A Man’s Portraits Over 60 Years, Set Against the Backdrop of a Changing China by Julia Friedman on December 3, 2014

1909 1912 19071-11925 1953 1941 1949 1935 1924

In 2007, Chinese photography collector Tong Bingxue received a phone call from a man seeking an appraisal for a recently purchased book of photo portraits. As Tong recounts in A Life in Portraits, a quick examination of the book revealed a startlingly unique, unified subject: one man’s yearly portrait, taken faithfully and consecutively from 1907 until his death in 1968. Tong purchased the album and set about researching its subject.

Tong’s inquiries revealed that the man in the pictures was Ye Jinglu, born on October 6, 1881, in the city of Fuzhou. With the exception of some travel to London as a young man, Ye spent the majority of his life in Fuzhou, working as a shop manager and businessman. In 1907, at the age of 27 and newly married, he began his habit of taking an annual portrait.

Each photo is both a snapshot of the maturation of one man and an indicator of the rapid political changes occurring in China, making for a series with a remarkable tension. The first portrait, from 1907, marks the final years of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912). Ye wears an outfit typical for men of that time. Five years later, in 1912, his hair is short — he no longer wears a braided pigtail, a change perhaps indicative of the fall of the Qing Dynasty and the 1912 beginning of the Republic of China under president Sun-Yat Sen. Tong speculates that Ye’s 1949 portrait also offers a political reference: he appears seated, reading the newspaper in a style that alludes to a revolutionary photo of Mao reading the paper. By Ye’s 1950 portrait he has donned a “Lenin cap,” a style popularized by its namesake.

“To watch a person change over time can trick us into thinking we share an intimacy,” wrote Susan Minot in the New York Times Magazine about photographer Nicholas Nixon’s yearly, serialized portrait series The Brown Sisters. Looking at Ye’s pictures offers viewers the same moving, if illusionary, experience — the sense that we’ve witnessed a life passing by, as well as, in this case, the life of a country.

Encountering Fluid Fractals in Hanoi by Ben Valentine on December 3, 2014

Encountering Fluid Fractals in Hanoi
by Ben Valentine on December 3, 2014

Encountering Fluid Fractals in Hanoi

Gallery view of Nhà Sàn Collective. All photographs by the author.
Installation view of Triệu Minh Hải’s ‘Latcarf | Fractal’ at Nhà Sàn Collective (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)
HANOI — On a recent visit, I asked everyone I met who was remotely involved in Hanoi’s contemporary art scene what the must-see experimental spaces were. Nhà Sàn Collective topped almost every list. Located in the Old Quarter near my hotel, I visited three times.

Tucked away on the second floor of a building and located next to Art Vietnam Gallery (also recommended), Nhà Sàn Collective is a small experimental space founded and run by local Vietnamese artists and curators. The gallery and current exhibition would feel right at home in Bushwick or Oakland — that is, not quite polished or professional enough to be welcome in Chelsea, Manhattan, or on Kearny Street in San Francisco, but high-quality and exciting work. My favorite kind.

Informational video of the artist’s process and inspiration.
Triệu Minh Hải video explaining his process and inspiration
The current solo show, titled Latcarf | Fractal, features an elegant and ephemeral series of pencil drawings by the artist Triệu Minh Hải. The drawings are hung touching, side by side in a nearly continuous work that floats off the gallery’s walls. There’s also a video in which the artist explains the inspiration and background of his work.

Triệu spent three years researching and experimenting with fractals to make this body of work. With a background in engineering but training at Vietnam’s University of Fine Arts too, Triệu struggled to strike a balance between the rigid — albeit beautiful — mathematics of fractals and the more fluid and interpretive qualities of art. Latcarf | Fractal is the result of that tension.

Detail of work on display.
Detail of work by Triệu Minh Hải
The work is comprised of obsessive pencil strokes, which through slight variations in contour, length, and direction create mesmerizing gray forms. The drawings pull you in as your eyes constantly spot new patterns and associations, like a child watching the clouds. The only distraction comes with occasionally awkward transitions from one panel to the next. The work recalls Tara Donovan’s untitled ballpoint pen drawings from the early 2000s, but less generative and grand in scale. It feels as though Triệu very much maintained control of the forms in his drawings; I remain undecided as to whether this is a flaw or not.

