Magazine article Art Monthly

Far West

Magazine article Art Monthly

Far West

Article excerpt

Far West

Arnolfini Bristol June 28 to August 31

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Places you can be--sort of--within a five-minute perambulation through the three big rooms occupied by 'Far West': a market, a boutique, a factory, a Japanese village, an artist's production-line atelier, a bricolage conurbation on Second Life. The show, curated by Nav Haq and adumbrating the shift of economic power eastwards, explicitly collapses the economic spaces its contributors sketch out in their contributions, using the overall descriptor of a 'Concept Store'. So it is a species of shop, selling both objects (there are products aplenty available here) and, implicitly, experiences and ideas; and, for the duration of the show, it has spun off smaller franchises in Bristol city centre, Margate, Liverpool and, naturally, on Second Life. Are we buying?

It is worth pointing out that, despite the jazzy fusillades of floral wallpaper--courtesy of Michael Lin and based on Taiwanese fabric designs--that decorously defamiliarise its walls in several rooms, 'Far West' still mostly looks like a gallery. There's none of the tensional grind or hustle of real industrial production or high-turnover retail, but rather dreamy echoes of same, intersecting with a potentially useful self-consciousness. If you sit down at Yoko Ono's Mend Piece--for Merry England, 2008, a round table whose centre is filled with a mound of smashed crockery, and begin glue-gunning pieces together to make a hybrid form ('imagine healing your heart as you mend', Ono's text instructs, gallingly) you're not a factory worker, nor are you supposed to be. If you accept SOI Project's invitation to fold a printed paper template into the shape of a piece of fruit, you're not a production-line operative either. Having origami'd one's fruit successfully (or mangled it, as the case may be) you're offered the choice of paying for it (1 [pounds sterling]) or exchanging fake fruit for the real thing. It is a precise forking of paths: pay and you're buying art, exchange labour for food and you're engaging, though still as an aesthete with options, with the drudgery that erects economic empires. Deciding, one gets a glimmering insight: in our frictionless post-industrial culture, so abstracted from the realities of labour, might art that coerces the viewer into activity comprise a return of the repressed?

Art and commerce are not separate spheres, of course, as we are reminded by Liu Ding's roomful of almost identical paintings: some 40 of them, hung salon-style, each featuring a melodious lakeside scene over which crane-like birds disport themselves. Made by factory workers in Dafancun, a Chinese painting village, they're in various stages of completion; next door is a rack of gold paper-wrapped canvases, unfinished, which visitors can take home to complete. It's an interesting twist on Warhol's Business Art: that the production-line nature of the work, expressed as concept and reflecting China's will to primacy, is what gives the art its value. By contrast--or perhaps it is another side of the same coin--David Blandy's video (and accompanying comic-book), The Barefoot Lone Pilgrim, suggests a knowingly chronic and superficial orientalism filtered through artefacts. In stages of a story accessible via a DVD jukebox, Blandy, in his patented character as a dorky westerner who's come to venerate eastern lore through listening to kung-fu movie-sampling hip-hop records, undertakes a journey towards self-awareness. Cinematic abbots of the Shaolin temple dispense wisdom, as if to him, in film clips; Blandy replies, neophyte to master, and sets off to roam London and the English countryside with a special gnarly staff and a portable turntable playing old soul records, looking to locate his inner self. …

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