Image from After Shock, a charity photo exhibit for the earthquake-affected region of Qinghai.
Art events that inspire Bound Editorial‘s Hunter Braithwaite to ruminate about champagne sympathy and Jon Benn’s date.
Saturday started on a definite bummer-note over at Leo Gallery. After Shock is a photo exhibition/charity event designed to raise money for earthquake victims in Qinghai province and it was a bummer for a number of reasons:
- The photographs weren’t that spectacular. Except in the whole spectacle sense, in which case they were.
- A ton of poor people were displaced and killed because of corruption and shoddy construction.
- It’s depressing to be confronted with images of actual suffering while I’m trying to drink champagne and eat cheese cubes.
If they had tried to pass this work off as an art exhibit, Leo would have caught hell from everyone that bothered to look. Here is a woman caked in blood. Over there is a pile of rubble that was once a schoolhouse. Yet across Ferguson Lane is Franck’s bistro. But it was a charity event. There were monks.
By couching the show in terms of charity, they’ve not only dodged a bullet themselves but weighed in on a major debate in photojournalism. That is, when is it ok to take pictures of the sick and dying? How should we react to the sun setting low atop the blood donation tent?
As famous complainer Susan Sontag once put it, “Photographs that depict suffering shouldn’t be beautiful…a beautiful photograph drains attention from the sobering subject and turns it toward the medium itself, thereby compromising the picture’s status as a document. The photograph gives mixed signals. Stop this, it urges. But it also exclaims, What a spectacle!”*
In short, why do we feel the urge to document this? (Because it looks cool.) Why hang it on the wall? (Because it looks cool.)
And the answer seems to lie in the corollary of charity. If one maintains that the act is in the pursuit of betterment, then applause is warranted, not discussion.
Across town there was a less weighty debate going on at Lu Xinjian’s City DNA at Art Labor 2.0. To be frank, the paintings have been getting a mixed reception. Those who like them comment on the bright colors, intricate patterning, and a faint urban vibe (they were modeled on maps of different cities). Detractors comment on the same qualities. Whatever. The legions of people who showed up on Saturday for the art (not for the free wine) seemed to have a good time.
I am somewhat interested in Lu’s attempt to capture the aura of his different cities through so many mediating factors. For this project to work, we must first admit that each city has a certain unshakeable vibe (although, I’ve been to Brussels and Strausbourg and have forgotten them both almost completely). To begin with, it’s odd that a contemporary artist would choose to channel De Stijl, the go-to example of Modernist reduction and simplification, in order to excavate something as ethereal and subjective as a certain metropolis’s feel.
Add to this the fact that Lu doesn’t base his paintings on traditional maps, but satellite images from Google Earth. Why not just take from Rand McNally? Reiterating last week’s bafflement, what’s going on with these artists larding their vision with history and technology?
And I could go on asking questions that don’t warrant answers, or could move on to serious artistic discourse. That is, interrogating the postcolonial/neopatriarchal discourse emerging between Jon Benn and that hot chick. Next week.
*Susan Sontag’s “Regarding the Pain of Others.” Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.
bound*Editor’s Note : Jon Benn is a staple of the Shanghai art scene. Long a man of mystery, for years the most anyone knew about him is that he once shared the screen with Bruce Lee. But today we have good news to share — Jon Benn is set to grace the silver screen once again. Click here to view his new movie trailer or here if you’re behind the Great Firewall. Click here to see him at another recent opening.
This article was also posted on Bound Editorial. For more images, click here.
Photo courtesy of the artist Li Ying and Leo Gallery