bank … the gallery

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Geng Yini, Dreaming Luminous Pillow, 2013

A skip away from the Rockbund Art Museum is BANK, a gallery that was opened not too long ago by MABSOCIETY. The current show is Dystopia and Its Content(ment)s – 3 Solo Projects, and the space is divided between Marc Lafia’s Tumblrroom, Geng Yini’s Bad Form, and Ma Daha’s Everything which exists is a thought within the Mind of MA DAHA. Hm. I didn’t like any of it. It’s tricky making statements like that because although I found some of the work compelling and thought-provoking and I could appreciate it, I didn’t like it. I found most of it jarring, opaque, and awkward. I like things that I can read into, that I can look at for a long time and constantly discover new things – not necessarily visually, but conceptually and emotionally as well. Most of this stuff just seemed a bit thrown together.

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Geng Yini, Every Pain is Precious, 2013

I thought Geng Yini’s work was the most interesting and most well-developed, though I’m not a tremendous fan of her rough aesthetic. I found Marc Lafia’s work absolutely forgettable. And as for Ma Daha’s installation? Oh, now that was a doozy. A crazy I-have-no-words doozy.

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Ma Daha, Everything which exists is a thought within the Mind of MA DAHA, 2013

So yep. That’s BANK. But no, no, I can’t leave it at that. To me, Dystopia and Its Content(ment)s was a miss, but by no means am I suggesting you should skip it or write it off. Perhaps you’ll read something into it that I wasn’t able to grasp. After all, that is the allure of art – its openness. At a recent gallery opening one of the attendees was saying how he doesn’t ‘understand’ art. But I think that’s a common misconception. You’re not meant to ‘understand’ art, you’re supposed to enjoy it. I think it comes across as otherwise because the people who write about and work with art can get pretty crazy. My conclusion: Curators have incredible imaginations. We read things that aren’t there. We draw connections, we psychoanalyze our artists, and we shape exhibitions based on our interpretations, prejudices, and fancies. Just because we like art doesn’t mean we like all art – or ‘understand’ it.

Oh! And I almost forgot to mention the best thing about BANK – the space. The gallery space is nice, but the building it’s in is AMAZING. It’s a beautiful neoclassical heritage building, in a decided state of disrepair. The gallery is located on the second floor of the building (what they call the first floor due to using European conventions), but on the ground floor you can really see some of the neglect. It’s quite sad, but also kind of refreshing in comparison to the freshly-painted glitz and shoddy preservation jobs common to China. The building’s a bit forlorn, but in a way that makes it all the more breathtaking.

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BANK
1/F, 59 Xianggang Lu, Huangpu District, Shanghai
Tuesday to Saturday, 10:30 AM – 6:30 PM

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american english is the correct english

Did you ever see such a controversial statement? Granted I’m biased, but American English seems to be the preferred (or at least more prevalent) form of English in the world. In the process of writing a bunch of text for work, I’ve been slowly but diligently switching every piece of the gallery’s written material into American English. American English for the win! Hoorah! Go USA!

When I first started, I didn’t want to rock the boat so I tried following the existing standards, but that quickly got confusing. So instead of going back after typing each paragraph to add in extra letters or remove commas, I went ahead and switched it all. Now ‘color’, ‘center’, ‘organize’, and ‘traveled’ are all spelled correctly. Oh, and the biggie: ‘one, two and three’ has become ‘one, two, and three’. Oh yes. Ladies and gentlemen, I have introduced the serial comma and there is no turning back now.

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This is Panel 3 of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., which is hodgepodged from a bunch of different sources. It’s only making an appearance in this blog post to facilitate a transition in topic.

The nearby Panel 1 is a somewhat butchered excerpt of the Declaration of Independence, but as in the official text, it lacks the serial comma. How un-American! The Declaration of Independence famously says “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Capitalization done in the style of the time (with nouns capitalized) and no serial comma. But did you realize that there’s a different version? I quoted from the text of the signed, handwritten version, which is considered the official version, but the printed version has “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” and Jefferson’s rough draft has the serial comma too! He was a patriot!

Regardless, all is forgiven because this was two centuries ago, and the CMOS had not yet been established. Yay American English! Yay Chicago!

every flavor known/unknown to man

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Chinese people have some weird different tastes. Buying potato chips in China can be a minefield. There are some really odd flavors out there. Sure you can buy the imported versions that offer ‘normal’ flavors, but who’s going to pay that much just for junk food?

