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,


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