Advertisement

Proposals to Surrender

Ming Contemporary Art Museum, Shanghai, China

As I was standing on a stairway signing the agreement that would allow me to enter ‘Proposals to Surrender’, someone squeezed by and touched me lightly on the arm. I raised my head to catch a woman’s friendly smile. In no time, she had slipped into the exhibition to become one of the ‘birds’ in Eva Kot’átková’s Becoming a Bird (Short Staged Attempt to Escape a Reality) (2016). To see the show, visitors must sign a three-copy contract and present their ID cards: rites that serve as preparation for entering a highly prescribed space where seemingly random encounters are pre-conceived and carefully planned. 

‘Proposals to Surrender’ is an exhibition of live works by artists from Bangkok, Berlin, Los Angeles, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Prague and Shenzhen, organized by the independent curator Biljana Ciric – a veteran of Shanghai’s art scene. The space is filled with performance props and mise en scène including plants, wooden furniture made from recycled museum materials and a subtle fragrance composed by Norwegian chemist and scent researcher Sissel Tolaas. These elements are the remnants of two ‘occasions’ hosted by the artist Isabel Lewis during the exhibition’s opening and a few days subsequently. Lewis, who trained as a dancer, stages her works as social gatherings in which she dances, DJs and speaks directly to the audience, aiming to evoke the format of the ancient Greek symposium. Responding to each specific crowd and occasion, Lewis improvises her movements, speech and music to generate something ‘between a bar, a lecture and a salon’: a convivial atmosphere for bodily relaxation and sensory stimulation beyond the visual. In Shanghai, for example, the artist spoke to a pregnant lady about the sensations she was experiencing.

The plants from Lewis’s ‘occasions’ provide an ideal setting for Kot’átková’s human ‘birds’. For the piece, the artist asks a group of performers to enact the process of transformation into a flying animal without recourse to a script – by means, solely, of bodily movements, facial expressions and sounds. I caught sight of the girl who had passed me at the entrance, mid-transfiguration amongst a flock of companions.

The exhibition is also filled with a conspicuous assortment of sounds, many of which emanate from Ana Prvački’s Daily Practice, Tuning (2016). The artist has invited local musicians, both professionals and amateurs – playing instruments that included, when I visited, guitars, accordions and flutes – to carry out their daily practice routines in the space. At a certain moment every day, the musicians take up their spots, as if on a public square, and perform simultaneously, without any attempt to harmonize their instruments’ varying pitches and melodies. This work is a brilliant attempt to deconstruct the exhibition setting as a highly ritualized site.

‘Proposals to Surrender’ presents many ingenious practices that challenge the art industry’s commodification of artistic thinking. Yet, it also requires a significant level of investment, in terms of both time and money, on the part of the host institution. In this sense, perhaps, it offers a wry commentary on the typical mode of contemporary art consumption in China – specifically in Shanghai, where many museums and institutions favour spectacular shows with mass appeal. ‘Proposals to Surrender’ poses valuable questions as to what constitutes not only a meaningful exhibition-viewing experience but also meaningful museum practice in ways that challenge both audiences and the local institutional context as a whole.

Main image: Eva Koťátková,  Becoming a Bird (Short Staged Attempt to Escape a Reality), 2016, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist and Ming Contemporary Art Museum, Shanghai

Carol Yinghua Lu is a contributing editor of frieze, a PhD candidate in art history at Melbourne University and director of Beijing’s Inside-out Art Museum.
Issue 187

First published in Issue 187

May 2017
Advertisement

Most Read

Why does the ‘men’s rights’ guru to the alt-right surround himself with Soviet-era memorabilia, which he doesn’t even...
Alongside a centuries-old collection of Old Masters, Delftware and Chinoiserie, the Devonshires continue to commission...
In a Victorian-era baths in Glasgow, the artist stages her largest performance project to date, featuring a 24-woman...
In further news: UK class gap impacting young people’s engagement with the arts; Uffizi goes digital; British Museum...
Italian politicians want to censor the artist’s poster for a sailing event, which reads ‘We’re all in the same boat’
A newly-published collection of the artist’s journals allows silenced voices to speak
The arrest of the photojournalist for ‘provocative comments’ over Dhaka protests makes clear that personal liberty...
The auction house insists that there is a broad scholarly consensus that the record-breaking artwork be attributed to...
‘We need more advocates across gender lines and emphatic leaders in museums and galleries to create inclusive,...
In further news: artists rally behind detained photographer Shahidul Alam; crisis talks at London museums following...
Criticism of the show at the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest comes alongside a nationalist reshaping of the...
A retrospective at Munich’s Museum Brandhorst charts the artist’s career from the 1980s to the present, from ‘fem-trash...
At the National Theatre of Wales, a performance alive with wild, tactile descriptions compels comparison between the...
There are perils in deploying bigotry to score political points, but meanings also shift from West to East
‘It’s ridiculous. It’s Picasso’: social media platform to review nudity policy after blocking Montreal Museum of Fine...
The first public exhibition of a 15th-century altar-hanging prompts the question: who made it?
Poland’s feminist ‘Bison Ladies’ storm the Japanese artist’s Warsaw exhibition in solidarity with longtime model Kaori’...
An art historian and leading Leonardo expert has cast doubt on the painting’s attribution
How will the Black Panther writer, known for his landmark critical assessments of race, take on the quintessential...
The dissident artist has posted a series of videos on Instagram documenting diggers demolishing his studio in the...
In further news: artists for Planned Parenthood; US court rules on Nazi-looted Cranachs; Munich’s Haus der Kunst...
A mother’s death, a father’s disinterest: Jean Frémon’s semi-factual biography of the artist captures a life beyond...
Jostling with its loud festival neighbours, the UK’s best attended annual visual art festival conducts a polyphonic...
It’s not clear who destroyed the project – part of the Liverpool Biennial – which names those who have died trying to...
Dating from 1949 to the early 1960s, the works which grace the stately home feel comfortable in the ostentatious pomp...
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018