Daily Mind-ful 16 September 2017 (Cincinnati, Day 1 — after more than 35 years)

My first full day back in Cincinnati, Ohio after more than 35 years, with Sam and my brother. We visit all the places which defined — and traumatized — us, the places which were the crucibles of my, if not our, personality. Sam told me that the best thing about this trip was getting to know his uncle James and me more — by listening to us revisit our childhood and experiences.
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Trace at Hirshhorn by Ai Weiwei (Washington DC, 17 Sept 2017)

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The End of Subjectivity? (Bernard Frize)

I wrote this essay after seeing the works of French “process painter”, Bernard Frize. Taken together with my impressions of the first museum show of Rana Begum at the Sainsbury Centre, it’s obvious that art is undergoing a seismic shift which mirrors the changes taking place in contemporary society. The quoted texts are from a fantastic essay by curator Eva Wittocx.

THE ARTIST AS LABOURER: “Frize burst the cult of the artist as a creator. In his view, the artist is not above anyone else: he is merely a ‘labourer’ who produces paintings.

THE REPUDIATION OF SUBJECTIVITY: As opposed to Abstract Expressionists who sought to express a certain emotion, Frize does not use painting as a ‘medium’ to express something. Therefore, the public need not decode the subjective content of a Frize painting. There is none. Rather, Frize’s art is the result of experimenting with process and technique to achieve different visual outcomes.

THE DEMOCRATISATION OF THE ARTISTIC PROCESS: Indeed, “Frize wants the public to be able to deduce every choice the artist makes from the work of art: ‘Every decision of the artist, the public must be able to infer from the painting. The public must be able to find out how the painting has been made, as if it had painted the work itself.” Reasoning logically, tracing the stream of paint, trying to read the combinations of colours, the public is able – without resorting to any frame of reference – to deduce directly how the work was created. To erase any suggestion of subjectivity, Frize moreover applies a glossy layer of resin to the canvas, so that any painterly effects attributable to materiality are eliminated, assuring the complete detachment of his paintings. All this is not to say that Frize’s paintings provoke no emotional or psychological response within the viewer. No, not at all. Simply, the public projects its own subjectivity and longings for expressive content on his artworks.

The ascendancy of artists like Frize and Rana Begum force one to ask, are we entering a new phase of art which prefers technique and effect over the masterful expression of affect? (By the way, the Centre Pompidou will be staging a retrospective of Frize’s work in 2019.) Will we one day regard artworks created to express a subjective idea or emotion as old-fashioned and quaint? That day is not around the corner. But the increasing recognition and popularity of “process art” mean that we badly want art to represent more than a veiled message.

[To see larger images of Frize’s art, see the online galleries of his work at Simon Lee Gallery and Galerie Perrotin.]

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Daily Mind-ful 26 May 2017 (Central Saint Martins Graduation Show)

I make it down to London to catch the graduation show at Central Saint Martins between housefuls of guests; in Saint Pancras, a surprisingly high end train station, I ask the information desk about the closest exit to the Central Saint Martins campus and the Eastern European attendant has never even heard of the university; this is exactly the kind of thing which provokes outrage among Brexiters — and for good reason; there’s a ton of construction going on around the CSM campus; I FINALLY make it to uber-trendy Indian restaurant, Dishoom, but because it’s before 12 noon, they’re not serving rice, only breakfast foods. That’s a HUGE disappointment — because I’m Asian! My friend, Silvy, who graduated from Central Saint Martins last year, tells me that the students are getting ripped off by the university because the maximum face time with their tutor is 30 minutes per term, meaning a grand total of 90 minutes per year. That’s terrible. But making things far worse, she recounts how her tutor was expressly prohibited by the school’s management from spending additional time with any single student because it would make all the other tutors look bad. Teachers are not permitted to do the equivalent of uncompensated over-time because it makes all the other teachers look bad. It means that well-intentioned tutors are expressly proscribed from making themselves available for additional office hours with students, even on a voluntary basis; that’s a terrible indictment of the school’s culture: the deans are clearly more concerned about keeping order and maximizing enrollment rather than looking out for students’ interests; the same inadequacy of resourcing applies to the studio space allocated to students; there’s not enough of it, so most students do their projects at home; Silvy describes her experience at CSM as “a huge rip-off”; #CSMcome is the worst social media hashtag ever! We’re among the first people to enter the exhibition space and the students are still getting ready; I commit myself to filming positive feedback only but it’s hard NOT to be critical of many of the projects; Silvy reminds me that these are students and that I shouldn’t lay into them too hard; there’s way too much gratuitous incorporation of technology; the projects by the following students impressed me, for different reasons: Jessica Oag-Cooper, Hannah Willcocks, Olwyn Carroll; Silvy shows me a typical room allocated for 45 students’ studio space: it’s obviously inadequate; Central Saint Martins doesn’t emphasize technical skills or craft and that’s obvious from the graduation show (unfortunately); we visit a room upstairs is signed with a content warning outside the door – that these exhibitions might shock. They’re pretty tame and only slightly thought-provoking, transposing the sound of porn to footage of food consumption and swapping virtual guns for three-dimensional, “real” ones in a video game; the video art is probably the strongest corpus of work among all the genres on show; 80% of the projects I saw were impenetrable and left me feeling puzzled; the others were disappointing because they lacked originality or impeccable execution; there were less than five projects I would have termed outstanding; to speak with total honesty, I was seriously underwhelmed by the entire thing and I’m not sure whether it was worth the huge schlep out to Saint Pancras from the country; I rush back home to welcome my friend Michael from Hong Kong; he had to lug an entire suitcase to England in order to bring me a handbag I ordered from D’Auchel, a new accessories company based in Hong Kong; the reversible tote bag has been made entirely by hand and is comprised of hand-stitched leather panels in three different colors; John models it to singular effect.
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Daily Mind-ful 24 May 2017

It’s a cooking day, something I haven’t done for decades, because two sets of friends are descending on me this week, beginning tomorrow. Tomorrow, we’re going for a walk with John’s two best friends; I emailed Yale a letter, with my vlog link, in support of June Chu, the dean censured for her remarks on Yelp; I have the WORST tennis lesson and want to cry, not because my coach beat me up but because I beat myself up. It’s definitely an Asian thing; uh oh…I just realized that I’m going to miss the graduation show at Central Saint Martins because I’m overscheduled; I check up on our spring and summer gardens to see how they’re progressing, something I do most days these days. Finally, I’m beginning to understand the rich rewards of gardening; I figure out a way to fit in a visit with Silvy Liu (@tsquiggnome) to the CSM graduation show; Silvy’s a new friend who graduated from Central Saint Martins last year, whose project, The Pedagogy of Unlearning, at the graduation show impressed me so much that I emailed her and invited her to lunch; Silvy’s project, by asking members of the public to write their name in an unconventional, physically contorted way, so that they simply could not perform the task, proves the point that traditional educational regimes are so deeply inculcated into us that they permeate our very bones and muscles, literally.
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