My recommendation? Stick with the original, a.k.a. American Classic. And at all costs avoid the ‘refreshing’ flavors like Cucumber. I know some expats who like ’em, but to me they’re just … wrong. Tomato flavor? Icks. Lemon Tea flavor? Absolutely disgusting. Some things should not be potato chips. Especially healthy foods – their flavors don’t belong on heart-clogging goodness. Who wants to eat potato chips that taste vaguely like cucumbers? Apparently quite a few people. The mind boggles. The meat ones (Italian Red Meat, Barbecue, et cetera) are decent enough, but only in a pinch. I saw a Cheese Lobster flavor once, but I was too chicken to try it and haven’t seen it since. Sometimes I can find Sour Cream and Onion, but what I would kill for Cheddar and Sour Cream ….

Photo is from Wal-Mart, on the edge of Shanghai. Ah, craziness.

reminiscing: why i’m an architect

About this time five years ago, I was sitting in the courtyard of Goldsmith Hall on the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas. It is there that I sat on a worn wooden bench taking photos of the petal-filled space. It was so quiet, I remember there being a slight chill in the air, and I was all alone. I loved that courtyard. I still love it. The space has an innate sense of calm that’s not shut off from the frenzy on the other side of the windows, but has the ability to recontextualize it and add some measure of beauty to the madness.

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Was I taking a break from a studio project? Ah no, that was my first semester without studio. Having finished the majority of my architecture degree requirements at that point, my schedule was filled with English and humanities classes. Perhaps that’s why I found myself back in the arms of good ol’ Goldsmith, visiting an old friend, a place I felt so comfortable in. This is a photo that has come to define me, and in many ways still does. It’s been my avatar on so many sites for so long, I don’t know if I’ll ever change it. Granted it’s not the best photo, not the best composed, and not the greatest quality, but I cherish it because it’s a moment from that time – that four years of time when I became an architect.

I was recently browsing one of my favorite blogs, Life of an Architect, and started thinking about that title. The life of an architect. The architect behind it, Bob Borson, is referring to his specific life as an architect, but moreso about the life of architects in general. He’s a University of Texas alum and practicing architect in Dallas, and I always find it interesting to read about and from architects, because it’s the life I could’ve had if I had stuck with practicing. But the truth is, I will always consider myself an architect. And my life will always be that of an architect. The truth is, I never wanted to be an architect and ended up in the major purely by accident (a result of some extreme procrastination that ended up being the best mistake ever). The truth is, as much as I am infatuated with art and as crap I am at architectural design, my perspective of the world will always be that of an architect. And the truth is that I will always consume way too much coffee, stay up all night all too often for no apparent reason, write with the black Precise V5s I buy in bulk because yes I have a favorite pen, obsess about details no one else cares about, and absolutely whole-heartedly love architecture.

I may not be able to legally call myself an architect, and practicing architects may frown on my choice to stay out of the field (trust me, I was crap at practicing), but that alone doesn’t make one an architect. So yeah, that’s why I’m an architect.

bharti kher at the rockbund

Hm. I’m been quite neglectful with my posts about art, so here’s a bit about the art scene in Shanghai. The Rockbund Art Museum (RAM) is a stone’s throw from the gallery I work at, so I’ve been there quite a few times over the last few months. The current show is Bharti Kher: Misdemeanours, which will run until March 30th April 20th [exhibition extended]. And it’s pretty amazing.

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The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own, 2006

Bharti Kher is an English-born Indian artist (working mostly in sculpture), and although I’d never seen her stuff or heard of her before, I found the exhibition quite dramatic and thought-provoking. The highlight is most definitely the giant elephant, which is super nifty. I mean, it’s a giant elephant, how could it not be amazing? And on top of that, it’s covered in bindis … sperm-shaped bindis. A lot of her work refers to the female, nature, mythology, globalization, and so on, so bindis feature prominently in many of her works, as do maps, animals, and goddesses. Some very nice stuff, some kinda weird.

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What Can I Tell You That You Don’t Know Already?, 2013

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The Hot Wind that Blows from the West, 2011

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Not All Who Wander Are Lost, 2009-2010

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The Butcher, The Baker, the Candlestick Maker, 2008

My personal tastes tend to the clean, clear, and conceptual, so I especially liked the radiators (from New York!) and bricks (made from melted glass bangles). There were some maps covered in bindis near the revolving globes which were really cool, but I couldn’t get any good pictures due to the reflectiveness of the glass. But … there was one floor of photography and sculptures that was just … a bit disturbing.

