Home, or Studio?

Chen Tong

My interest in Fang Lu’s work, I believe, began when I first saw Housework Ritual. This work gives a sense of vastness and meticulousness, it is doubtless only functioning as a image, and not a record of a performance, even though we are certainly observing a performance within: dressed more like front desk employees at a hotel, there are no have angry expressions as they act out their mechanical movements in irrational scenes. To us, these familiar yet strange symbols are merely reflecting a reality, although they have absolutely nothing real to speak of. This is the essence of performance.

On the issue of maintaining a distance from realistic representation, Housework Ritual reminds me of some of the outstanding scenes screened during the “Robbe-Grillet et l’Art” discussions that were held last year. Despite the fact that Fang Lu’s work originates in her interest in Bruce Nauman, and not from her understanding of Robbe-Grillet, we can observe the specific cultural concerns of her student days––Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, we could even include Yves Klein­––and discover her relationship to early contemporary art, of course this also includes the openness and ideas of creative freedom emphasized by Robbe-Grillet. Thus Fang Lu’s video works are distinct, to a large degree this is because she takes an era that she clearly does not belong to as her beginning, such an early reference as point of origin is obvious both in her creative spirit and her working method. And fortunately, her references have always come from outside the system of realism, and from within personal ideology.

Housework Ritual as a work that draws upon local resources, was created upon the acceptance of a commission, although it belongs entirely to the author, and it can be attributed to a period of a personal creativity. Here the “ritual” not only provides the content of the work, it also serves as a formal style that influenced several later works. That is to say, through this work Fang Lu realized that within a ritual-filled reality, the ritual itself is a form that engenders isolation from reality. Moreover, in most situations, performances must be attributed to a kind of ritual. But, although Fang Lu makes various attempts to make the “ritual” the primary form in the work, she is still aware that she is not conducting a theatrical performance. Her inspiration comes from how she approaches the concept of “studio.” Just as the French term Le monde (the world) includes the notion of “humanity,” the artist’s “studio” is not limited to meaning an enclosed space that provides an individual with a functional space. In other words, “studio” first appears in the artist’s consciousness as the antithesis of social reality, and secondly as a tangible space. Observing Fang Lu’s works in light of the concept of the “studio” is indeed because she has admitted on more than one occasion the influence of Bruce Nauman, but also because she has a growing interest in the image production process. To what extent is the image determined by individual consciousness, and to what extent are they constrained by communication? These issues are all encompassed by the concept of “studio.”

Fang Lu likes to quote Bruce Nauman, the general meaning being that “anything produced in the studio is a work of art.” This isnot a second argument for “everyone is an artist,” because for the artist, knowledge is still the pretext for the construction of a studio or an art work; but the institutions plaguing the art creation process have either disappeared or been deconstructed. Perhaps Fang Lu is realizing Nauman’s proposition from the perspective of a “stay at home” woman, her favorable family and educational background make it easy for Fang Ly to avoid social competition, and she could choose a comfortable family life, including what she chooses as  content in her creations. But this is only taken for granted, a guess. In fact, Fang Lu is an artist with clear and direct goals, and her works are derived from various conflict––even walking back and forth on a straight line, one will encounter various pauses and obstructions. It is because she favors the use of a long lens, and rarely employs montage techniques, that any traces leftover from such conflict have been erased.

Her classic “studio work” is Automatic Happening, where Fang Lu films inside a space awaiting renovation, and thus all the walls are equally uncontaminated, one can only see white walls. Even so, the performer contrasts with the empty and static space––this is the artist herself––and surrounding her are piles of household implements, cooking utensils and table tops piled high; she wears a helmet, and is dressed like a motorcycle driver, while two fixed cameras at two different perspectives capture her movements. She makes the cooking process look random and aimless, merely one movement leading to another, and the dual screens and looping emphasize this feeling. This work has no intention to ridicule the tedious nature of housework, but attempts to blur the limits between representation (artistic labor) with what is being represented (housework). Therefore the pointlessness of the action becomes the consciousness of the artist, and similarly is not expressed by revealing the characteristics of reality through various conflicts. In Fang Lu’s opinion, pointless housework is “a kind of” art work, or a game. In her game, those assaulted foods ultimately return to a visual, material form: explosive bursts of red, drooping yellow, and billowing white (I rely on my own intuition in describing these colors, which might not necessarily fit with the work), sound and image drive them into our nerves, our own consciousness temporarily departs from habitual goal oriented pursuits.

Through Housework Ritual, Automatic Happening and other “food-related” works, we see a new direction emerge, one that highlights video art forms and their relationship to the artist’s working habits; this new direction has a methodological significance. Libreria Borges is dedicated to the discovery and promotion of the few artists who are capable of an integrated artists narrative. 

Beginning with a respect for the logical relation between these works, we have titled this exhibition “Zuo Shi,” exploiting the word (shi) hybrid and ambiguous cross between a noun and a verb, and attempting to summarize the basic elements and rhythms of Fang Lu’s recent works. Fang Lu has offered a non-corresponding, but related English word for the exhibition: “Eclipse.” It’s astronomical meaning is to “consume” another entity, which can also be extended to mean “obstruct something from view.” This is another self-interpretation of artwork fueled by words, perhaps it will be the theme in the next phase. Why not? In Antonioni’s filmIdentification of a Woman (1982), the woman’s exposure and subsequent confusion ultimately triggered a lamentation on the universe, it becomes the extraordinary theme of the film. Thus, even if not emerging from the same considerations or experiences, you could even call it “good fortune,” but in this moment, Fang Lu is capable of directing us into the sky above our heads, inadvertently allowing us a brief moment in which we can escape the notion of reality that relies on the image. Moreover, building on the extended meaning of “eclipse,” “transcendence” has made a timely appearance in Fang Lu’s works, and each transcendence is not merely of oneself, but also of the tradition of images, and the environment in which images are produced.

Similar to Fang Lu filming Automatic Happening in her studio on the basis of her daily life, for the vernissage of “Eclipse” we will project works outdoors. Not only invited visitors can see, but through their own windows, our neighbors will also be entreated to the images of this irrational performance being projected on the mysterious building opposite them. This is neither to please, nor to provoke, instead we hope to seek for possibilities within the constructed relationship. In fact, through the many works collected into an exhibition, this is necessarily a spatial-temporal extension of her work, ultimately it is “of this world,” or as Robbe-Grillet has said: “The world was created on the silver screen.”


Translation Lee Ambrozy

 (Eclipse, Fang Lu Video Exhibition, Borges Libreria Contemporary Art Institute, 2011)

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