21 February - 21 April 2018
To loosely paraphrase Áine McBride’s careful description of her young sculptural practice, it abstracts the quotidian process of the post-minimal everyday… “They [installations, sculptures] are an amalgamation of surfaces and often do not conform to one knowable form/shape (post-minimalist). A work shifts as it is circumnavigated.”1 What (in)exactly is that? It’s not the hard-reasoned minimalism, the rigorously-defined purpose of Donald Judd’s artfully artless furniture, for example, where the purported task of sitting is uncomfortably facilitated (hard edges and rectilinear, right angle planes…) or Carl Andre’s expandable, contractible, square steel-plate floors, whereupon walking, is clankingly obliged: But in the case of McBride, it is a minimalism that is explicitly ambiguous, dialectically driven towards nothing very much in particular. Or at least; the-spaces-in-between-nothing-very-much-in-particular.
Looking inspirationally at things we all know, McBride points us towards Philip Rawson’s simultaneously meaningful and meaningless description of modernist architecture as “an assemblage of planes at right angles to each other, proportionally varied”2. A truth, but not an entire one, which appropriately stands as a commencement point from which we might begin to understand the construction of contiguous implications within McBride’s practice. Our shared and increasingly ‘post-human’3 daily experience of the world, draws us into unexpectedly disconcerting places; office receptions, bank lobbies, airport terminals, waiting rooms, more waiting rooms, which, although assumingly designed for a pleasant (non) experience, to guide or instruct us, more often eventuates as passive aggressive, alienating encounters. We can assume that the architects and designers of said spaces, (wherein they are designed, or more compellingly one feels to McBride; accrued or improvised), intended the furnishings, fittings and signage to benefit the ‘user’: perhaps to offer temporary comfort, or directional information – what designers of public spaces have optimistically, long described as ‘desire lines’. Despite this, the common outcome of these artificial environments locates us far, far away from their aspirations and intentions. I was recently sitting in a dentist’s waiting room for so long, that I became absolutely fixated on the most useless, multiply-repaired, shelving system I’ve ever seen, oddly conflated with a water cooler and coffee maker/magazine rack… Applying Stafford Beer’s4 POSIWID theory, the purpose of a system is what it does, the calculated feelings of relaxation, efficiency and communality are often replaced with isolation, anxiety and displacement. Despair even.
Áine McBride utilises the ‘aesthetic’ prompts and signifiers, politely swiped, from sterile habitats, to construct her complex sculptural language. Forms to which we have become anesthetically desensitized in the ‘real world’ – whatever that is – are appropriated to reflect a new understanding of the values of everyday existence. More waiting rooms. Circumventing Beer’s assertion about the purpose of objects and systems, McBride’s works indicatively hold a resemblance to furniture: chairs, tables, shelving or common architectural features, but unlike Judd, say, without obvious functionality. Her sculptures resolve the concept of prosaic ‘practicality’ by the refusal to sensationalize her subjects as household furniture or appliances; metaphorically transcending their designated purpose and intended limitations, and taking reassurance in objects and materials existing for their own inherent value, rather than a perceived use. Incorporating elements of flat-pack and modular furniture that for one-reason-or-another, have also become essential to our mobile lifestyles, her constructions and temporary or site-specific interventions, further reflect the constantly changing urban landscape of our cities, megalopolises and the way we navigate their infrastructures.
“It thus cannot avoid reproducing the dissemination which fragments every system. But by trying to determine the morphology of use of expressions, that is, to examine their domains of use and describe the forms, it can recognize different modes of everyday functioning by pragmatic rules themselves dependent on forms of life (Lebensformen).”5
Áine McBride graduated from the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, in 2016 and work suite, made for mother’s tankstation, Dublin, is her first solo exhibition. Welcome!
1 Artist’s notes on practice (February 2018)
2 Philip Rawson, Creative Design: A New Look at Design Principles, Macdonald & Co Ltd,1987, pg. 31
3 here we go again… blah, blah, Donna Harraway, A Cyborg Manifesto, 1984,… also a truth, a popular but not an entire one…
4 Anthony Stafford Beer (1926-2002), the guru of operational research and management cybernetics.
5 Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, University of California Press, 1984, pg.12
Special Economy Zone
1 March - 14 April 2018
The collective title of Liu Chuang’s iconic series of works originating from 2005; Buying Everything on You, states a completely literal truth and was compelled by the development of Shenzhen as a modern megalopolis, a conscious prototype and incubator for China’s urban, industrial ‘future’, now present, that links Hong Kong to mainland China, exposing East to West, both geographically and ideologically. Designated a Special Economic Zone by Deng Xiaoping, in approximately thirty years it has swollen from a Pearl River Delta fishing village, with under one hundred people, to it’s current population of over 11.9 million people and a sub-provincial political and administrative status. It self-proclaims itself as the factory of the world.
