and Melody Eötvös ©刘肇兴 © Jawshing Arthur Liou 图片由艺术家提供 Courtesy: the artist

Jawshing Arthur Liou
2011-12, 3k resolution video,, 14’00”, Stereo sound, Soundtrack composed by Aaron Travers and Melody Eötvös
Courtesy: Red Brick Art Museum

Kora (2011–2012), “a walking circumambulation” in Tibetan, a video by Jawshing Arthur Liou, is a poignantly concrete, moving sublimation of the artist’s personal tragedy into a colorful videographic performance where the artist’s encounter with the passing of his daughter, which prompts this private pilgrimage, literally opens up a new vista of otherworldliness. Where does “one” end and “the other” begin, “life & death”? Where and when does a trauma relocate? When hit by an oxygen deprivation along the way, one would no longer think of this as an idle question savored by some French café philosophers and pipe-smokers. Hallucination is part and parcel of a life in death and a death in life.

《伐冰渡海》 Axing Ice to Cross the Sea 胡晓媛 Hu Xiaoyuan 2012 3频录像 3-channel video 09'40'' 有声 With sounds ©胡晓媛 ©Hu Xiaoyuan 图片由艺术家和北京公社提供 Courtesy: the artist and Beijing Commune

Axing Ice to Cross the Sea
Hu Xiaoyuan
2012, 3-channel video, 09’40”, With sounds
Courtesy: Red Brick Art Museum

One just goes on, comes through, as does Hu Xiaoyuan in her three-channel video installation, Axing Ice to Cross the Sea (2012), partitioned like a triptych, where the intense, durational performance produces cutting-edges, in this case, of crashing waves. How is it possible? How does it become possible? A slow spectacle of the persistence of an “I” against or with the ice in the middle (panel), it shows a temporal struggle of the human “self” or cells in nature, a matter of life and death, if you will. Characteristically holding a spear (戈) in its hand (手), an “I” (我) in action, a woman there—not a more generic Sino-man(kind) (亻) or a Sisyphus from ancient Greece—facing a boundless ocean, whose back we see, keeps hacking (伐), cutting down, the ice as she tries to make her way in/out horizontally towards a certain horizon. A hard life. A long hard life that will melt away—eventually, when? (T)here, though not on a hilltop, exhaustion comes to characterize experience, and the exhaustion appears to achieve experience at every point, as the solitary adult female character in this video ful-fills, in an endless loop, a given task of existence against the background of the hard liquid mysteries, full of temporal tension & tensional nano-dramas.

《木/檩No.8》 Wood-Purlin No.8 胡晓媛 Hu Xiaoyuan 2018 楸木、松木、墨、绡、漆和铁钉 Wood, ink, raw silk, paint, iron nails  180 x 130 x 4.2 cm ©胡晓媛 ©Hu Xiaoyuan 图片由艺术家和北京公社提供 Courtesy: the artist and Beijing Commune

Wood-Purlin No.8
Hu Xiaoyuan
2018, Wood, ink, raw silk, paint, iron nails, 180 x 130 x 4.2 cm
Courtesy: Red Brick Art Museum

This particularly private, publicly played game of life-making in and across the self-freezing “river of lethe (λήθη, oblivion, lack of mindfulness),” if the Platonic fable of death too can be woven into it, is indeed a fitting member and membrane of the corporeal philosophy of transitory and migratory metamorphosis; so are two of Hu’s more recent, equally labor-intensive, works, two paintings, Wood-Purlin N. 7 (2018) and Wood-Purlin N. 8 (2018), also included in the show. As with her earlier grainy board paintings, compared to the ice video work, these pieces are more materially focused in terms of their transfusional transaction, between wood and silk, and yet, insofar as the artist’s ongoing interest (inter esse, between essences, à la Heidegger) lies in working through the gaps between “objective” realities. Her psychophilosophical attention to the active void, in both cases, remains palpable. Note the Chinese title in this regard, how it visualizes this conceptual mise-en-abîme: 木|檩 (Wood-Purlin), “|,” a slightly wavy silky thread going down in the middle, slight to the left.

