Monday, October 16, 2006

Zhang Huan vs. the Scotch Tape Folks & After Language Poetry



Chinese photographer and performance artist Zhang Huan has a stunning show up in Chelsea. His work interacts with people, history, geography, exploring the threshold of pain, human and metaphorically it seems, the effect of humans on the planet. The iconoclastic image "Raising the Trout Pond 1 Inch" which has a string of migrant farm workers standing in a pond, speaks to to both the cataclysmic and hopeful aspects of our future on this planet for example. Here we see a shot from the series "My Boston" in which the photographer attempts to "enter into" the text in various ways, and below are we gagging on our past? Our history? Can we wash ourselves clean from it or are we awash in it now? Very intriguing work. Powerful, clean images. The image of the artist lying on a slightly orientalized bed of ice for example: dogs tied all around, going nowhere, a useless sled...
Huan's work embodies a kind of perpetual astonishment, lithe, hard, like the images of himself and others naked, faced with the realities of their environment as they are in the series "Hard to acclimatize," in which naked bodies hang like oolichan in a smoke house, or in the performance 12 Square Meters, which he forces himself to sit in the most squalid toilet in "the village" (not the east village!), covered in a honey-like substance which the flies that buzz around him immediately stick to...
No padding. Like artist Marina Abramovic Huan really does show us the edges, the places where we can see the framework, the more guttural structures that create our world. This is much more interesting to me than other work--such as Jessica Stockholder for instance--which seems to be attempting to explore a similar thing. Or perhaps I'm misreading her focus on the ragged edges of her sculptures, the scotch tape, the line between paint and object. This gesture, which I've seen repeatedly in Chelsea over the past few years from sculptural work to photography (people tearing out images and taping them together etc) seems comical in comparison. What have you to expose, I want to ask? What edges are there between the trip from Staples to the Studio? Perhaps that isn't a fair comparison, but at least I have figured out what it is about the current scotch tape movement that bothers me so much...

And does this relate back to poetry?? I am thinking of Jena Osman's brief essay "After Language Poetry," which you can read here. She distinguishes between the Aristotelian and Brechtian models and says that the latter is what she strives for in her work. Not that aha moment, that simplistic aha moment that we get to in so much poetry, that "I have wasted my life" or "life sucks but at least I have my porch and I am thankful for it" but rather that "Holy shit, is that what I'm unconsciously doing in my life? My God, maybe I should DO something!"

Or, maybe the writing is doing something?

Or, maybe words have more energy than we believe?

Or, maybe poetry shouldn't be about making the poet feel solid at the center of the world?

Or, maybe the genius of the artist is her ability to be in a state of unknowing?

Or, maybe the work that interests me is not so much the work that is busy attempting to cement itself into this or that school, but rather out on a limb, quaking with its own newness.

Who are we to believe that we can imagine how literature will behave?

Silly, silly, those who believe they can shape future generations.

Let the future decide what to make of us now: the job of the present is to be in it.

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