By Daniel Arimborgo
The metaphysical merges with the corporeal. The finite is contrasted with the continuous. All things are shown to have equal effects.
These are some of the ways curators at the Queens Museum of Art describe the new exhibit at the QMA, “Translated Acts — Performance and Body Art from East Asia” running through Feb. 17.
The art depicts themes ranging from suppression of freedom, individuality, and self-determination, to the relation of man to earth, nature, and the universe — concepts which resonate with all humans whether in a Western, linear frame of reference or the “wheel of life” concept of Taoist, Buddhist, Confucian, and other Eastern philosophies.
The locations, positions and actions of the performers are important elements in the art work. Tehching Hsieh from Taiwan, for one, captured himself in six graphic sets of photos. The first, “Cage Piece,” shows the artist spending a complete year in self-imposed solitary confinement, punching a time clock every day. In his “Outdoor Piece,” he spent a year as a homeless person on the streets of New York. In “Art/Life,” he spent a year tied together with an eight-foot rope to a female friend.
In “My America” (1999), a DVD video with religious, social, and tribal undertones, a group of nude people walk into Seattle’s Asia Art Museum, following their “leader,” Chinese artist Zhang Huan. They follow the ritualized practice of Buddhists on a pilgrimage, pulling themselves along the floor, getting up, clapping three times, then repeating the procedure, until they are all assembled. Then, they walk in a circle in an ever faster, more frantic manner, and at the end, throw loaves of bread at Huan.
“During Sleep” (2000), by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota, consists of 12 beds surrounded by an astounding lattice work of yarn resembling cobwebs. All the beds show signs of being slept in. An exhibit plaque relates that after Shiota moved to Berlin, she changed her residence seven times. She often awoke unsure of where she was. The tangled lattice represents her sense of spatial and cultural alienation.
“Face” (1997), by Chines artist Gong Xin Wang, is a series of video projections in which a head and shoulder image of a laughing man appears then disappears into a flaming vaporous mass until all that is left is a boiling sea representing the beginning of life itself.
A 2000 Taiwanese series of prints by artist Chieh Jen Chen shows nude people scattered haphazardly in office hallways and stairwells, with personal-computer cables extending from their bodies, no doubt suggesting they have been disconnected like disposable cogs from some corporate machine, perhaps a symbolic representation of Asia’s economic recession and subsequent layoffs.
In a collection of cibachrome prints by South Korean artist Atta Kim, nude models are encased in glass cubes. In one series, the encased models sit in the lotus position of the Buddha, next to a collection of small Buddha statues in a temple, a public park, and a forest. Another encased group in the middle of a pedestrian crosswalk crouch in fetal postures, perhaps suggesting feelings of fear and vulnerability experienced when crossing a street: We are essentially naked and vulnerable before the motorists — they can see us, we can see little of them. We are literally at their mercy as they wait for us to cross.
Not part of the Asian exhibit, but great for children and running concurrently, is an Andy Warhol interactive exhibit, “Silver Clouds” (1966), where the room is the art. The small room next to the museum’s north entrance contains helium-filled silver mylar balloons the shape of pillows, which float gracefully about on air currents produced by wall fans. “Silver was the future,” one of Warhol’s friends says in a quote on a wall plaque. “It was spacy, the astronauts wore silver suits.”
Beanbag chairs sit invitingly on the floor. The balloons’ silent movements create a serene environment; children inevitably will do their best to ruin the mood by beating on the balloons.
Andy would probably love that.
Reach Qguide writer Daniel Arimborgo by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.