So “where do the gone things go?”


Or maybe the bird is with grandmother

inside light. Or grandmother was the bird

and is now the dog

gnawing on the chair leg.

Where do the gone things go

when the child is old enough

to walk herself to school,

her playmates already

pumping so high the swing hiccups?

— Kimiko Hahn, “In Childhood,” The Artist’s Daughter (2002)

《无题》 Untitled 樫木知子 Tomoko Kashiki 2017 彩色粉笔、丙烯、亚麻布和木板 Pastel, acrylic, linen, wooden panel 130.3 x 162 cm ©樫木知子 ©Tomoko Kashiki 图片由大田秀则画廊提供 Courtesy: Ota Fine Arts

Tomoko Kashiki
2017, Pastel, acrylic, linen, wooden panel, 130.3 x 162 cm
Courtesy: Red Brick Art Museum

As I am importing this line from a poet “in childhood,” I am entering into another set of dreamscapes, and vice versa. In Tomoko Kashiki’s elaborately layered paintings, Untitled (2007) in particular, the epi-phenomenology of dis-appearance itself is vividly traced and centralized in a uniquely luminous way that its own grisaille “impressionism,” so to speak, becomes instantly impactful like a fleeting scene in a daydream, quite different from a framed landscape with those lilies, castles, rivers, ladies & gentlemen on the grass, etc.

Imagine, reimagine the geometric zero-point of Kashiki’s metamorphic passages now occupied by a versatile human enigma such as the actor Tony Leung dubbed in multiple new voices, and you have stepped into the kaleidoscopic (under)world of The Mysterious Lai Teck (2018) by Ho Tzu Neyn. This cinemato-refabulation of the polyonymous mysteries of the triple agent from the wartime history of South Asia in the 1940s brilliantly contemporizes the psychocultural politics of resignification including its now increasingly data-technologicalized artificiality and robotic artefactuality, where the very notion of individuated or aspirational “agency” is recodified and sequenced through ironic doubling.

《神秘莱特》 The Mysterious Lai Teck 何子彦 Ho Tzu Nyen 2018 摄影: 安佳·博伊特勒 Photo: Anja Beutler ©何子彦 ©Ho Tzu Nyen 图片由艺术家提供 Courtesy: the artist

The Mysterious Lai Teck, Ho Tzu Nyen
2018, Photo: Anja Beutler
Courtesy: Red Brick Art Museum

If wakefulness, in the battlefield of modernity, is sustained in the mysteriously treacherous transnational character such as “Lai Teck,” other countless moving bodies usually, in fact, fail to “sleep no more.” Such anonymized existential abjection of migrant city builders is exquisitely video-documented by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Chai Siris. Their cinematic(ally fractured) journey focuses on (some very little, incremental) material events, and the steady gaze at the wall-like back of a de-animated worker, for instance, is powerfully subtle; seen sleeping and dreaming motionlessly in transit, his body in view allegorically literalizes the “backbone,” dorsality, of modern urban spaces. A surreal mix of nano-quotidian images and dream visions passing through their dead-tired bodies get multiplied at times outside the projector screen, projected onto the concrete boundaries of the screen room itself, the floor, the wall on the other side of the screen, and the wall behind the screen. So everything comes to—or through—a museum?

《走钢丝》 Tightrope 陶斯·马哈切娃 Taus Makhacheva 2015 58'10'' 全高清视频、彩色、有声 Full HD Video, color, sound 走钢丝者:拉苏尔·阿巴卡罗夫 Tightrope walker: Rasul Abakarov ©陶斯·马哈切娃 ©Taus Makhacheva 图片由艺术家提供 Courtesy: the artist

Taus Makhacheva
2015, 58’10”, Full HD Video, color, sound
Tightrope walker: Rasul Abakarov
Courtesy: Red Brick Art Museum

See, for instance, how a tightrope walker is crossing a canyon in the highlands of the Caucasus Mountains—and why? In the video Tightrope (2015) by Taus Makhacheva (which I hope was not shot there), this cleverly scaled composition of the inside and the outside shows the walker on a tightrope, transporting rectangular pieces of artworks from one side of the mountain to the other, one by one. It demonstrates the structural precarity of the institutionalized conservation of art and the near-magical survival of artists, a condition tinted with traceable acidity. Whence and whither this ritualistic yearning for object possession and permanence? The spectacular mountains in the supposed background, also contained in the projector space, remain tellingly mute, telegraphing a broader global crisis.

