Teh Ching Hsieh is a Taiwanese performance artist who’s artwork consists, most of the time, of sitting or standing around for a year doing nothing. Like the year he spent in a self-imposed jail at home, or the year punching time clocks on the hour every hour or the year living as a homeless person. Time seems to be the only constant linkage between the works, and the element that gives it meaning from his ideology of meaninglessness.
His first foray into the world of international art has been via by jumping off an oil tanker near Philadelphia and subsequently living in Manhattan as an illegal immigrant in the 1970s. He lived like that, working in Chinese restaurants until one day in 1978 he had an idea to do something about it, which was to build a cage at home and imprison himself for a year; an expression of how he felt his life was like. With strict rules not to talk to anyone or watch TV or do anything productive, this became known as the Cage Piece (1978).
Italian artist Adelita Husni-Bey produces part documentary, part artistic films which delve into social issues, expectations that we place on each other based on certain perceptions which then become constructs that are sometimes questionable.
After The Finish Line (2011) is a film about a group of US teenagers who each practice a sport competitively, and their thoughts and feelings about the life that they live and the toll practicing the sport takes on them.
Brazilian artist Cinthia Marcelle films ordinary everyday occurrences, initially highlighting their abstract geometric qualities, then through the passage of time and mindless repetition, viewers are drawn indirectly to contemplate first the poetic and ultimately, the sublime.
Sometimes, she intervenes with irony and humour, to disrupt these everyday occurrences, questioning the meaningfulness of various human activities that we take for granted. Her landscapes and man-made scenes have come to encompass the notion of a landscape of ruin; the cumulation of human excess and the ‘frontier’ between culture and nature.
Egyptian artist Moataz Nasr’s films, sculpture and paintings reflect the realities of life under what could be described as a totalitarian regime in his native country and thus might be considered a political activist as well. Time and again these works describe an inability, as he puts it, ‘to act and react to what is seen’, which in many respects is about a collective sense of powerlessness in the face of a self-serving government.
In An Ear of Mud, Another of Dough (2001), 2000 ears sculpted in mud and dough line a wall, with a video displaying someone shrugging their shoulders in non-committal fashion and the buzzing sound of flies in the background. Taken from an Egyptian proverb derived from folk tales, it features Goha, a ‘wise fool’ who deafens himself to the relentless complaints of his wife by stuffing one ear with mud and another with dough.
Chinese artist Wu Jian’an uses traditional paper cutting techniques of Chinese shadow puppet plays to make complex multi-layered sculptures that are rooted in traditional Chinese folktales and Buddhism, providing a glimpse of the contemporary in the process.
All these monkeys, monsters, phoenixes and other icons of traditional Chinese folklore are flattened, coloured and twisted into a comical contemporary expression, but to what end?