Excerpt from “SHANGHAI: THE NEXT ART CAPITAL OF CHINA?”
BY ANDREW STOOKE
Li Xiaofei’s ongoing project culminated in a second exhibition this year, entitled “Prototypes, Duplicates and Cast-offs – Assembly Line Project 2” (11/16–12/15). Exhibited at V-Art Center, the project connected a group of artists with workers at the Systence electronic component factory in Jiading, using art as a means of investigating the real, everyday lives of factory workers in China. Xiao Kaiyu’s Poetic Reflections on the Assembly Line (2015) is a funny and touching film depicting contemporary poets reading to such factory workers. The encounters are often awkward and hasty. The workers politely, but uneasily, linger while the poets deliver their words against the cacophony of the factory environment. In Today You Rest (2015), Yu Kai massages the workers as they listen to relaxing music. The video of the gentle encounter is direct, and its artless good humor is reminiscent of Henri Matisse’s note on art from 1908, in which he claims that art ought to be “a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.” Here, the thought is transposed, through an elegant contemporary action, to soothe and calm factory workers.
In another documentary-style video, Liu Guangyun drops 50,000 pearls from a crane onto a factory floor. The artist says the pearls: “fall in a space in front of the workers bouncing up and down, introducing a brisk and splendid rhythm to the typically cold factory environment.” The exhibit succeeds in dealing with the present, showing us what it’s like, and how art can make the cold, hard reality better without tampering with its surface or creating a romantic illusion of its past.