The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presents One Hand Clapping, a group exhibition of newly commissioned works by Cao Fei, Duan Jianyu, Lin Yilin, Wong Ping, and Samson Young. The exhibition is the third of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative, a research, curatorial, and collections-building program begun in 2013. On view from May 4 through October 21, 2018, One Hand Clapping will be accompanied by a catalogue and public and educational programming.
The artists in One Hand Clapping explore our changing relationship with the future. Produced in both new and traditional mediums—from virtual reality technology to oil on canvas—their commissioned works challenge visions of a global, homogeneous, and technocratic future. On Tower Level 5, Wong Ping creates a multimedia installation centered on a colorful, racy animated tale that explores the tension between an aging population and the relentless pace of a digital economy; in her paintings and sculptures, Duan Jianyu depicts a surreal, transitory place where the rural meets the urban; and Lin Yilin constructs a virtual-reality simulation featuring a professional basketball star, testing the potential for using technology to inhabit the experience of another. On Tower Level 7, Cao Fei examines the new realities and potential crisis driven by automation and robotics at some of China’s most advanced storage and distribution facilities, and Samson Young reflects on our obsession with ritual and authenticity through a sonic and sculptural environment of imaginary musical instruments and their digitally engineered sounds.
The exhibition title One Hand Clapping is derived from a koan—riddles used in Zen Buddhist practice to challenge logical reasoning—that asks, “We know the sound of two hands clapping. But what is the sound of one hand clapping?” Emerging from a tradition that originates in China’s Tang period (618–907), the phrase “one hand clapping” encompasses a history of cross-cultural translation and appropriation that continues into the present, from its citation as the epigraph to J. D. Salinger’s Nine Stories (1953) to its referencing in the titles of a Cantopop song and an Australian film and the name of a British band. In this light, “one hand clapping” becomes a metaphor for the processes by which meaning is fabricated, transmitted, and restated in a globalized world. The image of “one hand clapping” also suggests connotations of solitude and the ability of artists to put forth a singular perspective and to challenge prevailing beliefs, stereotypes, and conventional power structures.
One Hand Clapping is organized by Xiaoyu Weng, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Associate Curator of Chinese Art, and Hou Hanru, Consulting Curator, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative. Kyung An, Assistant Curator, Asian Art, provides curatorial support. The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative is part of the Guggenheim’s Asian Art Initiative, directed by Alexandra Munroe, Samsung Senior Curator, Asian Art, and Senior Advisor, Global Arts.
“The work of the artists in this third iteration of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative epitomizes the fresh artistic energy coming out of Greater China and fosters deeper perspectives on the art of our time,” said Richard Armstrong, Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation. “We are deeply grateful to Robert H. N. Ho, Founder, and Robert Y. C. Ho, Chairman, for their vision in advancing this ambitious venture and their enthusiasm and dedication to furthering the scholarship, innovation, and accessibility of the art and culture of Greater China.”
“The Chinese Art Initiative seeks to support the Guggenheim’s vision for contemporary art, which reaches beyond the confines of geographical and cultural boundaries. It engages Chinese artists and their creativity in diverse contexts, acknowledging the complexity of contemporary art practice as a global phenomenon,” said Robert Y. C. Ho, Chairman, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation. “The Guggenheim has built upon its expertise to integrate the voices of the Chinese artists into multiple discourses. Through the creative endeavors of both the artists and the museum, we encourage meaningful interactions with various art perspectives as well as deeper thinking about the intrinsic value of art in today’s globalized world.”
“Through The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative, we have sought to challenge, deconstruct, and redefine ideas of ‘contemporary Chinese art’ and to present some of the most thoughtful and provocative artworks being made today,” said Xiaoyu Weng. “For this concluding phase of the initiative, we invited these five artists to think with us about how art that imagines the future also reflects our understanding of the present and the past. Shaped by the artists’ bold imaginations, sharp social critique, and humor, their newly created works encourage and inspire possibilities for a future art to come.”
Cao Fei (b. 1978, lives and works in Beijing) Since graduating from Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in 2001, Cao Fei has earned international acclaim for her groundbreaking multimedia works that probe the interplay between virtual and real worlds, utopia and dystopia, and the body and technology. She finds impetus in the precarious socioeconomic conditions of contemporary life, and her works are critical witnesses to the impact of hyper-economic growth, urban development, and rampant globalization on the individual in China. Her early works explore the alienation and desire to escape felt by China’s youth, and investigate the personal dreams of factory workers. For RMB City: A Second Life City Planning by China Tracy (aka Cao Fei) (2007), she spent several years developing a virtual city in Second Life, an online platform where users create avatars and can build imagined utopias together. The magical yet dystopian metropolis has been a key theme in Cao’s works since she moved from Guangzhou to Beijing in 2006. For Haze and Fog (2013), she shifted her focus to the spiritual malaise induced by capitalism, consumerism, and urbanization. More recent works such as La Town (2014) turn to the subject of a surreal postapocalyptic metropolis that exists outside a specific time or culture. Cao received the Chinese Contemporary Art Award’s (CCAA) Best Young Artist Award and Best Artist Award in 2006 and 2016, respectively. In 2010 she was a finalist for the Hugo Boss Prize.
