With My Generation: Young Chinese Artists now open at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art (and running through January, 18, 2015), attention in this space turns, at least for one week, to the exhibition’s considerable selection of video art (which includes Lu Yang’s immediate and overwhelming, crowd-pleasing triptych, “Wrathful King Kong Core”; see pictured) . Of course, this means foregoing discussion of this week’s theatrical feature, Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip (2014). Which is fine: you already know that Listen Up Philip is one of the best reviewed American indies of 2014, you have your tickets, and you’re counting the minutes until it opens. You don’t need me to tell you that you’ll love it, which you will. I would ask, however, that you look out for Brandy Burre in her small role as Flo, as preparation for the upcoming Dec. 12 screening of Robert Greene’s excellent new documentary, Actress (2014), at OKCMOA. Listen Up Philip, as viewers of the documentary will see, provides the real “end” to Burre’s non-fictional Actress story.
My Generation features ten videos (and additional artist interviews) in the space of the exhibition. Of these, I would like to single out three as particular highlights, not just among the videos, but of My Generation in its totality. The first, Ma Qiusha’s “From No. 4 Pingyuanli to No. 4 Tianquiaobeili” (2007), serves as a sort of shadow, 1-A lead object, which announces the prominence of both video and female artists for the exhibition as a whole. In this first-person, testimonial, talking-head style video, Ma recounts the considerable pressures placed on her as an artistically talented only child in an ordinary Chinese family. Wincing and fighting back tears as her mouth slowly takes on a beet-like appearance, Ma concludes her seven-plus minute video with a sudden zoom in to reveal the artist pulling a razor blade off the center of her tongue. With this sudden reveal, Ma recasts her confessional as self-injurious performance art; she literally causes or caused (from the retrospective standpoint of the video’s end) herself pain with every word she spoke about her unhappy childhood and overbearing parents. “From No. 4 Pingyuanli to No. 4 Tianquiaobeili” translates painful memory into an uncontrollable reaction to the pain that Ma feels with every slice. Her film, it should be noted likewise, is also graphic testimony of the one-child policy’s emotionally damaging consequences for the only child.
Moving from the special exhibitions space on the museum’s first floor to one of the three galleries that houses My Generation on floor three, Fang Lu’s “Rotten” (2011) offers another exhibition pinnacle from a young female artist. Included in the show’s “Gender Roles and Intimate Relationships” section, “Rotten” presents a female model, Wang Jing, as she is adorned with edible food objects that are applied to her hair, skin and clothing by a make-up artist. Blow-dried bok choy, long beans, a fried egg and chicken feet are all re-purposed in “Rotten,” above a menstrual wash of blended tomato, as cosmetics and jewelry items. Fang, in this respect, denies food both its sustaining function and also its capacity for gastronomic pleasure, opting instead to use it in yet another role that is coded as feminine (as is the preparation of food, historically). However, in performing this act of gendered substitution, Fang not only makes her model ugly; she robs both food and cosmetics and jewelry of their basic functionality. To put it another way, Fang uses two symbols of domestic womanhood against one another, and in the process, manages to destroy them both.
The final video highlight – and a personal favorite of the curatorial team – is Liu Chuang’s “Untitled (The Dancing Partner)” (2010), a 5 min. 15 sec. single-channel video, which greets visitor early in the “Gender Roles and Intimate Relationships” section. More representative of the latter (‘intimate relationships’), “The Dancing Partner” records two identical white sedans as they move together in perfect parallel, driving in tandem at the legally mandated minimum of 60 km/hour. As they cross the Beijing cityscape, with the camera fluidly maintaining its bird’s-eye vantage, over the course of what seems to be a single day, the viewer watches as the surrounding drivers become impatient with the two vehicles, crowding the pair and passing wherever they find an opening. The partnered vehicles, however, move ahead indifferent to this hostile urban space, traveling side-by-side in an emblem of slower-paced solidarity. In this regard, and in its own subtle and elegant way, “The Dancing Partner” stands against China’s frenetic present, against a rapidly urbanizing new global superpower, which, as the rest of My Generation shows with such acuity, is willfully leaving behind the symbols and values of China’s very long past.