Gallery view.
Work by Triệu Minh Hải (click to enlarge)
Wanting to learn more about the space and the group, I sat down with Lê Thuận Uyên, Nhà Sàn Collective’s general manager since April. A fourth-generation Hanoier, Lê recently returned to Vietnam after receiving her MA in Cultural and Creative Industries from King’s College London. She is clearly passionate about Hanoi’s art scene.

“Artists here don’t have the support they need, and I wanted to help fill that gap,” Lê explained, speaking with a British accent. As one of the most famous locally run arts spaces in Hanoi, Nhà Sàn Collective was perfect for her.

Artists Nguyen Manh Duc and Tran Luong founded the organization in 1998 as Nhà Sàn Studio; it was soon heralded as Hanoi’s first experimental art space. The studio was located in Nguyen’s home, a traditional Muong house on stilts, and served as a hub and breeding ground for Hanoi contemporary art for many years.

In 2010 Nhà Sàn Studio was forced to shut down by officials who were unhappy with its programs. But a few years later a new generation of artists slyly revived it by changing the name to Nhà Sàn Collective, a means of circumventing government pressure as well as continuing the spirit and mission of the original space. Nguyễn Quốc Thành, Nguyễn Phương Linh, and Nguyễn Anh Tuấn Mami launched this second incarnation in 2013, with the original founders acting as advisors.

Entrance of the gallery.
Entrance to Nhà Sàn Collective
Their new name also represents the devaluing of the physical space, celebrating instead the people, ideas, and spirit behind Nhà Sàn. “I wanted to help maintain Nhà Sàn Collective as a hub for art that is open for all and where everyone feels they belong,” Lê said. “Hanoi needs that kind of community to strengthen the arts scene.”

Latcarf | Fractal continues at Nhà Sàn Collective (24 Lý Quốc Sư, Hanoi, Vietnam) through December 14.

Tagged as: Hanoi, Lê Thuận Uyên, Nhà Sàn Collective, Triệu Minh Hải, Vietnam

China Will Send Artists to Live and Work in Rural Areas by Jillian Steinhauer on December 4, 2014

China Will Send Artists to Live and Work in Rural Areas
by Jillian Steinhauer on December 4, 2014

China Will Send Artists to Live and Work in Rural Areas

The Grass Mud Horse is a pun that’s become a huge meme in China in response to government censorship of the internet.
Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung, “The Travelogue of Dr. Brain Damages After Maorilyn Maoroe got biatchslaped by flying hotdogs in Mahler Gobi desert, Grass Mud Horse invites her for a beer pong game” (2011), digital print on canvas, 36 x 48 X 4 in. Hung’s work incorporates the Grass Mud Horse, a pun that’s become a huge meme in China in response to government censorship of the internet. (image courtesy Postmasters Gallery, New York)
In an uncomfortable echo of the reeducation campaigns of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced that artists, filmmakers, and TV staff will be sent to live and work in rural villages so that they will “form a correct view of art and create more masterpieces,” China’s official news agency, Xinhua, announced.

The plan, which comes from the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television, calls for film and TV series production staff to visit “grassroots communities, villages, and mining sites to do field study and experience life” quarterly; and for certain groups of TV and film staff “to live among the masses each year” for at least 30 days in “ethnic minority and border areas,” as well as towns that are seen as playing an important role in the Cultural Revolution.

The announcement comes less than two months after Xi gave a speech illuminating his position on art in society. Artists should “disseminate contemporary Chinese values,” Xi said then, and: “The creation of art can fly with the wings of imagination … but make sure art workers tread on solid earth.” The new campaign seems meant to ensure the latter.

The State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television also announced in the past week a ban on puns and wordplay. The rationale is that wordplay “breaches the law on standard spoken and written Chinese, makes promoting cultural heritage harder and may mislead the public – especially children,” according to the Guardian. All media must hereafter “strictly comply with the standard spelling and use of characters, words, phrases, and idioms – and avoid changing the characters, phrasing and meanings.” The move may be an attempt to crack down on Chinese citizens who’ve taken to using wordplay, often on the internet, to slyly express their opposition to the government.

Tagged as: China