by Frederieke Beunk
Cheng Ran in his studio, photo by Frederieke Beunk.
Today I visited second-year resident Cheng Ran (CN, 1981) in his studio at the Rijksakademie. We sit down in two large old-fashioned armchairs. I look out on a year’s study: a dozen parts of a deconstructed black grand piano are standing against the wall. On the ground lays a project Ran is working on: an assemblage of Dutch brochures and magazines from the Seventies and Eighties that he found by chance in some road trash. Ran can’t read Dutch, but his assistant helps him.
Experiences Ran didn’t have yet or skills he doesn’t masters, fascinate him. Under the pseudonym Wojtowircz Fog he has published the novel Circadian Rhythm (2013). It’s a detective story in which he takes up motifs and quotes from his earlier works. According to Ran it is badly written, however it’s not so much about the story. The work is meant to be a total experience in which you could read the book on a toilet in the exhibition space. During RijksakademieOPEN 2013 special excerpts from the novel with clues of the story were exhibited around the public toilets of the Rijksakademie. Ran is interested in the combined action of location and reading.
Cheng Ran, Chewing Gum Paper (filmstill), 2011, single channel video with sound, 3 min 10 sec, photo by Cheng Ran.
Ideas for his videos, installations and novels he finds in daily life, music, youth culture, and European art house cinema. In China, he spent days and nights with friends who play in a band. There his idea arose for the video Chewing Gum Paper (2011). First you hear the sound of a drum, then you see screwed up silver chewing gum wrapping papers and bouncing on the vibrating drum surface. Martin Luther King’s four words from his famous speech ‘I have a dream’ (1963) resound repeatedly in a distorted and hypnotic way. The viewer very quickly gets a sense of recognition by the canonical words. By a second encounter, the serious undertone of the words seems a bit out of place in combination with the playful wrapping papers. Ran plays with the idea how sound can affect the way you look at an image and vice versa.
He is receptive to new ideas he gains from unfamiliar cultures, like the Dutch culture. As student at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, Ran became acquainted with Western art. Reading Western texts and theories, a new world opened up for him. China before 1989, the year in which modern Chinese art started to develop, is for Ran miles remoted. He rather focuses on Western culture and finds it easier to translate it to a video work than Chinese culture. He rather focuses on what the European culture has to bring him during his residency, than relating to Chinese politics, as so many Chinese artists do who are well known in the West.
Ran’s first-year stay at the Rijksakademie greatly affected his work and the way he reflects on it in different ways. In his work he concentrates on the experience of human interaction and the relationship of citizens to society. He lets himself be inspired by Amsterdam and its inhabitants. For hours he walked through the city and observes the daily habits and interaction of passers-by. He is interested in the story of the city and her inhabitants. When the sun is breaking through, he likes to go to the Oosterpark writing a novel or listening to musicians.
But also technical aspects of his work changed. Before his arrival at the Rijksakademie, Ran filmed his video with a digital camera. He had a lot of inspiring conversations with technical specialists and developed his technique in the media workshops. Here he learned how to work with super 16 mm film. Ran says in China it is almost impossible to work with this kind of film of the lack of special cameras and places to develop these films. Last year, he made seven new films, but he also expanded his work from video to other media such as installations, sound works and novels. He points out that the contact between the resident artists is very professional: there are a lot of in-depth discussions which made him look at his work in a renewed way. Ran: ‘The atmosphere of the art scene here is quite different than the Chinese art scene.’ Although the technical aspect of his work gained a high degree of development, for Ran the most important change becomes visible in the way he looks at his work and the new perceptions on his work which he has acquired during his residency.
This year he also would like to explore super 8 mm film. The idea for a new video came from the many junk emails everyone receives in his email box, but never reads. In his new video he would like to recite the emails as poems. In his coming novel he will focuses on the effects of language barriers on his work and his communication about it. Despite his limited mastery of the English language, he’s planning to write the book in English directly. Furthermore he would like to make a full length movie, currently he only makes short films. For his last residency year at the Rijksakademie Ran has still enough ideas.
More information you can find on Cheng Ran’s artist page.
by Taya Hanauer
A woman with a white hat will enter.
She will stand by the door for a moment.
She will appear pale.
She will be self-assured and kind of sexy.
The man will experience a déjà vu.
The woman will sit near the door.
She will be ready for anything really.
She will seem friendly on the outside.
She will clear her voice.
