A bi-monhtly collection of mixed reviews.
Xinan (Helen) Ran: 7000SEEDS at Essex Flowers
Let’s try not to overthink this: small objects, made of cheap or free materials that have a cute aesthetic usually fall outside of the category of the desirables. At the same time, intentionality and wit can often turn this kind of thing around. Xinan (Helen) Ran is a young artist, an immigrant in the U.S. who has established a fundamental connection between joy and object-making in her practice. In her solo show, she deals with a peculiar story: in Spring 2020, suspicious, unsolicited packages of seeds were sent by mail across all 50 states and appeared to be coming from China. The seeds were not labeled, and the American hive mind accepted these as an eco-threat, another event in the chain of the spread of Covid and the “giant Asian murder hornets.” As it turns out, the seeds were common and sent to regular folks by a seed company in order to garner positive reviews—capitalism at its finest. Ran’s work functions as a metaphorical healing bridge between her country of birth, China, and the U.S., where she currently resides. She created a series of capsules filled with seeds, rotating in a circular motion on top of pillars that are mailing tubes. The capsules are ornamented with text and colorful drawings. Ran’s commitment to joy, or rather nihilism, in her language, is evident. The small objects radiate playfulness and optimism. In the back room, Ran installed two fabric sculptures and a painting, all united under the umbrella of her frisky visual language. Ran’s work channel’s intelligence separated from seriousness. Her poetry is one of forgiveness and awareness of the powers of nature and science above human capriciousness, which is a good headspace to be in.
Eglė Budvytytė Song from the Compost and Seung-Taek Lee Things Unstable at Canal Projects
Canal Projects presents two shows and they both deserve proper looking into, in very different ways.
Why don’t we start from the bottom? The lower level gallery is a cozy place to lounge and watch Eglė Budvytytė’s film created in collaboration with Marija Olšauskaitė and Julija Lukas Steponaitytė (all born in Lithuania), Songs from the Compost. The nearly 30-minute-long dessert of a film reaches New York viewers after being celebrated at the latest Venice Biennale. I have one word for it: awful. “Queer” and “Environmental” evocations in an art piece deserve care. Queer bodies and gay intimacy are not something to flash before the eyes of the viewer; sexual identity and the relationship with one’s body should not be limited to the ornament of an artist’s practice, let alone a career. Queerness means inclusivity. A film that centers exclusively on classically beautiful and desirable bodies is not only a betrayal of inclusivity but doubles down to conform to heteronormative capitalist culture. The costume design sits as uncomfortably with me as the casting. The wardrobe of those living in this futuristic fantasy of time after gender abolition and immersion in nature is summed up by a few strange silicone patches on the performer’s bodies, super worn-out clothes, and a rubber band tightening the grip of a hoodie sweatshirt around the neck of the pale blond dancer. Is this a vision of the future, or just a lazy stylized semi-sexy statement? Don’t get me started on the soundtrack. Autotuned to an electronic beat with lyrics based on the writings of biologist Lynn Margulis and science-fiction author Octavia Butler it is an abomination of these respected sources. Appearing on the screen with a type and at a tempo that mimics an outdated AI, Song from the Compost broadcasts an array of cliches and gewgaw: “Bacteria, bacteria, bacteria, she will take care of you, she’ll digest you, she’ll hold you, she’ll fuck you up.” Bitch, please.
From here we can only go up. Seung-Taek Lee’s show, Things Unstable occupies the main gallery. This installation has its ups and downs. The documentation of Lee’s performances are fascinating and full of beauty and his earth balloon is a huge presence of softness and peculiarity. On the other hand, the sculptural work in the space is weak and leaves the viewer wandering around with no particular aim. Lee’s Earth Performances conveyed through photographs from the events are hard-hitting. In the work, Lee beautifully merges rich emotional and spiritual content. Not unlike Beuys, he has an educational awareness together with a commitment to his immediate community, and to the ecosystems on the earth. In contrast to Eglė Budvytytė’s film, Lee’s attempts to utilize his artistic practice as an environmental campaign seem genuine, and evoke not only logic but warm emotion as well.
Xinan (Helen) Ran: 7000SEEDS at Essex Flowers closes on April 16, 2023.
Seung-Taek Lee Things Unstable and Eglė Budvytytė Song from the Compost at Canal Projects closes on April 29, 2023.