Jen Liu: The Pink Detachment
film screening & solo exhibition by Jen Liu
16.08.2016 - 27.08.2016
From August 17-27, 2016 SomoS presents a solo exhibition of large-scale watercolors and video by New York-based visual artist Jen Liu. The show is curated by Lawinia Rate, organizer of the popular and thought-provoking Queer film event series “Attaque(e)r le visible” taking place at La Mutinerie in Paris, France. This occasion is centered around Jen Liu’s most recent project “The Pink Detachment.”
“The Pink Detachment” project constitutes an important reflection on historic, political, social and gender issues. Jen Liu’s vivid style is activated to propose questions about the nature of capitalism, ideology, propaganda and advertising, and power relationships, not least of which appear in gender dynamics. Both her paintings and film get at the uneasy question of whether gender equality in the workforce is actually any kind of equality in an oppressive (capitalistic) regime.
Artist Statement: Jen Liu on “The Pink Detachment” (2015):
The Pink Detachment is an update of “The Red Detachment of Women” (1964), a Model Opera from China’s Cultural Revolution. In the original, a beleaguered peasant girl joins an army of women to produce Revolution for the masses: their “product” is all-Red. Here, both protagonists and end- product are revised. The protagonists are an accident-prone worker and a ballerina-manager who has the tools to alleviate the worker’s problems. The “product” is pink hot dogs. Within this revised framework, portions of the original music and choreography have been preserved.
At the center of the piece is the color equation, Red + White = Pink, from which multiple parallel meanings emerge. The first is the old term “pinko,” meaning a watered down Communism, or a liberal with uncommitted Red sympathies. The second is a proposal to solve future crises in meat supply by re-valuating hot dog and sausage production as a solution, by integrating ‘undesirable’ portions of pig with the ‘desirable’ portions, embodying perfect equivalence in consumable form. And the third is pink as femininity – not as a ‘natural’ fleshy softness, but rather a synthetic, engineered (and potentially violent) hybridity.
But underlying it all is this question: is it, in fact, possible to re-motivate the archival artifact? Is continuity between the unfulfilled fantasy of the past and the economic ideologies of the present realizable – particularly when the interstice has been ruptured by large-scale social trauma, such as the Cultural Revolution? When the music and choreography of old propaganda are put to work again, how much of the past ideals attend, or must it always be hijacked by the requirements of the present?
Curatorial Statement by Lawinia Rate:
Desire, lack, value or need can trigger the impulse to possess, buy or steal. Why do we desire things at all? Why do we value some objects more than others? How do objects of desire come into being? Where does desire begin and where does the allure of a product end? What came first, the wish, or the object of the wish? And where am I positioned among these things? Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari state that we are never alone in our desire, and in our desire we are not simply needy for one thing, but instead desire is developed collectively. Desire and subject are interwoven, they are dependent on each other. Needs, valuations and objects are developed within heterogenous structures. These processes and their inherent power relationships are hard to conceive of, they cannot easily be described or represented. Yet, in her art Jen Liu consistently engages visually and conceptually with these intricate relationships between desire and subjectivity.
The presented works from the „Pink Detachment“ project consist of a film and a series of watercolor paintings. Part of Jen Liu’s most recent output, they demonstrate the artist’s intense engagement with these complex topics.
A dominant element of the paintings is what appears to be a female index finger, pointing and pressing in all directions. It symbolizes the complexities of the production systems and the distribution of power. At the same time, it represents, as Jen Liu points out, a vision of the future. For, when we remind ourselves that also in Asian countries, economic rationalization policies increasingly employ female workforces, these images are visions of the outcome of today’s economic and political control mechanisms.
Liu’s interest in the power relations of the production process is already conveyed in the film’s a technical aspect, when she simultaneously applies different visual techniques. The film alternates between the immateriality of the digital realm, the physicality of everyday objects, as well as the phantasmagoric merging of basic geometrical 3D forms with the human body. Conceptually, the film refers to the Chinese propaganda-ballet “The Red Detachment of Women” made during China’s Cultural Revolution. This ballet depicts a woman who joins a women’s squad of the Red Army at Hainan island. The choice of this reference is not only guided by historic interest, but mainly serves to reflect on the current situation of female workers of the Republic of China. The setting of a pig meat factory serves as metaphor for the intertwined processes of (re)production of national identity, class affiliation and gender. Here, these prove to be historic fictions, which came out of a chain of uniforming production steps.
The film is based on a thought experiment which proposes to view the present as a straightforward continuation of the past, disregarding any discontinuations: are today’s economic ideologies extensions of past fantasies, desires and needs? This theoretical train of thought is taken up by Liu in a visual experiment. She cites the music and choreography of “The Red Detachment of Women” ballet. How much of the old ideals and goals remain intact in the recreated imagery? How much of the past remains alive in a quote? The ballet is not simply remade however, its color tone, protagonists, ending and end result are changed fully: “Pink Detachment” is no remake, not a re-enactment but rather a deconstructed “de-enactment,” a performative intervention by the artist, in which she rearranges the highly charged archive material, probing the possibility of re-infusing such material with new political meaning.
Exhibition Opening – August 16, 2016, 6-9pm
with film screening and discussion with the Artist – 7-8 pm
Exhibition Duration – August 17-27, 2016
Opening Hours – Tue to Sat, 2-7pm
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