The above is an excerpt from Zhana Ivanova’s (BG, RA 12/13) script which was given to the audience as part of her performance piece “all the players” during RijksakademieOPEN. Watching the movements of the silent actors, the audience attempts to follow along with the script in hand. At one point, it becomes obvious that the script is quite peculiar. At times it describes an action as one would expect a script to do (“she will sit near the door”), while at other times it points out a judgment not otherwise made by the viewer or an experience not otherwise perceptible, transparently dictating to the audience what to see (“she will appear pale” or “the man will experience a déjà vu”). Ivanova’s performance piece plays with the audience’s perceptions and expectations in this way, providing an odd script which makes the audience question what is going on in a scene which hangs somewhere between familiar and strange.
The performance took place in a specially built room inside Ivanova’s studio, and emulates a waiting room scenario with chairs along the walls, a standard green plant, and a side table with water glasses. It begins with two characters sitting in the room, seemingly waiting, later two more characters join them, and the scene loops every 15 minutes, with the actors switching roles. Like in a typical waiting room, the characters do not talk to each other, and appear to be waiting for something else and more important to happen. This waiting room situation, where time is usually experienced as wasted is the focus of this piece. Combined with the script given to the audience, the emphasis of this performance is directed towards things that are not consciously noticed or imperceptible in such situations considered lacking in significance, such as nonverbal communication, internal thoughts, and arbitrary actions. With this emphasis, Ivanova’s performance switches between the roles of expected visibility, fading into the background actions that are usually visible and expected to be so, such as speech and climax events, which in this case refers to the expectation that something will indeed happen, that what has been waited for will arrive or that the characters will speak to each other.
The usage of the script itself is a manifestation of the aspect of bringing to visibility things that remain unseen or unnoticed. The script is commonly perceived as a guiding outline for actors to follow, a skeleton for a performance but incomplete in itself. Here it is brought out of its usually hidden place and given a powerful role in creation of action and perspective. The script is so significant here that without it, the audience would not be able to follow the actors, they would not be able to ‘understand’ what they see. This dependency on the script brings the audience inside the boundaries of the performance, as the role of the script is transferred from scripting only the actors to scripting the audience as well.
The scripting of the audience also through the specific content dictating perceptions or judgments, and bringing out elements which are commonly overlooked or unseen such as arbitrary actions and internal thoughts, and the audience’s dependency on it in order to gain entry into the performance, gives way to another sense of reality which intertwines ‘real life’ and the staged performance. Specifically also the lack of verbal communication between the characters and the at times unusual demands of the script from the audience’s perception (for example “she will be self-assured and kind of sexy”) all recall the many unseen aspects of daily life, the complexity which lays below the obvious and the visible; the unshared thoughts, feelings, and actions which constitute our existence. In this way “all the players” can make daily life appear mute without a script. A mute environment in which people remain isolated from each other with unshared thoughts and unnoticed actions. This relation to life gives an unnatural yet familiar feel to the performance and creates an awareness of this recognizable part of daily life which has no voice and cannot have a voice expcept for an imposed one in a setting which is necessarily staged.
The stylistic qualities of “All the Players” seem inspired by what Martin Esslin has termed “Theatre of the Absurd” which refers to a sense of purposelessness, incomprehensibility, refusal to conventional language, play with the audience, and a general existentialism which points towards the “illusion of what we thought was life’s apparent logical structure[i].” “All the Players” incorporates such elements and is similarly a complex fragment but more abstract in its usage of plot and characters than the playwrights originally grouped under this heading. Ivanova’s “All the Players” emphasizes these specific qualities through the reduction of elements to complete purposelessness, existential isolation, and play with the audience, in a waiting room scene in which ‘nothing’ ends up happening, the character’s thoughts and actions arbitrary and uncommunicated, and a script upon which the audience depends in order to ‘see’ these arbitrary things which go unnoticed. A script that dictates perceptions, points towards the isolation in life, and is in itself a symbol of reversed roles of visibility, making the audience question what it is that they have just seen.
[i] Martin Esslin, “The Theatre of the Absurd,” The Tulane Drama Review 4.4 (May 1960): 1-15.
By creating useful objects and installations, resident Dušan Rodić questions the role of art within the social realm. Always seeking harmony with the environment, his aesthetics are rooted in the principles of mathematics and sacred geometry. During RijksakademieOPEN 2013 he presented ‘Tuning in’, a wall piece consisting of nine solar panels, made with multi-crystalline silicon solar cells.
Last week, in his last days as a resident at the Rijksakademie and just before moving to Berlin I get to ask him a few questions about his work ‘Tuning in’ .
Can you tell me a little about your motivation for this work?
The motivation for the work came out of my research to create an art piece concerning alternative energy sources. A few years ago I gave myself a framework to create art work related to basic living necessities such as food, shelter, water, energy.