Duan Jianyu graduated from the Department of Oil Painting at Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in 1995. Narrative is the driving force behind Duan’s ethereal large-scale paintings and intimate sculptures. Often working in series, she weaves surreal images of ordinary people and everyday scenarios into allegories of society’s moral complexities. Her practice also involves publishing artist books, such as New York, Paris, Zhumadian (2008). A refracted sense of realism gives Duan’s paintings a dimension of social critique, as is evident in the series Sharp Sharp Smart (2014–16), which she titled after shamate (the term is a phonetic play on the English “smart”), a subculture blending goth, punk, glam, and anime sensibilities that is popular among youth in rural areas in China. Against the backdrop of rustic settings, figures (smiling peasant women who appear either naked or clothed in gaudy colors) and their actions (breastfeeding in front of huts or carrying geese in baskets) allude to the growing tension between China’s modernization and its rural tradition. Duan’s faux-naïve visual language incorporates references to both Western and Chinese art-historical traditions, from Primitivism and abstraction to Socialist Realism and the work of early twentieth-century Chinese painters who consciously adopted Western artistic styles. Her anachronistic and humorous approach in works such as Muse and Museum No. 2 (2011) teases out existing cultural anxieties about regional identity in contemporary China and surpasses simple appropriation to challenge the canon of painting in the age of globalization. She was named Best Artist at the Chinese Contemporary Art Awards (CCAA) in 2010.
Lin Yilin (b. 1964, lives and works in Beijing and New York) Since the 1980s Lin Yilin has pursued a multifaceted practice rooted in site-specific performance. He draws from shifting socioeconomic and political conditions and experiences of cultural displacement to reimagine the relations between the self, community, and surrounding environments. Lin studied sculpture at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 1987. Throughout the period of rapid economic growth in China during the 1990s, he made a series of works under the rubric of what he termed “social construction.” Using bricks, he built temporary architectural forms that often surrounded, confined, or merged with his body. His involvement in the Guangzhou-based group Big Tail Elephant Working Group (formed in 1990) was instrumental in shaping his responses to and interventions in the urban development of Southern China. Since moving to New York in 2001, Lin has expanded his scope to work with both local and international communities, from college students in Norway to families in China and farmers in Thailand. For Documenta 12 (2007) in Kassel, Germany, Lin erected a freestanding wall featuring a small hole, through which he ran a rope. He staged a tug-of-war pitting local residents against visitors from abroad, interrogating the social function of monuments and the public’s role in determining their meaning. During his 2011 residency at Kadist Art Foundation in San Francisco, Lin organized a series of performances involving Chinese immigrants across the city, exploring how identity is renegotiated when people navigate through new environments. Lin currently teaches in the School of Experimental Art at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing.
Wong Ping (b. 1984, lives and works in Hong Kong) Repressed obsessions and unfulfilled desires; emasculation and submission before sexual and political dominance; lust and slippery morals. These are themes that run through the strange and intimate stories in Wong Ping’s animated videos. Skirting the line between shock and humor, Wong relates his observations of society through invented anecdotes that offer glimpses into the deepest—and often shameful—traits of human nature. For instance, a dating-app-facilitated encounter between a religious woman and an atheist man is the scenario for Who’s the Daddy (2017), while Jungle of Desire (2015) tells the story of an impotent man who becomes embroiled in a plot involving his wife working as a prostitute and police extortion. Wong sometimes creates colorful installations that extend his animated worlds into three dimensions. For the 2015 solo exhibition of Jungle of Desire at Things that can happen, Hong Kong, a nonprofit art space in a working-class neighborhood at the center of the local sex industry, Wong created an actual “jungle of desire” that included sculptural elements such as cat figurines with swinging, penis-like arms. These provocative images of masculinity allude to the underside of power and its abuses, and reflect tensions over gentrification and urban transformation. Wong obtained his BA in 2005 from Curtin University in Perth, Australia, and worked in broadcasting before founding Wong Ping Animation Lab in 2014. He was the recipient of the Incubator for Film and Visual Media in Asia (ifva) Gold Award in 2013, and the Best Animation and Spirit of Hong Kong awards from the Third Culture Film Festival, Hong Kong, in 2016.
Samson Young’s music, drawings, installations, radio broadcasts, and performances touch upon topics such as military conflict, identity, migration, and the political frontiers of past and present. Sound and its cultural politics are at the heart of Young’s practice —he obtained a doctorate in music composition from Princeton University in 2013 while becoming involved in contemporary art. Young often investigates the relationship between violence and sound, and many of his works develop out of extensive historical research. Supported by BMW Art Journey, Young traveled to over thirty sites on five continents to produce For Whom the Bell Tolls: A Journey into the Sonic History of Conflicts (2015– ), which traces the histories of bells and their usage. Taking the form of an archive of recordings, sketches, and objects, the work reveals how the bells have been implicated in territorial, religious, and cultural conflicts. For his solo exhibition in the Hong Kong Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, he used “charity singles,” hit songs made in the 1980s by super-groups of recording artists to provide relief aid. Critical of the subtexts behind the singles—among them, the complicity of such gestures of “charity” with neoliberal policies and cultural imperialism—Young created drawings, objects, videos, and site-specific installations that reference these well-known songs. Young maintains a practice in classical music composition. He was a recipient of the Bloomberg Emerging Artist Award in 2007.