Friday, October 12, 2007

documenta XII: Lu Hao

I really hate it when I can't read up on cool things I run into. Essentially this is because I'm never totally comfortable forming opinions until I've digested a few expert critiques first. It's something I'm working on. Lu Hao's drawings for documenta XII are a perfect example. I totally love these. But I dunno that I feel all that comfortable going out on a limb talking about what's so great about them. I guess I just immediately took a shine to them. Full disclosure: I'm a pushover for unpeopled urban landscape. Shoot a roll of film in an empty hallway, and I'll love you forever. Draw a comic book about sleepy brick buildings and I'll go weak in the knees. So, yeah, these were right up my alley. And not for nothing either, I mean, these ink drawings are straight-up gorgeous, no? Architectural and detailed, they remind me of commercial “urban concept” drawings - the kind of thing reprinted in newspapers with proposals for new baseball stadiums, shopping malls or, well, 9/11 memorials.

Without deviating from this, there are also prominent touches of antiquity – like these stylized trees that, even while they fit the commercial-use slickness, recall something like Utagawa Hiroshige's prints (yes, I do know that Hiroshige was Japanese, not Chinese).

I also totally love that these are presented on a set of ten long silk scrolls - another antique affectation, and kind of a gimmicky one. But well-executed gimmicks are what good conceptual art is all about, if you ask me, and Lu Hao's gimmick is very well-executed indeed. The scroll format is a perfect fit for capturing complete blocks of Beijing. Doing it one better, Lu Hao arranged the scrolls in pairs, with walkways running between, so that the viewer can “stroll down the block,” looking to the right and left to see Hao's artist renderings of Chang'an Street.

These scenes were all captured in 2005 and 2006, documenting a moment in Beijing's ramp-up to hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics, a huge overhaul of urban landscape and even local customs in an effort to put the city's best foot forward in a globally televised mega-spectacle. These pictures catch the city's transition in process. Some buildings are shown under construction. Others have probably since been demolished. In a few cases, the stark difference of adjacent structures is quite striking.

Lu Hao's a new name to me, but it seems that a good deal of his past work has involved Chinese monuments. Well, the streets of China are more or less going to serve as tributes to both Chinese tradition and Chinese modernization next year, so really this documenta piece is also about monuments.

Because the scrolls were preserved behind shiny glass, I couldn't get any decent photos. Thankfully, more skillful photographers than I have posted all the above shots on Flickr.

2 comments:

Mark said...

Talk about an epic, extreme make-over. I wonder at the scope and speed of China's change, but for what is also being lost in the rubble.
We have have had evolution, revolution, but we need a new word for the next generation of even faster, more mind boggling change. Any suggestions?: maybe epic-lution... more ideas?

Brian said...

beautiful stuff - I think the word might be Capitalism! or neoliberal(-ution)?