The work ‘Tuning in” consists of hand made solar modules. During my residency at Rijksakademie I decided to challenge myself to create solar modules that are both functional and visually impressive.
The concept behind the piece is related to my perspective of looking at the journey of self-realization we call “life”. During the life-time or let’s say, every day, or to be more specific every moment, there are decisions to be made, making this decision in a right moment determines your growth.
The ‘decisions’ I am referring to, are not made by rational thinking, making these decisions is faster than our mind, they are connected to our instinct. Being sensitive to energies around you and choosing the right one, is a difficult task, it is like tuning into the radio station with the analogue/FM radio tuner. The task is to keep yourself tuned in.
Your work seems highly technical. How do you learn about all the technical details of such a project?
I got interested in solar panels a few years ago, I visited every solar panel expo, researched new technologies and made contacts with solar module material producers.
I had great support from the Rijksakademie technical workshops team Arend Nijkamp, Kees Reedijk and Stephan Kuderna, I found a lot of informations through the internet. Later on I got to know Doctor Siniša Đordević, a lecturer at the Engineering and Energy Studies at Murdoch University, Perth, Australia, who guided me along the process with many important advices.
The artist Mi-Ah Rödiger helped me a lot with the lamination process and precision in executing the work.
About the project you write: “The dyad simultaneously divides and unites, repels and attracts, separates and returns.”- can you explain more about why this interests you?
The Dyad is for me a symbol of twoness. We are all searching for love, recognition, acceptance… the two circles are touching each others centre points. Still being the two separate entities they share the middle part with each other, Vesica Piscisis is depicted on the ‘Tuning in’ piece.
This shared form in between two circles was for ancient Greek mathematical philosophers the source of all the geometrical forms. We are one, that is the important part.
Also you are a renovation coordinator for OT301 in Amsterdam, can you tell me a little more about how this came along?
OT301 is the old film academy building in the centre of Amsterdam. In 1999 it was squatted by a group of Gerrit Rietveld Academie art students and squatters, political activists / anarchist .
For 14 years this building is a fusion of art and activism. It is run by the organization Eerste Hulp Bij Kunst (First Aid For Art) ,which bought the building in 2007.
As a member of EHBK and being an artist interested in creating self sustainable spaces for artists, the members entrusted me to run the renovation plan with the guidance of an external advisor: architect Henk Slijkhuis, a man with great experience and knowledge in projects like this.
Within two years we executed a big renovation project, renewing most of the vital functions of the building, total renovation of the façade, certain interventions concerning the buildings energy efficiency.
As a logical progression of my graduation work Shelter #1 I see this renovation as part of my artistic practice and many entities within the architectural interventions executed can be seen as my art work.
What is your plan after the Rijksakademie?
Entering the studio of Oscar Abraham Pabon during RijksakademieOPEN 2013
As the name indicates, the RijksakademieOPEN studios are the opening of studios of the Rijksakademie residents. Not too much news about that. However opening up studios entails much more than just opening up doors. Most residents empty out their atelier and turn it into a white cube. However a few artists interact directly with this space that has been their professional home away from home for about a year.
During Studio Verwey revisited, one of the talks during the open weekend, the topic concerned the artist studio. Moderated by Radna Rumping, the participants touched on several aspects of the studio. The Rijksakademie’s programme coordinator Wytske Visser explained the relevance of the studio and the impact of residing at a specific space. Together with its light, size and heritage of former residents, the space has significant influence on the workprocess and thereby artistic outcome. The Rijksakademie, according to Visser, also takes these factors in consideration, together with the used medium and the specific needs of an artist in order to match him or her with the right space.
Studio of Derk Thijs at the Rijksakademie in 2009
A few years ago (2009/2010) Derk Thijs interacted intensely with his studio. He started out by putting some paint onto the wall, using it as an alternative to his (then favoured) medium, canvas and making the space more personal. During the year he gradually turned the space into one giant wallpainting: adding ambiance to the studio and a context to the presented artworks within the room – in a way similar to Danielle van Ark’s spraypainted golden studio during the RijksakademieOPEN 2013. During his second year Thijs was located at the manege. Here he built a vertical seperation in order to create extra floor space. During that years’ open studio’s the presentation entailed an isolated world, only to be entered through a small corridor: the dimmed light created a spheric experience in the new space with two floors and a low ceiling that contained a few light holes and a lot of supporting beams. In the past year he was invited to take his studio to the museum of the family Brenninkmeijer in Germany - and work inside the institution during the opening hours.
