The most successful work in Cantocore: Free on Board not only investigates the nuanced layers of trade and culture between Guangzhou and San Francisco, but also incorporates translation/mis-translation, authenticity/reproduction, and the copy-of-a-copy-of-a-translation spirit.
Cantocore: Import/Export (2008) was originally curated for Ping Pong Space, a large warehouse space in Guangzhou, China. Curators Justin Hoover, Fang Lu, and Jon Phillips invited six San Francisco-based artists and six Guangzhou-based artists to participate. This second, more intimate edition at Mission 17 includes a few scaled down pieces, or in some cases, omits original work by the artists' choice or by size constraint.
The exhibition opens with Huang Xiaopeng's What Does "Globalization" Means To You? a wall text piece that stretches the entire hallway. A billboard contained indoors, the piece is too big to digest while remaining still. The viewer must walk back and forth, tracing the text with his body instead of his eye. The result of translating "globalism" from English to Chinese to English is "thanks to the expansion of the empire economic and culture exchanges become possible to the maximum extent and previously isolated civilizations become linked". A very appropriate opening for Cantocore.
Misako Inaoka's Zen Garden (2009) incorporates many layers of context. Inaoka, born in Kyoto and based in San Francisco, constructed the piece in Guangzhou where, according to the press release, "she discovered a market selling fabricated rocks, grass, and fruit". Two of the rocks are equipped with wheels and corresponding remote controls allowing visitors to create their own design using a traditionally inanimate object as a vehicle for their inspiration. Inaoka comments not only on the commercialization of the Zen in the US (think mini Zen garden for an office desk) but possibly China's commercial Zen. The remote-control cars beneath the fabricated rocks are most certainly made in China. A subtle, but poignant detail of Zen Garden hangs precariously with a charger plugged into two adaptors and subsequently into a transformer.
In his single channel video One Day (2007), Zhou Tao documents his life in a Chinese mall. The artist transposes his daily, private activities into the public life of the mall, where he shaves, watches TV, and sleeps. A comment on the commodification of culture, but also the transposition and eerie familiarity to a US mall holds up an interesting mirror to both Chinese and American consumers. Many artists, from Marina Ambrovic to Joseph Beuys, have explored living in gallery spaces, or invite the public to have a moment of 'living' in a gallery like Rirkrit Tiravanija cooking for gallery visitors. Tao's living in a public space, however, harps not only on a collective fascination, but also a collective reality shared throughout the world.
Other work includes Jon Phillips' installation of an LED screen on scaffolding streaming facts about China from both the English and Chinese Wikipedia pages. Kathrine Worel photographs Americans in Buddhist poses trapped in everyday locations: the most arresting depicts a tank-top, baseball cap clad man laying horizontally across a couch complete with empty beer cans on the floor. Fang Lu contributes a three channel video piece in which he has hired performers to reenact news stories culled from recent Chinese press. David Johnson presents a California-shaped crate complete with packing peanuts, literally referencing the exportation of culture.
Through both the layering of cultural exchange in the work, and the actual practice of shipping work from Guangzhou to San Francisco, Cantocore explores the subtleties in an interesting moment in the history of globalization. Will the world continue growing smaller and cultures more alike? Or will the world regress to more sequestered, local version of itself because of the contracting economic markets?
Also on view at Mission 17: imPOSSIBLE!: 8 Chinese Artists Engage Absurdity, a collaborative exhibition with The San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery.
(Images courtesy of the Artists and Cantocore)