Artforum on Comment il s’appelle

I recently exhibited at Lab47, a cool place hiding amongst the hutongs in Beijing. The exhibition is part of my ongoing project Art Labor at Large.

Artforum nicely summarized,

艺术家李爽在LAB47的个展“怎么称呼”包含了三件均为木质材料的作品,它们看上去分别是一对大骰子、一套木质餐具以及一双似乎按照人体比例制作的、造型生硬的白色翅膀,其中的几根“羽毛”甚至已经折断。这几件作品并非出自艺术家之手,而是由几位艺术工人在三个星期中利用业余时间完成。艺术家试图通过这些作品引领观者进入到“艺术究竟是什么”和“艺术工人究竟在做什么”等相关问题的反思中。李爽强调:自己并非“作者”——“作者”是一家名为Zmart的艺术搬运公司所属的六名艺术工人。他们全部来自安徽宣城,完全没有接受过艺术教育,甚至对于艺术怀有一种“深刻的矛盾心理”:“一方面这是他们的生计,另一方面他们对当代艺术的概念怀有一种抵触与质疑。他们时常抱怨:‘就这么一个简单的破铜烂铁,怎么就能有人花好几万来买?’”工人们的质疑成为了构建这个展览的起点。艺术家发起了一个“交易”:由她来帮助工人制作网站,工人则要为他们自己创作。当艺术家被问及“什么是作品”时,艺术家回答:什么都可以是作品。

Artist Li Shuang’s exhibition Comment Il s’appelle contains three works made of wood. They seem to be a pair of large dice, a set of dining tools and a pair of awkwardly-shaped white wings proportionate to the size of human with some broken wooden feathers. The works aren’t made by the artist but by a couple art handlers in their spare time within 3 weeks. The artist is trying to initiate contemplation on “what is art” and “what exactly is art labor”. Li emphasizes that she wasn’t the “author”, instead, the authors were an art handling and fabricating company named Zmart. These 6 art handlers are from Xuancheng, Anhui, and they have not had art education beforehand. They are in a complicated relationship with art: on the one hand, this is their means of living, while on the other, they hold grudges and doubts towards it. They sometimes complain, “why would somebody spend thousands on a crap like this?” which led to the conception of the exhibition. The artist initiated a “deal”, that she would help the handlers make their company’s website, while the art handlers would make art works per her demand. When asked, “what exactly do you want us to make?”, Li answered, “it can be anything.”

 

So we see these three objects in LAB47. They are all manmade, modified, deliberate, symbolic, and decorative. The artist acknowledges that they turned out different from what she expected beforehand, but to some extent, the image presented here or the materiality aren’t important anymore in that the workers’ attitude towards artistic expression is negative and nihilistic, based on some kind of egoistic logic. One exception is the set of wood utensils of a fork erected on a black wooden bowl, a knife parallel with the edge (of the tray), and a pair of chopsticks that appear to be placed randomly on the tray under the wooden bowl. Although tableware is placed in ways that seem to imply (a combination) of Eastern and Western cultures, respectively, the set of wooden utensils generally does not refer to anything. While retaining the functionality of utensils, it creates a self-contained system of independent existence outside the dining setting, moreover, there is even a sense of indifference and pride – a temperament aligns with the workers’ view of art.

 

An audio recorded by Li Shuang loops within the gallery, each sentence of which trying to redefine the role of art and art workers. In Li Shuang’s opinion, the contradiction between art workers and their service objects – works of art – is a perfect epitome of the mutual cognitive difficulties that contemporary art and society have fallen into. Under the seemingly simple surface, Li Shuang’s creation is highly conceptualized. It reminds me of A.A.I., a work by artist Agnieszka Kurant that was exhibited at the Kitchen in New York where the artist juxtaposed five ant terraces in the gallery. From this perspective, these two artists have explored something that overlaps: making works by “other’s” hands while tracing (and therefore often avoided) “core”. The question is, what else can art in our cognition be in another context, or is there any structural deviation in our cognition of art?

 

From another perspective, Zmart, a company that handles, produces and assembles works, charges more than ordinary moving companies (when it comes to the transportation of artworks). The price difference seems to symbolize that they are “professional” and “specific” in terms of what they do. The “relevance” to art here has also become self-evident explanation of their extraordinary value – perhaps, Zmart’s existence itself provides an annotation of “the value of artwork.”

Read the whole thing on Artforum