The current exhibition at UCCA is definitely my favorite exhibition I've seen so far in Beijing. There were three exhibitions, actually: Taryn Simon's, Wang Keping's and Tino Sehgal's installation pieces, which ended last Sunday. I think I will write about Wang and Sehgal sometime during the week.
In Taryn Simon's most recent body of work, "A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters," which is on display at UCCA, Simon combines photography and text together to tell different stories. The collection consists of eighteen chapters of "stories," that range from the story of the Hussein's son's body double to the story of Indian brothers who were declared as dead on country's official documents.
When I first walked into the exhibition, I noticed her artworks don't really look like typical "artworks" on display at museums. Each piece consists of beige background, portraits of characters in the "story," and a panel of different pictures along with footnotes on the bottom.
For example, this piece is the "Chapter III" of the "A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters." The story centeres around Joseph Nvamwanda Jura Ondijo, whose portrait is placed on the upper left corner of the portrait panel. Joseph is a doctor in Kenya, who deals with a wide range of conditions including evil spirits, infertility, AIDS/HIV and tuberculosis. He is most often paid for his services in cash, cows or goats, but sometimes his female patients offer themselves in marriage in exchange for medical treatment.
The portrait section in the left side are filled with portraits of Joseph's family members. Some portraits are blank, representing the absent family members who were not able to show up due to reasons ranging from, "fear of child being kidnapped by her father," "religion and social status, and "Emergency". The footnote section on the right side of the piece consist of several photographs with footnotes that describe the pictures. In the footnote section, there is a photograph of cows that were given to Joseph as a payment and of a girl who recieves care from Joseph for evil spirits.
I remember one visiter last Sunday actually came up to one of the museum guides and asked her, "how is this art? All the works look identical and like pages in textbooks." And now that I think about it, I guess that's true in the way the pictures and texts are laid out and how the artist provides the viewer with facts, dates and footnotes. However, the reasons why the artist makes these choices are probably far different than that of textbooks. The point of showing us pictures of official documents, actual victims and family members is not really to teach us of different problems in the world. Taryn Simons tells "stories" to show how external forces like religion, power and identity clash with internal forces of inheritance. Ultimately, all the pieces are centered around the idea of bloodlines and connection between family members. The seemingly objective "storytelling" is actually very subjective and that makes Taryn's works very complex and intersting and not at all "textbook-like" in my opinion.
Another interesting thing I noticed is that one of the chapters from the eighteen chapters are is shown at the exhibition.
The chapter is instead replaced by three boxes that represent the absence of the the piece. This chapter is related to the story of families with members who were abducted by North Korea. This is a very sensitive topic to China, and my guess is that the Chinese custom did not allow UCCA to bring the piece in to mainland. Also, the annotation panels that describe the stories behind each piece are missing from all 18 chapters. Also, half of chapter fifteen is missing from the exhibition. This chapter is the story of a family that is a "perfect representation of China" according to China's State Council Information Office, perviously known as the Office of Foreign Propaganda.
This exhibition tells so much about "stories" that even the absence of works tells us stories.... I'm so surprised that the simple layout of pictures and text and black borders can tell us so much about the world.
This exhibition is definitely my favorite and since I'll be around every Sunday, I will get to spend so much time looking at her works.
I really want to explore the idea of family and bloodlines in IB Art after seeing this exhibition.