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"Misleading Trails: Enrique Chagoya, Xie Xiaoze, Hai Bo, Dan Mills, Hong Hao, Ai Weiwei, Vernon Fisher"
2008-08-14 until 2004-09-30
China Art Archives and Warehouse
At first glance, the work of this group of artists from China and the United States is misleading; it appears simply to be about the depicted subjects. Closer viewing reveals complex and layered meanings, sincere and subversive strategies, biting humor and very serious intent, veneration and critique. In visually and intellectually compelling work that investigates history, art, cultural and personal experience, Ai, Chagoya, Fisher, Hai, Hong, Mills and Xie create provocative art filled with layered images and information, leading the viewer away from their initial response, and down numerous trails full of unexpected meanings. Misleading Trails will be exhibited at China Art Archives and Warehouse in Beijing in 2004, and will travel throughout the United States in 2005 - 06.
“Misleading Trails” in Multiple Perspectives
(from the introductory essay by Xie Xiaoze)
In the spring of 2003, Dan Mills and I came to Beijing for a project called “Rebirth: Chinese Contemporary Art from China and America” and we visited many artist studios back then. As we met and talked to the artists, we became genuinely fascinated by their works and discovered came up with the idea to organize a traveling exhibition to develop communications and exchange among artists from both countries.
“Misleading Trails” is a result of our interaction and collaboration with a number of artists for a year and a half. Ai Weiwei, Hai Bo, Hong Hao live in Beijing; Xiaoze Xie is from China but lives and works in the States now; Enrique Chagoya, Dan Mills, and Vernon Fisher are all American artists. The artists have been actively involved in the curating process of “Misleading Trails”, which can be regarded as an “organically produced” show. Even though there is not a single theme or artistic medium linking all the works in the show, there are diverse and complex correlations in between the featured works. The natural merging of conceptual and visual elements, the layered and complex nature of meanings, the questioning and challenging of political significance and established value systems, deconstruction or synthesizing in art forms, the ambiguity of artistic styles, all of these are the traits that this group of extremely individualized artworks share.
Ai Weiwei takes a keen interest in altering and subverting the original function and significance of representative and symbolic elements in Chinese culture. His reconstructed Ming and Qing Dynasty furniture has no more practical function but still maintains its succinct and elegant proportion. His Han Dynasty Urns covered in white paint or painted with Coca-Cola Logo probably can’t be valued as antique any more but they clearly demonstrate the fundamental nature of daily utilities. Lining up of fragmented feet and hands of Buddhist sculptures showcases a multiplicity of postures and styles and lends his art another form of unity. His body of work is diverse and versatile but in the meantime contains contradictions, absurdity and substantial discrepancy in time and space. His application of “ready-mades” is a tribute to Duchamp but the value and significance of his chosen medium (antique) imparts his subversive gesture with exceptional weight. Is he an antique connoisseur, a minimalist architect, a conceptualist or a post-modernist artist?
In the recent decade, Xiaoze Xie has immersed himself into depicting books and newspapers stacked on the shelves in libraries in his paintings. However, the newspapers featured in his recent paintings are freshly off the newspaper stands. News photographs and bits of texts often disclose stories of violence and wars, juxtaposed with events of daily life. “China Libraries Series” depicting moth-eaten, thread-bound books have an air of decay and seem to suggest oblivion and obliteration. As critic Robin Updike writes, “At first glance Xie seems to be venerating books and all they stand for—knowledge, history, the life of the mind, freedom of the intellect… (But ) these books are only a confusing trail to nowhere. Open their pages and be trapped by their seductions into an eternity of unreality.” “China Libraries Series” and Ai Weiwei’s works are different interpretations of the “misleading trails” from a cultural perspective.
Hong Hao’s silkscreen series “Tibetan Scriptures” are a direct rip-off of old Chinese tomes opened at two random pages. The maps in his books no longer provide accurate information of geographical or administrative regions. Instead their symbols, texts and graphics become real “misleading clues” while in the meantime, give a more exact picture of contemporary life: multinational companies seizing territories; giant bombs, missiles, and submarines spreading all over the place; rampant murders and tortures, as well as omnipresent brand name products and beauties. As Enrique Chagoya observes, “The world is endlessly re-mapped and re-named.”