This is Bharti Kher’s first solo exhibition in China, and it covers the entire six floors of the RAM. If you happen to use the subway in Shanghai, then you probably already know about it because there are billboards for it all over the stations. I’ve visited the exhibition three times, once for the opening, once for a talk, and once for a tour. The show runs for about another month, so if you’re in Shanghai, you should definitely go visit. Because it’s nifty. The Rockbund isn’t free, but it’s a drop in the bucket for what the exhibition is.

[Note: Some press material refers to the exhibition as Misdemeanors instead of the British spelling, but the catalogue uses Misdemeanours … so I’m including that extra letter, as annoying as it is.]

Bharti Kher: Misdemeanours
January 11th – March 30th April 20th, 2014

Rockbund Art Museum
rockbundartmuseum.org
20 Huqiu Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai
Tuesdays to Sundays, 10 AM – 6 PM

what’s in a name?

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

– William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (II.2.47-48)

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I’ve been working at an art gallery here in Shanghai for the past few months, and in that time I have been [job untitled], curatorial assistant, art director, and now curator. My friends on LinkedIn and Facebook are probably as confused as I am. Well, my main responsibility is organizing the exhibitions – coming up with exhibition themes, writing press releases, and deciding on titles. And you know what? Titles are hard! It’s nerve-wracking to try encapsulating a whole idea (of someone else’s work) in a few words. Thank goodness there are nifty sites like this generator to help.

Because I’ve switched from architecture to the art field, I’m discovering a whole different way of looking at and talking about the world. I still consider myself an architect in many ways, but I’m trying to learn the lingo, this so-called International Art English (of which there was a big hulabaloo about), referred to elsewhere as artspeak or “The Joke That Forgot It Was Funny.” Oh gosh. Architects are known for having their own jargon and sometimes talking in a pompous holier-than-thou manner (quoting Foucault with wild abandon for instance), but in general are much more down to earth because they have real things to deal with, like gravity.

But art? Well that’s a whole different ballgame. Oy. I barely followed the Foucault crap. Happy Valentine’s Day! Happy Lantern Festival! The picture is of roses from the Queens Botanical Garden when I went last summer with my grandmother. You know, back when times were simple and a rose was just a rose ….

wishing you were somehow here again

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This time last year I was in New York. I was working on my thesis, there was snow piled up on the fire escape outside my bedroom window, and I was cozy warm. Amazing how much changes in a year, eh? Snow, how I miss it! Free heating, how I miss it! Being from Texas, I’m totally cool with endless summer, but if I’m going to be cold, there’d better be snow.

Lately Shanghai’s weather has been … odd. For a bit there I thought we had completely skipped winter. Last week there were a few days that were in the low 20s Celsius (60s-70s Fahrenheit) and it was actually kind of depressing, like seasonal affective disorder in winter but in reverse. Well, yesterday it snowed! Crazy, right? It dropped 20 degrees in a week! It snowed for a bit on Sunday and more yesterday, but it didn’t stick and the weather’s warming up again.

But it’s still really cold! Shanghai’s longitude is similar to Central Texas, but since there’s no central heating here and buildings are poorly insulated, it feels soooo much colder than New York. Either give me a radiator or give me snow! In New York I had both, in Shanghai I’d like at least one. This air conditioner/heater unit (which is mounted on the wall above me) is quite inefficient (because hot air rises) and it is totally drying out my skin.

corn juice – apparently it’s a thing

Apparently I’ve been missing out, because corn juice is quite good. I’m not talking about corn water, which results from boiling corn, but full-on corn juice, which is thicker. Served warm, it’s quite refreshing, easy to drink, a bit sweet, and not at all heavy. Apparently it’s gaining in popularity these days. Although I don’t think it’ll ever really catch on in the States. We like our artificial sugary drinks too much to switch to anything so obviously healthy as corn juice :)

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I kid, I kid. But then again, given Nanny Bloomberg and his crusade to save us from soda and foam containers (oh, how else is one to enjoy chicken on rice?) … who knows? Maybe corn juice will become the trendy new thing to be sold at juice trucks far and wide. That would be pretty awesome.

to the god of wealth: holla

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Day 5 of the Chinese New Year extravaganza is dedicated to the God of Wealth. According to Wikipedia, it’s his birthday. And as day 4 turned into day 5, there were a lot of fireworks meant to attract prosperity and good fortune – basically the same situation as three years ago. The fireworks were much more lively and widespread than on New Year’s Eve, partially because by this time people are starting to come back to Shanghai, but mostly because peeps like the dough. Yay money!