Summer @ MoMA PS1

27 June 2016

Cao Fei
03 April – 31 August 2016
19 June – 18 September 2016
by Jeannine Bardo

NEW YORK, NY — The thoughtful placing of the artists on view at MoMA PS1 through the 2016 summer months is profound, poetic, and prophetic. Deng Tai’s Shadow, with its beautiful and ghostly images of the artist moving through space in moments forever lost, next to Meriem Bennani’s Fly, with video images of daily life in Morocco through the guiding eyes of a fruit fly, and Rodney McMillian’s Landscape Paintings of poured latex paint on bed sheets are perfectly nestled in the spaces between the two larger exhibits of Cao Fei and Vito Acconci.

Vito Acconci’s yesterday is woven into our today and Cao Fei’s tomorrow looms over the present.

Acconci’s early work comes from a place in which we were finding ourselves and Fei’s current work exists in a time when we are desperately trying to find each other.

Fei’s dystopic and surreal solo-show hammers home the realities of a world of immense and rapid change. A place where collective histories are being devoured by the massive movement of peoples forced or desperate enough to leave their own histories behind to create something new, the push and pull of globalization.

Her video, COSPlayers (2004) is set in a stark industrial landscape of newly built, soulless towers meant to house millions. Her characters belong to cosplay communities, groups of young people that gather to dress up as imaginary Japanese anime characters, and they offer the only color and life in a setting that should be teeming with life based on the promises of new development. They play out elaborate battles with each other and if they don’t end up lifeless and thrown in the marshes, they return to life among the walking dead of the city. Co-existing and connected to each other only by the space they inhabit.

Cao Fei’s multimedia work moves you through these realities/unrealities as a bellwether of change, showing us our fate or our new reality in a world of our making. Where we connect across digital passageways or as a trace of a lost civilization leaving artifacts strewn in another Eden for the next iteration of life to puzzle on.

“Room becomes an object” was the original intent of Vito Acconci’s WHERE WE ARE NOW (WHO ARE WE ANYWAY?) (1976). The work consists of a plank that begins as a table flanked on both sides by stools and extends out of the room through the window to become a diving board, giving the impression of a long running start to a freefall exit of this room into the outdoor space, a launch pad to freedom.

The fact that the 2016 version of Acconci’s WHERE WE ARE NOW (WHO ARE WE ANYWAY?) is slanted inward changes the perspective of the work, making it more a slide that might gently deposit a person into this room/object than a trajectory/diving board to the outside. Whereas Acconci’s earlier work was made as a commentary on eschewing the gallery as commodifier, the 2016 work feels more like he took his leap, went for a wild ride and gently landed back into the space that he abhorred for it’s veneration of objects.

A man’s words disappear when they have exhausted the sound waves. They may be remembered, but never as they once were. Acconci’s words find life and new meaning when they are unshackled from the page and transformed into space.

You enter one of the installation rooms of Acconci’s survey show to hear him speak of a man’s disappearance. He speaks the words like the event is something as banal as a cat moving to another space. The same words you are hearing are projected from a screen, an object, and printed on panels suspended on crisscrossed cables that act as both roof and flooring since their shadows create a decorative grid on the floor. The words form a room within a room. Audible disappearing words are transformed into the visual and stand before us as concrete objects, architectural works that will most likely be preserved with the utmost care for generations, sacred objects with economic, historical and cultural value. (As a former graduate student of Vito Acconci I recall him speaking in my studio about creating objects and wondering out loud why we need them and why we feel the need to make them.)

This corridor of objectified words brings you into rooms of video screens playing Acconci’s past performance pieces. This sphere is filled with objects that contain works originally created as something more ephemeral. As video they are now a record, an archive.

One moves through rooms of Vito Acconci in the object that is a screen performing Beckett-like acts of the corporeal: spitting, rubbing, pushing, pulling, boxing, striking…and… Acconci speaking, uttering, questioning, beckoning…using his body as material and his voice and words as tools. He is the art and as you venture deeper into his space he becomes the room, he IS the architecture. In a 2009 interview with Karen Wright for Interview magazine Acconci says, “There’s a theory: What if we pour water on it? That’s also what a child does. If a child came in now, the child would ignore us, go under the table, and make a house.”

Acconci has built his house.