Hong Hao’s latest creation, “My Things” is a series of photographs of arranged and scanned ordinary objects, which are marks of the artist’s personal life. “My things No. 7” features all of his books, from revolutionary comics from his childhood to famous Chinese literature classics, to publications on Western contemporary art to all kinds of art catalogues from his recent exhibitions. It reveals how the whole cultural, social and political climate can influence and restrain an individual’s development.
Along the same lines, Vernon Fisher has stressed “the Conditionality of Art”. That is to say that the “creation” of artwork is always restricted by art history and the bigger cultural and social environment, and the meaning of art is to a large extent determined by a specific context. Fisher made a name for himself with his practice of “Narrative art” in 1970s and was regarded as a champion of postmodernism. He is a self-possessed nihilist who never limits himself to a theme, style or medium. On the contrary, he constantly mixes text, sketch, realistic painting, abstract painting, pop art, and ready-made and other elements and by means of juxtaposition and superposition, he enables all these modes of representation to compliment, contradict and negate each other in his work. The incoherence of consciousness, the track of thinking, the mix-up of reference systems, the confusion of interpretation, and a range of philosophical “misleading trails” are often captured in Fisher’s work. One part of his work deals with the society and politics too. His work “An Earth Carver” was inspired by the American custom of hollowing pumpkins to make scary face lanterns in Halloween. His unpretentious illustrations posed the critical question of whether we were involved in or just “innocently” witnessing the deconstruction and dividing up of the world.
The works of Enrique Chagoya and Dan Mills are more direct commentary of history and politics and they both respond unambiguously to the latest conflicts and wars. Chagoya notes, “The 20th century has been perhaps the most violent in the world's history. Human kind is in constant war with itself, perfectly capable of total destruction. This is the raw material for my art.” The Mexican born Chagoya tends to merge the styles of Mexican folk arts and religious arts with elements from American popular culture and pop art as well as European art history to forge a unique style of his own. Chagoya’s new work incorporates symbolic signs such as a map of America, Jesus Christ, tanks, and battleships etc to reveal the origin of religion, the delicate connection between ideology and politics and to satirize the fact that this sole superpower nation positions itself as the Savior of the world.
Dan Mills’ work is noted for its wit and humor. His early works can be regarded as “the archeology of knowledge,” mainly exposing the self-important racist prejudice and the tendency for colonialism appearing in geography and history textbooks taught initially in European and American schools. In 1998, his work, “Beacon” was a wall map used in teaching, which revealed the world as a chessboard overshadowed by religious, political and military powers. In “USA Future States” series, Dan Mills embraced the current leaders’ imperialist leanings and took them further by supporting a grand empire-building scheme based on the American “CIA World Viewbook” website as a primary source for all sorts of information on politics, military armament, and energy etc in countries. These unconventionally shaped and colorful maps of “Future States” illustrate political “misleading trails”. The past and the present actions taken by America including its colonialist history, recent invasion of Iraq, and open threats to other countries are a reality that the works of both Dan Mills and Enrique Chagoya address.
Hai Bo’s photography addresses personal experience placed in the bigger picture of reality. His earlier works were juxtapositions of old and new photography that reflected the changes in people and society and the passage of time. Hai Bo lives in Tongxian on the outskirts of Beijing. His latest photography captures the surroundings and people on the margin in between the urban and rural areas. At first glance, they appear to be snapshots but their composition is so refined and concise that it betrays a sense of aloofness. They are real and common situations while in the meantime have a sense of theatrical absurdity and alienation. The gray sky and pale sun in his photography lends the images an air of surrealist fantasy. His work is characterized by a sense of helplessness felt by individuals placed in an alien environment and a sense of absurdity of living without purpose or significance. Hai Bo’s work adds a new angle and a different medium to the exhibition. Unlike the styles of the other artists in the show, Hai Bo opens up stylistic “misleading trails” with his simple, vivid and open-ended art form.
Misleading Trails will open at China Art Archives & Warehouse (CAAW), Beijing, in 2004. Additional venues are planned for China in 2004. The exhibition will travel throughout the US 2005 - 2006. The itinerary below includes institutions that have committed to exhibiting the show.
Late January – March NIU Art Museum, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL, USA
April 16 – May 26 University Art Gallery, University of North Texas, Denton. TX, USA
June - July
August – September Hanes Art Gallery, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, USA
October 13 – December 9 Vanderbilt University Art Gallery, Nashville, TN, USA
January – February Boyden Gallery, St. Mary’s of Maryland, St. Mary’s City, MD USA