Pigeon fancying, fierljeppen and javelot. Traditional manners of pastime from the northern parts of The Netherlands and France. Eric Giraudet de Boudemange takes these folksy activities as starting point for his presentation during the RijksakademieOPEN 2013. These traditions all have their own history and mostly come from a highly functional purpose, but over time became somewhat obsolete and forgotten. Therefore today they have become activities that are only practiced by a few dedicated connoisseurs. Giraudet exposes and connects these captive cultures and translates their artefacts into artworks.
Most of these games are familiar but also fairly unknown, Eric Giraudet de Boudemange discloses them by bringing them back to the spotlight and telling about their background, meaning and rules. Showing different types of tradition, making them tangible and unveiling their manners of modern day practice. One of the ways doing so was a daily performance which culminated in the release of a pigeon. These specific pigeons would normally be eaten because they lacked sufficient results during the races during the season. This means their navigation and flying skills were inferior to those of their peers. Giraudet relates this release to Theseus’ Minotaur adventure in the labyrinth, but inverts the Odyssean myth. While releasing specifically these inferior pigeons, he tells us that when they are unable to navigate to their home in the north of France, they will be free. However, if they do not get lost in the labyrinth of the world; after their successful homecoming they will be served next to potatoes and creamy pepper sauce.
Crystal Z. Campbell is in the second year of her residency. Her main project which she showed at the RijksakademieOPEN is focused on HeLa cells which she managed - in cooperation with a scientist - to grow on a diamond. The project has many aspects and many layers and the most ambitious part is yet to come. I asked her about her work in her studio.
What are HeLa cells?
HeLa cells are cancer cells from an African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks. The cells were taken in 1951 without her consent and her family didn’t know her cells were being used for scientific research until almost twenty years later. HeLa cells are often called immortal. I consider the HeLa cell line to be cosmic fingerprints––they contributed to faulty scientific claims, treatments for tuberculosis, were injected into prisoners and even sent to outer space.
How did you come into contact with the HeLa cells?
I stumbled across the HeLa story while reading an article on bioethics a few years ago. An advisor here, Tijs Goldschmidt, introduced me to someone at the University of Leiden lab and they connected me to the scientist who worked with HeLa cells.
So you didn’t buy them?
No, live HeLa cells would need to be taken care of and kept alive… you have to cultivate them, feed them. For other works in the show, I did buy vintage bacteria samples from 1940’s from a medical collector and samples of skin and fingertips. The skin and fingertip samples arrived in an unmarked envelope without a return address. I found it strange how these samples become part of the commercial market and wondered who they belong to, and what the ethical limits of this biological material are.
Rain, steam and speed by William Turner, 1844
A steam train at full speed, surrounded by fog, darkness and shrouded by rain and smoke crossing the Maidenhead Railway Bridge. This example shows Turner his fascinations with technological progress and the new sensation of speed. The work makes a conscious reference to the irrevocable non-stoppable change caused by technology.
During The art of Orientation talk at RijksakademieOPEN last Sunday, Petran Kockelkoren talked about the introduction of new technologies. This feeling of unstoppable change and how artists throughout history coped with that. Countless innovations with multiple examples showed us that the introduction of new technologies always has an uprooting, alienating effect at first.
The reason why these effects occur, Kockelkoren states, is because of the change in our sensory experience. Our sensory perception has no central point, or zero-value if you will. New technologies, like the introduction of the train, large boats and airplanes always left us with the need to change or adjust this sensory perception. Adjustments that were needed to not only learn deal with this new technology but also to provoke and thereby explore and bend this perception. To make it part of our new perception and thereby part of our new truth.
Beauty. One of those concepts which has become a kind of obsession, intimately connected to the proceedings of art through time as well as one’s personal proceedings of life. Experienced as essential, somehow, to the sense of self-worth, to how we evaluate others, to the feel of an artwork. With care and attention to the artworks themselves, I draw out here a short description of beauty in the work of two different artists from this year’s open studios, Dimitar Genchev and Karishma D’souza.
In Dimitar Genchev’s studio, four large paintings cover the walls. The paintings show scenes recognizable from daily life depicted in a highly realistic fashion. They are not exact depictions, but rather fusions of different scenes or elements, giving his work a dreamlike feel or the sense of a faded memory which comes as one tries to recollect something long forgotten. One of the paintings shows a girl appearing in a bathing suit as though she was on the beach, the blue shadow cast on her spreads out to the background of a landscape of rocks, unclear whether the girl is part of it or whether it is of a different scene. Near the girl’s feet a brown background of paint goes into what seems like the beginning of an internal, domestic scene, showing a chair which fades away into the blue of the rocks. Dimitar is interested in what he calls “banal, daily things and situations,” in bringing out their beauty by manipulating the color schemes and combining different scenes. He purposely chooses scenes which would otherwise appear “boring.”