《小艺术史1-2》 Small Art History 1-2 朴赞景 Park Chan-kyong 2014/2017 首尔国际画廊展览现场 Installation view at Kukje Gallery, Seoul 照片和文字 Photo images, texts 尺寸可变 Dimensions variable ©朴赞景 ©Park Chan-kyong 摄影:凯斯·朴 Photo: Keith Park 图片由艺术家提供 Courtesy: the artist

Small Art History 1-2
Park Chan-kyong
2014/2017, Installation view at Kukje Gallery, Seoul
Photo images, texts
Dimensions variable
Courtesy: Red Brick Art Museum

Considered from politico-historical viewpoints too, the very narrative of the “world history” still rather monolingualized by the self-universalizing “Occidental” gaze, as reflected in the standard “art history,” would become a meta-object of scrutiny at various pressure points. In A Small Art History 1-2 (2014/2017), a miniature gallery of collage posters by Park Chan-Kyong, with penciled captions in Korean (and in Chinese translation by the museum staff), one may get a glimpse of a re-curated—or ReDisOriented—FutuRetroBook, where Ed Ruscha’s The Lost Angeles County Museum on Fire (1965–1968) becomes neighborly with a Korean female shaman (Mudang) as well as Kim Hong-do, the iconic eighteenth century “people’s painter” and his paradigm-shifting Kunsen-do, a painting of a circle of gentlemanly divinities (Kunseon) sitting around on the street; also annexed then, more immediately, is a photograph of a mass grave of executed bodies from the Korean War (source: anonymous, July 1950, the City of Daejeon), with one full face of a boy-like body turned to the viewer with his eyes wide open. Gruesomeness, like genuineness, is in the detail, as usual. This ingeniously indexed and transhistorically transposed, mixed reality of an alternative time-space created on an ordinary visual plane with such a discursive perspicuity and aesthetic economy exemplifies an art of worldly re-ghosting, re-telling.

《致读者的信_二》 Letters to the Reader_II 瓦利德·拉德/ WALID RAAD 2014  240 x 121.9 x 10.2 cm 密度板和颜料 MDF wood and paint ©瓦利德·拉德 ©Walid Raad 摄影:史蒂文·普罗伯特 Photo: Steven Probert 图片由纽约保拉·库珀画廊提供 Courtesy: Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Letters to the Reader_II
2014, 240 x 121.9 x 10.2 cm, MDF wood and paint
Courtesy: Red Brick Art Museum

The visual re-narrativization and recasting of cornered time and people in it involves not only interrogating, from such corners, the legacy of discursive ownership, the vestigial legitimacy of postcolonial and imperial power, but also actively reconsidering the legibility of such aesthetic objects collected and displayed as such, the otherwise-rooted stuff thus looted then. Walid Raad’s Scratching on Things I Could Disavow: Les Louvres (2014–2015) and Letters to the Reader (2014), which together forms the corridor in the exhibition space, returns to the repeated cutting(-edge-ness) of the root as noted earlier, the bleeding edge of the political ontology and epistemology of documentation in this case, where the task the artist set to himself with such “letters to the reader,” a call at once aesthetic and hermeneutic, is to restore the shadows in the scarred sacred in dynamic, open-ended ways.

Then moving from the liquid trails of artworks in motion (Raad’s “Scratching”) back to their vibrating void anchored in the abyss of the material imagination (Kapoor’s whirlpool), you, too, might feel—oddly enough—rested despite all that trotting around.