Haptic Field


Chris Salter’s immersive art-work, open to visitors at the Chronus Art Center, M50, Shanghai, is definitely worth exploring.* It’s hard to review, because even among our small party, it took people to very different places (including the Curtains of Yog Sothoth) — none of them more than very remotely terrestrially recognizable. Almost insanely intense is a distinct possibility, so come prepared for metamorphic passages into the outer cosmos.

As usual in the contemporary arts, the overlay of verbal commentary is worthless junk, so don’t be distracted by that.

* This post is probably too late to be useful (it’s about to close) — so count the recommendation as saying: Look out for it wherever it travels next.

Origin of Species

Incipit the Plantoid. It’s exquisite:


Even if they are autonomous, Plantoids require the interaction of other species (humans) to subsist and reproduce themselves in a physical form. Reproduction of a Plantoid is enabled through human participation, coordinated via smart contracts and blockchain technology. Indeed, Plantoids have an inbuilt mechanism that takes an economic energy source (money, or Bitcoin in this case) and uses it to drive a set of incentives that enable their autopoiesis and eventual reproduction. A Plantoid is responsible for turning beauty into digital currency, and her flowers are designed to interact with other species, in just the same way real plants do. People who enjoys the aesthetic representation of the Plantoid can issue funds to the Plantoid’s wallet as a form of appreciation. In doing so, they provide them with the necessary substance — the nectar — that will enable them to reproduce themselves. Plantoids store this energy in the form a digital currency. They depend totally on this store of energy, and they protect it with strong cryptography, only sharing this value with other beings who can help them reproduce. When a Plantoid has stored enough energy, she may decide to reproduce, and will signal to other humans and symbiotic species her readiness through subtle movement and a display of colour and light. Depending on their form and size, different Plantoids will require different amounts of funds, which they will store as “starch” in their personal bitcoin wallets. Perhaps the initial Plantoid will need $1000 to fully turn into a blossom. Whenever that particular threshold for the Plantoid is reached, the reproduction process starts: the Plantoid only needs to identify a new person or group of persons (ideally, a group of artists) to create a new version of itself. Given the right conditions, the Plantoid is able to manufacture herself, by executing a smart contract that lives on the blockchain, and has the ability to commission welders, companies, and other beings to build and assemble a similar being. Reproduction is achieved by paying humans to design a new blueprint, to gather materials, and prepare, collate, weld, or assemble them, so as to ultimately deliver a new structure for every new instantiation of the Plantoid. Humans act as symbiotic pollinators, assisting the Plantoid in the reproduction process. The participation of human third-parties is required for the Plantoid to reproduce itself, just like real plants require the time and energy of insects in their pollination. Plantoids are responsible for attracting this new types of interaction — a process that is generally referred to as “attraction strategy” in plant biology.

Art Machined

Mohammad Salemy produces a manifesto for the deepening machine age. “What makes this experiment necessary is the severity of the cultural crisis in which art stubbornly refuses to find itself.”

‘Manifesto’ is a UF categorization, that responds to the text’s dominant imperative tone, as exemplified by: “Art needs to be removed from its contemporary ivory tower to deal with the implications of its appearance, but unlike twentieth-century modernisms, today art cannot afford to be solely about the limitations of its supporting material, or only conceived in relation to its own history and ontology.”

Much, too, though for awkward contemplative nihilists:

Art, whether artists agree or not, is the void of meaning folded in cognitive wrapping paper, visible only as the surface of cognition and as the materialization of both the historical and semantic emptiness which it carries. It is a series of verifiable claims inserted into the real world and reified to take up the empty space of meaning, a void occupying another void.

Blow Ups

Shanghai’s the Power Station of Art is hosting The Ninth Wave, a solo exhibition of work by Cai Guo-Qiang (1957-), through to October 26. It’s … explosive.

The name of the show, and its central exhibit, is taken from a painting (1850) by Russian artist Ivan Aivazavosky (1817-1900). This image of inundating disaster is of clear relevance to the show, but it also serves as a pretext and screen for an adoption of signs that Cai Guo-Qiang invests with singular (and cryptic) evocations. Deep rhythms of time, power, and number are a consistent theme flowing through the exhibition.

The Ninth Wave (2014) is a re-purposed boat, crowded with (99) stuffed animals. It was floated down the Huangpu to be installed in the show, making it the memorial of an event — a signature of Cai’s work. Superficially, it’s a Noah’s Ark, and an icon of ecological calamity, but this barnacled hulk, with its crew of traumatized inhuman survivors, also satirizes the dramatic narratives — whether comic or tragic — that are employed to frame the profound, ruinous tides of cosmic transition.

Cai Guo-Qiang has seared his name on the cultural imagination in fireworks, pursuing an incendiary path to neotraditonalist aesthetic restoration. Working with gunpowder is the revival of a traditional Chinese artistic medium. Cai modernizes its potential for public spectacle, in ‘Explosive Events’ or ‘Pyrotechnic Explosion Projects’ which are stunningly documented in the show. Yet, among the things Cai explodes is media compartmentalization. The fallout from his work includes char-marked images, production diagrams, and video recordings. His detonations spread across the entire multidimensional domain of visual aesthetics. Time itself is envisaged as a system of explosions, burns, and debris.

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Dotting the ‘I’

Whatever else is to be learned from ‘A Dream I Dreamed’ — the Kusama Yayoi exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai (Dec 15 to March 30, 2014) — the most superficially striking lesson is sociological. Shanghainese — and especially young Shanghainese — can’t get enough of this stuff. After almost two months, queues no longer regularly stretch all the way through People’s Park and out onto Nanjing Xi Lu, but they still over-spill the gallery. Both thematically and socially, this is a show about multitudes.

Kusama, born in 1929, has an artistic career stretching back to the 1950s. Throughout seven decades, as her celebrity has waxed and waned in waves, her artistic focus — or, more exactly, her strategic ‘obliteration’ of focus — has remained remarkably constant. Sensuous disintegration of self and world into dot pattern has been a continuous preoccupation.

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