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Label: protest

Wednesday 04th February 2015Are Living Subjects Inherently Exploitative?

Most artists have worked using living subjects at some point in their artistic careers, and there's naturally nothing wrong with that - people tend to make excellent subjects. But what happens when the piece is no longer a sketch, painting or sculpture? What happens if the piece is actually an ongoing performance/installation piece that has two people living inside it? Most of us will still not take issue with it, as they are presumably there by choice. What happens if the two subjects in the piece are homeless, and were hired by the artist to live in the piece? Suddenly, firm moral ground begins to feel a bit shaky, but it's up for debate if the ice is too thin to hold our weight.

The piece, entitled "The Alien Within: A Living Laboratory of Western Society," certainly has a ring of charged politicism, but that's nothing really all that new in the art world. The artist, Anders Carlsson, saw the two homeless participants begging on a street corner, and offered them some money to work together with him on a project to raise awareness about class inequalities and the struggles of poverty. They are paid an hourly wage that amounts to roughly $600 over the course of the project.

"People want to escape the discomfort, not knowing how to relate to someone so unequal,"  he said in a radio interview. "In a way, there's no escape." Not everyone is particularly pleased about the project, though, and a number of activists have decided to protest outside the Malmö Konsthall, where the project is located. "I had very high expectations," protestor Ioana Cojocariu said, "but when I entered the room, it felt like an ethnological exhibition, where black bodies had been replaced by poor bodies…I think artists are well-intentioned but there have been errors."

Curiously enough, there don't seem to be many interviews with the two people themselves, Luca Lacatus and Marcella Cheresi. That somehow seems to make the media reports about the project more exploitative than the project itself, but Lacatus did have this to say when eventually interviewed by a local Swedish paper,  "We've already got used to being looked at. It is better to be here than out on the street. Here it is warm and dry anyway." While, on the surface, it doesn't seem like a profound indictment of the denial of poverty, perhaps it is anyways. But don't they have a right to decide if they're being exploited?

Posted on February 04th 2015 on 08:49pm
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Tuesday 01st April 2014Chinese Protest Art

China is in a very strange position these days - despite being home to one of the oldest recorded civilizations in the world, and having a rich cultural heritage steeped in artistic traditions, they are also host to one of the most repressive political regimes on the planet. Internet services are carefully censored and monitored by a system known as 'the Great Firewall of China', and political and artistic statements are discouraged by the ruling Communist party. But even as this repression continues - and perhaps, to some extent, even because of it - there are a number of active Chinese artists who have captured international attention and highlighted the interplay between protest and art in a stifled intellectual climate.

By now, most art enthusiasts have heard the name of Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist who has been the subject of documentary films (such as Never Sorry, as we discussed in a previous post) and invited to galleries around the world, all while being persecuted by the Chinese government, but there are a quite a number of lesser-known artists who are equally interesting.

Intellectual climates aren't the only thing being stifled in China, as the staggeringly rapid growth of the economy and industry has left the natural environment struggling to support healthy living conditions. Choking smog is a daily fact of life in most major urban centers in China, and this fact was recently driven home by Beijing-based artist Liang Kegang. Having visited the south of France on business, he brought back several souvenirs - one of which was a jar of clean, clear air from Provence. Amusingly enough, he put the jar up for auction at a popular art auction house, and the jar sold for over 5000 yuan - nearly £500 - to a collector.

Giving an interview about the piece, Liang said, “Air should be the most valueless commodity, free to breathe for any vagrant or beggar. This is my way to question China’s foul air and express my dissatisfaction.” Perhaps not quite the grand gesture he was hoping for, but it's just one of a number of similar art-meets-protest projects that have been popping up all over China in recent years with a focus on climate problems. A performance art project in Beijing in February had 20 artists playing dead outside the Temple of Heaven, all wearing dust masks. Another performance piece in Changsha had artists hosting a mock funeral for the last living citizen of Changsha, who they claimed would die of the smog.

Perhaps most surreal of all? Anyone who ever watched the late 80's movie Spaceballs, starring Mel Brooks and Rick Moranis, will recall a scene where the president cracks open a can of 'Perri-air', fresh air in can form - now, 'Good Person' brand cans of clean air can be purchased online in China from TaoBao for under £2. Sometimes, life really does imitate art.

Posted on April 01st 2014 on 01:06am
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