Magazine article Artforum International

Mel Chin: Thomas Rehbein Galerie

Magazine article Artforum International

Mel Chin: Thomas Rehbein Galerie

Article excerpt

"I was wondering, how do you get an idea into a system, and let it replicate within that system," Mel Chin once remarked in an interview. He was talking about In the Name of the Place, 1995-97, a project for which, in collaboration with the gala Committee, he "smuggled" art objects into the TV series Melrose Place as props. They conveyed messages you wouldn't expect to find in a prime-time series: A takeout container, for instance, bore the slogan human rights/turmoil in Chinese. A similar strategy of using forms and ideas as viruses to infiltrate representational systems could be seen at work in Chin's recent show in Cologne. Cluster (4 pieces), 2004-2006, for example, consists of pieces of jewelry based on artillery wounds, such as the cone-shaped entry and exit holes of a bullet from the American Civil War or the scattershot injuries caused by an antipersonnel cluster bomb of the sort used in the Bosnian War. The unconventional and delicate (in both senses) way in which these objects of adornment are given their color and shape is contrasted with photographic documentation of the actual wounds, recalling the age-old divide between those who suffer from wars and those who profit from them.

Likewise, the depredations of colonialism, which affect nature as well as human beings, are often masked by the idealization and romanticization of wilderness--as Chin's installation Safe, 2005, shows in the case of Belgium's colonial rule in the Congo. Weathered wooden planks almost entirely conceal an oil painting with an idyllic depiction of the Congo River and enclosed in a heavy gold frame featuring plant and animal motifs but also representations of the tools of colonialist "taming," such as a whip. Meanwhile, the planks themselves are perforated with a profusion of rusty nails pointing toward the painting behind them--though this destructive act of magical invocation doesn't so much as scratch the surface of the work itself. …

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