My suggestion for the perfect antidote to the post-Christmas bulge? A trip to No Borders…
No Borders: contemporary art in a globalised world is an exhibition at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, which pulls together artists from the Middle East, Africa and Asia to explore global stories from local perspectives. Reflections on the local and global seem particularly timely in the aftermath of Christmas with its consumer frenzy for stuff and more stuff made miles away with little connection to their location of production, or purchased online in seemingly non-spaces. Having Bristol as the site of this exhibition puts a twist on it, where city initiatives are helping to rethink the local and global with creative projects, such as Bristol Pound which encourages us to shop and spend locally with the city’s own currency. The pieces in No Borders, which have been purchased through the ArtFund, are themselves part of a global trade network, and open up a dialogue about our global interconnections, shared histories and conflicts as well as Bristol’s economic and cultural place as an international trading city.
In Ai Weiwei’s A Ton of Tea, Pu’er tea, drunk by ordinary folk in China (and named after the trading post for dark tea in Imperial China) has been dried and compressed into a block as though it were being packed for export. In this minimalist, witty piece, the everyday and ubiquitous are transformed into a precious object to be looked at and tiptoed around in the gallery space, which raises its commercial price as well as cultural value. (At another exhibition, Ai Weiwei said of it “don’t touch it or you’ll have to drink it”.) So this new museum acquisition is put into conversation with the more traditional Chinese objects collected by the museum, questioning what constitutes ‘art’ from China for Western galleries and how the Chinese nation has been constructed through these traditions. In another well-known work, Ai Weiwei plays with similar political and cultural themes, creating Duchamp-like ready-made vases and purposely dropping a prized Ming vase offending the antiquities trade not only in China, but globally.
Questioning the role of art culturally, politically and commercially is certainly a theme of the exhibition with the contemporary works set in the traditional gallery space of the blue damask patterned wallpaper and placed in dialogue with those in the permanent collection of Chinese ceramics and Indo-Persian miniature paintings.
The Mughal tradition of miniature painting is given a contemporary twist by Pakistani artist, Imran Qu’reshi. This Leprous Brightness makes the blood from a reported incident of violence into beautiful foliage. In the video below you can see Qu’reshi’s imagery of flowers/blood seep from the stones in a site-specific piece.
The creation of nationhood, history-making and the mass media are explored by Shilpa Gupta in her piece, In Our Times – Singing Mobile Microphones. The speeches of Jinnah and Nehru at the time of Independence of India and Pakistan in August 1947 are played through two swinging microphones. Annotated versions of the speeches hang at either side behind the installation indicating that Nehru’s speech was more prepared for ‘history’ with memorable quotes (“At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom”) compared to Jinnah’s more practical prose. (“Dealing with our first function in this Assembly, I cannot make any well-considered pronouncement at this moment, but I shall say a few things as they occur to me.”) The microphone swings up and down as power shifts from one leader to another, as regimes come in and out of favour. The see-saw of history illustrates the way that nations are constantly in flux and with conflicts still unresolved.
In Berlin-based Korean artist, Haegue Lang’s work Holiday for Tomorrow the private/public, holiday/work, insider/outsider are explored through an installation of pretty coloured Venetian blinds and traditional Korean bamboo blinds or hanoks. The blinds were used to allow women to see out into the public world of men whilst remaining private in the domestic. Here we can peek through the blinds as voyeurs but also always be partially seen as we wander the exhibit.
In the exhibition space fans flutter the blinds evoking a holiday mood, whilst the video narrates about the world of work evoking the repetitive nature of many occupations, for instance opening shop shutters each day (which you can see pictured in the still below). Ultimately, perhaps holidays only function to make us refreshed for work.
Walid Raad describes his work as “reigniting our curiosity in truth”. A fictionalised foundation, The Atlas Project, is his mechanism to interrogate the truth of the history-making, specifically of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). By gathering, sorting and thus knowing the evidence both written and produced by visual media, those with power create the ‘truth’ of the manifold stories involved. The “regimes of truth” (in Michel Foucault’s terms) created by institutions such as the Museum are brought into question in Raad’s miniature version of a gallery (pictured below).
No Borders, run in partnership with the Arnolfini, is on until 2 June 2013 and if you are in Bristol I would recommend it. I headed off there after hearing that there was an Ai Weiwei piece but actually there are a variety of works worth seeing in this well-curated show.
If you’re not able to make it, I hope that you can check out of some of the artists’ work. You can download pdfs about the artists and some of the key themes. Let me know your thoughts.