ZHU JIA, It’s Beyond My Control, 2014, two-channel synchronized video installation: 10 min. Courtesy OCAT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shanghai.  

JOÃO VASCO PAIVA,  Forced Empathy, 2011, single-channel digital video: 7 min 29 sec. Courtesy OCAT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shanghai. 


OCAT Contemporary Art Terminal

The combination of Chinese characters that form the word “Shanghai” translates to “upon-the-sea”—yet the metropolis’ contemporary topographic transformations and polluted skyline have made pensive introspection of its maritime setting a difficult process. “LandSeaSky,” a traveling exhibition of 20 videos by 17 contemporary artists, offered an alternative way to consider Shanghai’s morphing landscape through a focus on spatial perception. Set in two large spaces at the OCAT Contemporary Art Terminal, the horizon line served as the starting point for curator Kim Machan, who co-organized the exhibition with Brisbane-based nonprofit MAAP – Media Art Asia Pacific. 

The first works on display were representative of the exhibition’s ambition. Projected side-by-side on a large white wall were the videos Horizon I – SeaHorizon II – Sea and Horizon III – Sea (all 1971) by conceptual Dutch artist Jan Dibbets. The works comprise clips of the ocean horizon, with each video showing footage of the sea shot at a different angle—a dizzying effect that makes the infinite skyline the only stable reference point in the videos. Predictable and monotonous, yet oddly thrilling, the videos wittily engage with the question of what affects one’s perception of the material world.

These imposing works were followed by a series of video pieces in a lofty space, including Paul Bai’s Untitled (Wind Charm) (2013) and Shilpa Gupta’s 100 Hand Drawn Maps of India (2007–08). Zhu Jia’s It’s Beyond My Control (2014), a poetic conflation of real and hand-drawn angles, was intimately shown in a corner of the room. Tucked in an isolated section within the loft was Garage – Sometimes You Can See So Much More (2009–11) by emerging artist Giovanni Ozzola, which shows a metallic dock shutter rattling open to a blinding view of the sun’s reflection on the ocean horizon, and was one of the best works in the exhibition. The framing of the garage door and its manipulation of obscurity and brightness subtly alludes to the visual limitations of the human gaze. 

KIM SOOJA, Bottari – Alfa Beach, 2001, single-channel video projection: 6 min 18 sec. Courtesy OCAT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shanghai.  

WANG PENG, Feeling North Korea, 2007, single-channel video on CRT monitor: 5 min. Courtesy OCAT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shanghai. 

The exhibition’s second space began wonderfully with Hong-Kong-based João Vasco Paiva’s Forced Empathy (2011). The video follows a buoy’s movements in the port of Hong Kong, the frame shifting nauseatingly with the tidal waves. By showing the cityscape through the buoy’s perspective, Paiva brings to light the subjectivity that is intrinsic to perception and the complexities related to the act of empathizing. Next came a set of three videos—including Kimsooja’s beautiful Bottari – Alfa Beach (2001), which features an upside-down view of a Nigerian beach that was once a notorious slave-trading port—followed by an area with six more works. One was Wang Peng’s Feeling North Korea (2007), a short film showing images that the artist secretly shot in Pyongyang, which, in stark contrast to Paiva’s Forced Empathy, emphasizes otherness and does little to add to the topics of perception addressed in the other works. A more successful work was Yeondoo Jung’s Handmade Memories – On the Dividing Line Between Body and Soul (2008), a touching juxtaposition of two different videos. Installed side by side, one features an interviewee recalling in fragments about his past loves and finding inner peace in old age, and the other shows a railway track being installed on a stage—together the videos hint at the idea of the horizon as the end point of a human’s destiny. The exhibition ended with Close, Close (2014) by Australian artist Barbara Campbell, an excellent and playful video installation that changes its screen display in response to the viewers’ movements.

Overall, by focusing on the motif of the horizon, Machan was able to curate an elegant exhibition that explored various notions of space and visuality. Some of the videos that were included are wonderfully evocative and original, which made “LandSkySea” one of the most poetic exhibits in Shanghai this Spring. The main issue of the show, however, was the difficulty in identifying a clear curatorial concept. At times there seemed to be too many untied ideas dispersed throughout the exhibition. For its next stops in Asia, perhaps “LandSeaSky” could consider tightening the number of works and reorganizing them in a more cohesive structure.

YEONDOO JUNG, Handmade Memories – On the Dividing Line Between Body and Soul2008, two-channel HD video on wall-mounted displays: 9 min 16 sec. Courtesy OCAT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shanghai. 

“LandSeaSky” was on view at OCAT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shanghai,  from April 20–June 29, 2014, and will travel to MAAP SPACE, Griffith University Art Gallery, Brisbane, on September 18, 2014.