Monday, 20 April 2009

State Legacy @ The Cornerhouse

Why does every exhibition at the Cornerhouse have to be read like an essay?

I mean seriously, I find myself leaning towards graduate group shows and single commercial offerings to escape the endless, mind-chilling didacticism the Cornerhouse seem hell bent on producing. Sometimes my award winning brain-eye combo just wants to look at things.

A while ago a friend said to me ‘when was the last time you saw something really great at the Cornerhouse?’ and I had to think. I did contradict her, since the last thing I had seen was Masaki Fukihata’s ghostly playful solo show ‘The Conquest of Imperfection.’ 

However, ‘The Intertwining Line’ came along and I had to shamefully eat my defensive words.

Not to say that I don’t like some of the elements of State Legacy, but it feels as though they are elements, not distinct art works. The title gives it away I suppose, ‘Reseach in the Visualisation of Political History.’ It’s not for the looking, that title says, it’s for the brainy ones with doctoral degrees.

It’s a clever essay, with some lovely works of art in it.  Sui Jianguo’s Raising Speed on the Railway, generously occupying the whole of the top gallery, is certainly hypnotic. There is something absorbing and tinged with that futile Dickensian humour about a train rushing around and around a testing track. 

The very act of watching a train - unless you are an anoraked locomotion aficionado - especially when its projected onto a wall under the egis of art and cultural investigation feels almost tragicomic.

It's all a bit like watching motor racing on a hangover. Perhaps, for me at least, that sums up the whole of State Legacy. There are nusiances to this which you’ll never get and are essential to the enjoyment of the event. 

This exhibition, this essay, suffers from occupying uncomfortable space between art and cultural politics. It's too worthy, too educational and it's position is too clearly stated and too forcefully held. 

Give me something nice to look at ...

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Having read your review I went to the show expecting to have an hour of challenging, text heavy ArtThink. Far from it thankfully.

Jeng Li's staggering large scale photographs of the Shuicheng Iron and Steel Company works require nothing but your gaze. Without position or showy aesthetic, they simply and harrowingly illustrate vast blast furnaces, coking plants and sintering mills, deserted crumbling architectural hellholes and a landscape ravaged by decades of iron and steel production. And all around are the heavily stained, faceless and self-similar housing blocks of the workers.

Following on from the work of Ernst and Hilda Becher, these photographs do not attempt to classify and establish typologies, but instead, nakedly and disarmingly show what has been, what is and what is arriving, the transition from the ravages of a totalitarian, economically driven imperative to a less certain, environmentally regulated future.

Simultaneously beautiful and awful, these photographs speak more to the heart than the head.

Anonymous said...

Having read your review I went to the show expecting to have an hour of challenging, text heavy ArtThink. Far from it thankfully.

Zeng Li's staggering large scale photographs of the Shuicheng Iron and Steel Company works require nothing but your gaze. Without position or showy aesthetic, they simply and harrowingly illustrate vast blast furnaces, coking plants and sintering mills, deserted crumbling architectural hellholes and a landscape ravaged by decades of iron and steel production. And all around are the heavily stained, faceless and self-similar housing blocks of the workers.

Following on from the work of Ernst and Hilda Becher, these photographs do not attempt to classify and establish typologies, but instead, nakedly and disarmingly show what has been, what is and what is arriving, the transition from the ravages of a totalitarian, economically driven imperative to a less certain, environmentally regulated future.

Simultaneously beautiful and awful, these photographs speak more to the heart than the head.

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