Art Basel Hong Kong 2017 made me think some thoughts


There’s this idea that all artworks are failures. When I first read it I applied it to my own work and thought, oh yeah, they always fall short by a little or by a lot. At Art Basel Hong Kong this year I saw it in other people’s work and had a lot more compassion for work I didn't like. They’re just having a go and good on them, I thought. I know that if I make something with the intention to impress it’s always awful and I've started to recognise that same kind of awful in other people's work. Sometimes an artist thinks they're saying "I'm challenging notions of bla bla bla and yada yada yada" but what they're really saying is, "am I clever? do you love me?" The intention gets communicated more loudly than whatever it's served with. 

Something about the art fair reminded me of a linguistic principal* about the changeability of language. It’s something like: you need to be able to change and invent within a language but the degree to which you can invent or how fast you can invent has a limit. If you change the word for tree every time you talk about trees, for example, very quickly no one knows what you are talking about. Being able to break the rules is rooted in there being rules and a degree of continuity. I wonder how that applies to contemporary art where the rules are: break all the rules.  Does communication break down? I wonder if the visual arts will - or already has - become a fun intellectual game only for those who are keeping up with the vocabulary. Kind of like scrabble; people in the game are very invested in it and it has no impact on the world beyond the game. I don't think this is a problem necessarily and anyway, it's my favourite game. When you see a lot of one artist's work or a well curated exhibiton it has a way of teaching you its vocabulary. There isn't room for that at a fair - it's more like a bunch of words from a bunch of different languages thrown together. (This whole paragraph can be summarised as: I want the art fair to be a museum and the art fair keeps on being an art fair).

Having a bunch of art thrown together like this is useful for getting me to notice my taste or my intention as a viewer - what am I looking for when I look at art? For me, art is about vulnerability and generosity. Terribly clever art that impresses terribly clever art people feels more like an attempt at invulnerablility. I like my art dumb. Of course there's intellect and craft and all kinds of things in it but that's not the source. I want to be moved. I don't want to be impressed. I can get impressed elsewhere and it doesn't help me to be human. Something that's new to me is the idea of bringing generosity and vulnerability as a viewer - instead of showing up like an arsehole, expecting someone else to be generous and vulnerable for me.

---

Here's a bunch of stuff I saw at Art Basel Hong Kong that I loved. There was a lot more that I didn't write down and now can't remember.

The artist Song Dong talking about his work, Waste Not; in the film 'My Dear Art' by Hsu Hao Hsuan.  His mother had refused to throw anything away during her whole life, he explains, and he used to get very cross with her about it. One day he thought, what kind of son am I being? He invited his mother to install all her things in the museum and they worked together to do that. There were balls of recycled soap made by squashing soap fragments into the toe of a sock, putting it in water and sqashing it together. Soap is an interesting thing, says Song Dong, because it is made of oil and removes the oil from our skin; art is made from the heart and it cleans the heart. 

I loved the work of Korean artist, Cho Yong-ik at Edouard Malingue. Big acrylic on canvas works where he had removed some paint with a single gesture repeated with each breath. It gave me a sudden jolt of connectedness just because I was breathing too, as I looked at it.

There was a lot of Robert Motherwell around and I particularly enjoyed the smaller works and studies. I was really happy to see some Etel Adnan paintings in the flesh - they are incredibly friendly. It's interesting to notice the difference with her writing which is darker and more complicated (I've been reading her novels, not her poetry). I like both.

I went to see Tehching Hsieh in conversation with Adrian Heathfield about his lifeworks from 1978 – 1999 (not at the fair, across the road) and it was amazing. It's hard to say why. There was something moving about Hsieh's way of being - a purity of intention I think. He leaves the work incredibly empty and I see myself and my own life in it. There was something touching too about the relationship between the two men - artist and curator. I think I need more curators in my life.

------------------

*don't remember what it's called or where I read it...

No comments: