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Agency and authority

The politics of co-collecting

Sean Mallon

At the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, there are two positions dedicated to curating Pacific Cultures. Since 2002, the curators have been of Pacific Islands descent. One of our ongoing challenges is how to represent Pacific societies and cultures, which are increasingly transnational and indeed global, in our exhibitions and collections. We are conscientiously developing co-curating and co-collecting strategies in our approach to this milieu. However, there is actually a long history of Pacific communities in New Zealand engaging the museum in curating, collecting and exhibiting processes. In this chapter, I share some examples, highlighting how Pacific communities have exercised their agency and authority, influencing their representation in the National Museum. I describe our curatorial responses and examine what was at stake in these interactions, and what tensions and politics were and remain at play.

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Above sea

Contemporary art, urban culture, and the fashioning of global Shanghai

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Jenny Lin

Shanghai, long known as mainland China’s most cosmopolitan metropolis, has recently re-emerged as a global capital. Above sea: Contemporary art, urban culture, and the fashioning of global Shanghai offers the first in-depth examination of turn of the twenty-first-century Shanghai-based art and design—from state-sponsored exhibitions to fashionable cultural complexes to cutting-edge films and installations. This book offers a counter-touristic view of one of the world’s fastest developing megacities, one that penetrates the contradictions and buried layers of specific locales and artifacts of visual culture. Informed by years of in-situ research, including interviews with artists and designers, the book looks beyond contemporary art’s global hype to reveal persistent socio-political tensions accompanying Shanghai’s explosive transitions from semi-colonial capitalism to Maoist socialism to Communist Party–sponsored capitalism. Analyses of exemplary design projects such as Xintiandi and Shanghai Tang and artworks by Liu Jianhua, Yang Fudong, Gu Wenda, and others reveal how Shanghai’s global aesthetics construct glamorizing artifices that mask historically rooted cross-cultural conflicts between vying notions of foreign-influenced modernity versus anti-colonialist nationalism, and the city’s repressed socialist past versus its consumerist present. The book focuses on Shanghai-based art and design from the 1990s–2000s, the decades of the city’s most rapid post-socialist development, while also attending to pivotal Republican and Mao-era examples. Challenging the “East-meets-West” clichés that characterize discussions of urban Shanghai and contemporary Chinese art, this book illuminates critical issues facing today’s artists, architects, and designers and provides an essential field guide for students of art, design, art history, urban studies, and Chinese culture.

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Jared Pappas-Kelley

In Chapter five, art is examined through the image of a house ravaged by fire, put forth by Giorgio Agamben’s The Man without Content and in relation to the destructions of art explored previously and the Momart Fire specifically (perhaps here made literal). It also builds on examples such as Thomas Hirschhorn’s work Crystal of Resistance and its accompanying texts, in order to understand an operation in art that is made visible through these events. It additionally returns to ideas from Tom McCarthy’s Remainder as well as Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. Through these examples and events, one might begin to understand something more of art. In attempting to represent an affinity—to coax or draw it out—the text forms a portrait of sorts (in the Jean-Luc Nancy sense), and through it we might begin to see something that has disappeared through an operation of art.

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Jared Pappas-Kelley

Chapter four introduces the example of the Momart warehouse fire, in which large amounts of art—including high profile Young British Art—was destroyed when a thief apparently broke into an adjoining space and set the complex on fire. Works such as Tracey Emin’s Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 (lost in the fire) are examined, as well as accounts of the public backlash and media attention surrounding this event. In addition, the implications of Jake and Dinos Chapman’s exact remake of Emin's piece as The Same Only Better are considered, along with the event's legacy and the expectation that these works of art will endure.

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The stranger

Performing ‘out- of- placeness’ in the UK and Europe

Stephen Greer

Building on scholarship concerning migration and exile, this chapter deploys the figure of the stranger in reading solo works in and around the border regimes of the UK and EU. If – as Sara Ahmed suggests – stranger recognition involves (often unmarked) assumptions about which bodies belong and which are out of place, performance interventions in and around border regimes bring such beliefs to light while demonstrating how misrecognition and uncertainty are preserved as technologies of control. Though associated with cosmopolitan fantasies of mobility and hospitality, the stranger allows us to follow how a selective distribution of legitimacy serves to limit access to Western Europe’s territories of wealth.

Featured practitioners: Kay Adshead, Zodwa Nyoni, Oreet Ashery, Nassim Soleimanpour, Tanja Ostojić.

