“Landscape: The Virtual, The Actual, The Possible?”—jointly organized by Guangzhou’s Guangdong Times Museum (GTM), the Kadist Art Foundation and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco—opened in late May at GTM. Twenty-six works by twenty-one artists are included in this exhibition and, while most of them are on loan from Kadist, several Chinese artists were commissioned to contribute new works in response to the show’s theme. The co-curators from each organization prepared a lengthy statement, which ambitiously discusses various concepts, ranging from environmental concerns to psychology to technology. In short, this exhibition examines the multi-stability of nature and human beings through the artistic exploration of different “landscapes.”
One of the curatorial ideas is the subject of framing—both for a painting or window—and how it can limit one’s visibility of the panorama. Brazilian artist Marcelo Cidade’s work Adição por subtração – 4 (2010) is a rectangular outline formed by shards of glass on a wall. Through these sharp pieces, which protrude from the wall, the artist is deconstructing and destabilizing the notion of a “frame”—or the figurative window through which we see our surrounding landscape. The blank area of the wall framed by the rectangular outline also allows the audience to project their own vista onto the empty surface. Similarly, in British artist Charlotte Moth’s single-channel video, The Absent Forms (2010), the camera zooms out to look at the larger picture of the imagery it is shooting, as a way to expose how film can create illusions that trigger viewers’ emotions and interpretations.
Video works of London-based Japanese artist Hiraki Sawa are often surreal, as his interest lies in psychotherapy. In this exhibition, one of the six videos that comprise his work Hako (2006) is shown in its own tiny room. In the video, individual structures of a dollhouse are arranged on the shore by a rippling sea, while other elements (such as a tree or a clock) move around in a manner that defy the logic of a background and foreground perspective. In his work, the artist challenges established perceptions that have framed our knowledge as a way to make sense of the physical reality, and also exposes the disorderly unconsciousness that exists within our minds.
Tsang Kin-wah’s installation The Sixth Seal—He Is Something That Should Be Overcome. You are Something That Should Be Overcome (2014) is also a compelling work about the mindscape. Taking up the entirety of a large, dark room, fragmented texts inspired by the Bible and Nietzsche’s philosophy on existence are projected onto the ceiling and floor, and accompanied by sound effects. At times, a few lines would appear and then fade into darkness; in other instances, the text projections become overwhelming and light up the whole space. Eventually the texts explode on screen, turning into a cloud of colored smoke, and slowly return the room into complete darkness and silence. Tsang’s multi-sensational installation puts the audience within a frame of mind that is obsessed and concerned with the issue of existence. Whether visually, aurally or spatially, the viewers’ perceptions are controlled by the installation until they leave the room.
There are also other issues explored in this exhibition, including the co-existence of nature and human beings, as well as cityscapes and human’s ability to adapt to their environment. But discussing them all here would only emphasize the show’s lack of cohesion, which is unfortunately evident in the exhibition. Nevertheless, “Landscape” is a fair attempt at gathering works that challenge the notion of landscape itself, and the credit goes to the three co-curators of diverse backgrounds, who each contributed different insights to the exhibition.