In 2005, Liu Chuang walked into Shenzhen’s largest job centre, or talent market (Luohu talent market) and began to talk to people looking for work. He handed out small, neatly printed cards explaining his desire to purchase everything a willing seller had on, and with them, with the intention that the utility of the everyday objects would be transformed into historical artifacts, to be ritually presented (laid-out) for exhibition in a museum context. After painstaking negotiations, only a few were happy to make the trade (approximately 1%). The transactions were completed in a nearby clothing store, wherein the ‘subjects’ divested themselves of everything in the changing rooms, in replacement for newly bought clothing and an agreed financial exchange. Among those who acquiesced to the purchase, most were very young, having come from small or mid-sized towns and villages all over China; a number were university students, others were recently unemployed and seeking work.
Liu Chuang explains, that one of the fundamental inspirations for the series came from a visit to a local-history exhibition at the Shenzhen Museum, encapsulating the city’s thirty years since the beginnings of the reformist era and including a reconstruction/restoration of a female factory worker’s dormitory from the 1980s. From the outside, it looked plain and poverty-stricken, just like the stark belongings of the political leaders that were displayed alongside it. Aside from daily necessities, objects were few and rudimentary, and easily understandable as a form of political propaganda, implicitly calling on the people to lead a simple life; to embrace the spirit of ‘overcoming hardship’, and thereby contribute their own small part to the greater good of social modernization.
Seen from another side, however, this mode or approach to subliminal messaging through museological strategies, is susceptible to criticism (attack) from its ‘opposing’ model (capitalism), in that the latter might perceive or describe the former as a tragi-pathetic portraiture of a people under socialist oppression. In the complex debate surrounding whether Shenzhen should be determined “socialist” or “capitalist” at the time, these opposing narratives carried the effective potential to stir-up nationalist sentiment and raise its attendant spirit of sacrifice.
As a modern sacrificial offering, the ultimate result of the debate was that “material accomplishment” (capital gain) became the utmost priority for social development. In this context, Shenzhen became a “test tube” for radical reform and a “window” for opening up, with polarizing modes of industrialization co-existing with one another: From the 19th century’s frightening and inhumane factory models to those of post-industrial precision; radically different fragments of history commingled. At the same time, local ancestral worship was also active in Shenzhen, whereby equally contradictory explanations enabled powerful dialectics to be reconciled and exist in parallel. To this end, Liu Chuang describes contemporary Shenzhen as a kind of “breathing modern archeological site for humans…”, from which he has extrapolated Buying Everything on You, as “…the skeletal remains of human activity and specimens of its ruins, only that the humans are still alive”.
Three works from this canonical series are being presented for the first time in London, at mother’s tankstation, alongside the first showing of Chuang’s film, shot contemporaneously, documenting Shenzhen and contextualizing the environment of his radical exchange and its critically important socio-archeological impact.
Liu Chuang (born In Hubei, China, 1978, lives and works in Shanghai), lived in Shenzhen between 2001-2007 and this experience has clearly left its mark on his work, which is characterized by social projects that comment upon the socio-political presentation of contemporary, post-reformist China. Chuang has exhibited extensively with major group exhibition including: Bentu, Chinese Artists In A Time Of Turbulence And Transformation, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2016), Berlinale, The Berlin International Film Festival (2016), Burning Down the House, The 10th Gwangju Biennale, Korea (2014), 28 Chinese, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco and The San Antonio Museum of Art, (2015), Rubell Family Collection Miami (2013 and 2017), My Generation: Young Chinese Artists, Orange County Museum of Art, California (2015), Artists’ Film International, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2012), Younger Than Jesus, New Museum Triennial, New Museum, New York (2009), Slash Fiction, Gasworks, London, UK (2007). Liu Chuang’s recent solo exhibitions include Segmented Landscape, K11 Art Village, Wuhan (2015), Love Story, Salon 94, New York (2014), Untitled (The Dancing Partner), Kunsthall Stavanger (2014), and Liu Chuang: Works #16-21, Leo Xu Projects, Shanghai (2012).