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Solvent form

Art and destruction

Jared Pappas-Kelley

Solvent form examines the destruction of art—through objects that have been destroyed (lost in fires, floods, vandalism, or similarly those artists that actively court or represent this destruction, such as Gustav Metzger), but also as a process within art that the object courts through form. In this manner, Solvent form looks to events such as the Momart warehouse fire in 2004 as well as the actions of art thief Stéphane Breitwieser in which the stolen work was destroyed. Against this overlay, a tendency is mapped whereby individuals attempt to conceptually gather these destroyed or lost objects, to somehow recoup in their absence. From this vantage, Solvent form—hinging on the dual meaning in the words solvent and solvency—proposes an idea of art as an attempt to secure and fix, which correspondingly undoes and destroys through its inception. It also weaves a narrative of art that intermingles with Jean Baudrillard’s ideas on disappearance, Georges Bataille and Paul Virilio’s negative or reverse miracle, Jean-Luc Nancy’s concept of the image (or imago as votive that keeps present the past, yet also burns), and Giorgio Agamben’s notion of art as an attempt to make the moment appear permeable. Likewise, it is through these destructions that one might distinguish a solvency within art and catch an operation in which something is made visible through these moments of destruction when art’s metaphorical undoing emerges as oddly literal.

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Jared Pappas-Kelley

Chapter three examines the notion of solvent form in more detail, in which art—while attempting to make secure or fixed—simultaneously undoes and destroys through its inception. This is examined through narratives such as Sarah Winchester obsessively building the Winchester Mansion in San Jose, California, or similarly as an object that Scheherazade attempts to hew with her stories in One Thousand and One Nights—seen here as a method for forestalling a verdict and extending her moments against foreclosure, maintaining their permeability. Within this context, works such as Jeremy Blake’s Winchester Trilogy, Urs Fischer’s untitled melting wax sculptures from the Venice Biennale, Louise Bourgeois’s Couple II, examples from contemporary art, and ideas from Agnes Martin’s writings are applied in order to understand these solvent operations within art.

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Queer exceptions

Solo performance in neoliberal times

Stephen Greer

This book is a study of solo performance in the UK and Western Europe since the turn of millennium that explores the contentious relationship between identity, individuality and the demands of neoliberalism. With case studies drawn from across theatre, cabaret, comedy and live art – and featuring artists, playwrights and performers as varied as La Ribot, David Hoyle, Neil Bartlett, Bridget Christie and Tanja Ostojić – it provides an essential account of the diverse practices which characterise contemporary solo performance, and their significance to contemporary debates concerning subjectivity, equality and social participation.

Beginning in a study of the arts festivals which characterise the economies in which solo performance is made, each chapter animates a different cultural trope – including the martyr, the killjoy, the misfit and the stranger – to explore the significance of ‘exceptional’ subjects whose uncertain social status challenges assumed notions of communal sociability. These figures invite us to re-examine theatre’s attachment to singular lives and experiences, as well as the evolving role of autobiographical performance and the explicit body in negotiating the relationship between the personal and the political.

Informed by the work of scholars including Sara Ahmed, Zygmunt Bauman and Giorgio Agamben, this interdisciplinary text offers an incisive analysis of the cultural significance of solo performance for students and scholars across the fields of theatre and performance studies, sociology, gender studies and political philosophy.

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The pariah

Queer outcasts and the politics of wounded attachment

Stephen Greer

Starting with Neil Bartlett’s AIDS-era work A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep, this chapter explores performances of singular individuality in which the state of being neither wholly included nor fully excluded invites us to reconsider liberal narratives of historical progress. While mainstream LGBT activism emphasises the possibilities of assimilation as a means of recovery from exclusion in the past, the singular figure of the pariah offers a new way of thinking marginal and politicised identity’s investment in its own history of hurt.

Featured practitioners: Neil Bartlett, Marc Rees, Seiriol Davies, Jon Brittain and Matt Tedford, David Hoyle

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The optimist

Alternatives in the here and now

Stephen Greer

Reading against futural accounts of utopia in the work of Jill Dolan and Jose Esteban Muñoz, this chapter examines the significance of solo works which emphasise the ‘here and now’ as a space of personal, social and political intervention. By juxtaposing shows which tackle the uncertain task of planning for a future with intimate, one-to-one performances, it suggests how vulnerability may be deployed to address the exposure to harm faced by marginalised and/or minority subjects while also inviting audiences to recognise alternatives to the status quo. Understood as a focused attentiveness to the present that is not straightforwardly affirmative – and which may paradoxically involve feelings of doubt and vulnerability – optimism in performance describes how opportunities for resistance and change already exist. Such opportunities, though, are also riven with risk – particularly for queer, trans and other non-conforming subjects.

Featured practitioners: Deborah Pearson, Ivana Müller, Duncan Macmillan, FK Alexander, Rosana Cade, Nando Messias.