One world, several dreams

“Business as Usual: New Video From China” at MassArt, “Text in Video” at Axiom, and “Many Kinds of Nothing” at Montserrat
By RANDI HOPKINS  |  August 12, 2008
Yang Fudong, Honey

“Business As Usual: New Video From China” at Sandra and David Bakalar Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, 621 Huntington Ave, Boston | August 18–September 27 | 617.879.7333

“Text In Video” at Axiom Gallery, 141 Green St, Boston | August 15–September 12 | 617.953.6413

“Many Kinds Of Nothing” at Montserrat Gallery, Montserrat College of Art, 23 Essex St, Beverly | August 23–October 26 | 978.921.4242
It’s no secret that recent years have seen a new “cultural revolution” in the visual arts in China. A generation of video artists who grew up in an era of increased creative freedom have been offering a complex take on their rapidly changing world, using personal visual vocabularies to examine aspects of their society that are just starting to come into focus for the rest of us. Opening on August 18 in the Bakalar Gallery at MassArt, “BUSINESS AS USUAL: NEW VIDEO FROM CHINA” presents work by Cao Fei and Yang Fudong, who reveal mixed feelings as they examine the relationship between swift modernization and traditional values and culture.

Cao Fei’s three-part video Whose Utopia was made during her six-month stay at OSRAM China Lighting Ltd in Foshan, one of the “big box” factories that have sprung up in China’s Pearl River Delta, where economic activity has boomed. The artist looks at workers who left their country homes to pursue big dreams in the city but ended up working in factories instead. She films them dressed as the dancers and musicians they were hoping to become, in the environment of their actual lives, the factory. Yang Fudong’s short films “City Light” and “Honey” show young urban intellectuals in their late 20s and early 30s, part of the emerging middle class in China; his work has been described as combining the lyricism of Chinese scroll painting with the stark tableaux of Jim Jarmsusch.

Ever since Bob Dylan held up and tossed away that series of cue cards with phrases from “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” I’ve been a fan of looking at the written word on film. (Not that more-sophisticated visual artists weren’t also experimenting with this in the 1960s — I just like to mention Dylan when I can.) A look at the current state of video art’s ongoing relationship with the written word is the subject of “TEXT IN VIDEO,” which opens at Axiom Gallery on August 15, with works by Nance Davies, who explores the experience of private moments in public space through the writings of MBTA riders, and Tony Cokes, who animates a text by art historian and critic Julian Stallabrass.

Subtle, largely non-representational works explore the kind of contemplative spiritual states that we could all use a bit more of in our lives, in the understated “MANY KINDS OF NOTHING,” which opens in the Montserrat Gallery at Montserrat College of Art on August 23. Sculptural installations and photographs by Roni Horn, Nancy Murphy Spicer, Dan Senn, and Liz Sweibel promise an enlightening experience and a bit of respite from the clatter of the usual. This show looks like a sleeper, in the best sense of the word.

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