“Oh my God, that’s disgusting.” This was the consensus amongst a trio of girls as they absorbed a selected art work final week within the Norton Museum’s new exhibition “Previous Lives: Efficiency Artwork By way of the Digital camera.” I couldn’t assist however snoop on their response, as a result of their displeasure carried by way of the gallery. They had been so appalled by the photographs of Zhang Huan’s “Seeds of Hamburg” that they gave scant consideration to the remainder of the exhibit, keen to maneuver on to tamer fare.
I carry this up to not repel you, expensive reader, however as an instance the effectiveness of this collection of pictures. “Seeds of Hamburg” is a harmful and confrontational piece, an exemplar of the good Pablo Picasso quote that “good artwork bristles with razor blades.” The pictures seize a 2002 performance-art showcase, in Huan’s native China, during which the artist lined his bare physique in honey and birdseed (the women within the gallery appeared to mistake it for avian excrement) and enter a cage, adopted quickly by 28 doves, which got free rein to peck away at his physique.
Within the nonetheless pictures, Huan might cross for a model, or perhaps a corpse—charred, maybe, from self-immolation—that’s permitting itself to be reworked into meals, perpetuating a cycle of life. When Huan staged “Seeds of Hamburg,” it had solely been a 12 months since 5 protesters set themselves afire in Tiananmen Sq., and this latest historical past couldn’t have been misplaced on most of the viewers of this highly effective work. However there’s additionally a terrific magnificence in its overarching message of transcendence of the bodily and of oneness with nature. “Seeds of Hamburg” rewards those that suppress their preliminary “ick” issue.
It’s additionally sure to be essentially the most divisive contribution to “Previous Lives,” a tantalizingly small exhibition that salutes a slippery medium—efficiency artwork—that’s lengthy overdue for a multi-gallery survey. Huan’s piece is archetypal of the favored conception of efficiency artwork, during which artists typically deploy their very own our bodies in a performative setting, within the vein of Marina Abramović, Yoko Ono and Ana Mendieta. In “Previous Lives,” different artists additionally use their our bodies as mediums: “Tear” is a quadriptych on 4 video screens during which artist Jaye Rhee forces her means by way of a prolonged piece of material, tearing it down the center as she trudges ever ahead, in a metaphor for a dogged perseverance.
Elsewhere, we’re handled to 2 examples of Nikki S. Lee’s “Initiatives” collection, during which the artist immersed herself in varied cultures associated to age, ethnicity and pursuits, to the extent that she primarily cosplayed as a member of every group. “Initiatives” raises disconcerting questions on cultural appropriation, however as with “Seeds of Hamburg,” the collection rewards deeper introspection. Previous the shock issue of seeing the artist undertake the looks of an outdated woman or a Hispanic girl, it’s simpler to see “Initiatives” as a tribute to strangers—and to human life itself, in its multiplicity of types and figures.
Different items prolong the definition of efficiency artwork past the artist’s personal physique. In Shizuka Yokomizo’s “Expensive Strangers,” the artist posted invites for random strangers on first-floor house buildings all over the world to seem at their home windows to be photographed from the skin at particular occasions. Certain sufficient, many complied with the artist’s request, some shirtless, others by way of blinds, in a collection of works that speaks equally to our human want for voyeurism (on the artist’s half) and exhibitionism (on the topics’ components)—an intimate dance that transcends nationwide borders.
Generally, efficiency artwork can embody no individuals in any respect. Naoya Hatakoyama’s “Blast” is from a collection of real-time pictures of the demolition of a limestone quarry into 1,000,000 little items. Once more, there’s magnificence in destruction, because the artist’s work crystallizes chaos right into a sort of managed order.
Two items from Noelle Okay. Tan qualify as essentially the most summary alternatives from “Previous Lives.” In a single, individuals seem as tiny specks, no bigger than flies, on a pale white void; within the different, we see a park or a depot, squintingly seen out of a black morass, the steps main as much as it seeming to emerge out of nowhere. Each scenes evoke a David Lynchian unease—actuality filtered by way of a dream-logic lens.
After which “Previous Lives” ends, virtually because it’s getting began. There certainly is extra to be mentioned than this small gallery area can do justice—for one factor, the exhibition’s preponderance of Asian and Asian-American artists says one thing concerning the medium of efficiency artwork that deserves additional exploration. But it surely’s a captivating peek right into a misunderstood type. Optimistically, the longer you linger with it, the deeper you’ll respect it.
“Previous Lives: Efficiency Artwork By way of the Digital camera” runs by way of Nov. 19 on the Norton Museum of Artwork, 1450 S. Dixie Freeway, West Palm Seaside. Museum admission runs $15-$18. Name 561/832-5196 or go to norton.org.
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