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Pawel Althamer: The Phenomenon of Connection
   2014-05-30 16:15:23    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Shen Siling

One of the figures from Pawel Althamer's installation, named Venetians. The work is on display at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art; photo taken on May 25, 2014. [Photo: UCCA]

By William Wang

Polish artist Pawel Althamer has made a name for himself exploring the dichotomy between public and private spaces, and two of his works now on exhibit at Ullens Center of Contemporary Art continue his examinations in unique, but characteristic, ways.

Upon entering the gallery, visitors will encounter the frame of a Chinese dragon, a work which was only completed shortly after the exhibit's official opening. Immediately, viewers are alerted to how Althamer's works embrace their surroundings, a distinct willingness to be here and now.

The effect is furthered upon seeing the piece, Draftman's Congress, in the central hall. The once pristine hall has been slathered in paintings, scribblings and text on each of its walls, and even the floor. Though the groundwork has been laid out by Althamer and his team, visitors are encouraged to make use of the supplied paints and tools to add their voices in whatever ways they deem appropriate.

Accordingly, Althamer opined that art is not just for artists, saying, "I think we can be more creative than we are, and art is a very useful and beautiful example of that. It's like a portal to realize ourselves." Draftman's Congress encourages democracy in that all visitors are invited to participate, whether by addition.... or even deletion. "Censorship is invited," he affirmed, happily noting a place where a doodle had been obliterated by a swatch of black paint.

Contrasting with the chaos of Draftman's Congress is Althamer's meticulous collection of human figures, Venetians. The work explores how the local population and culture of Venice are being supplanted by tourism. Ironically he squarely points a finger at the hugely popular Venice Biennale contemporary art exhibition as a large contributing factor to the phenomenon.

The life-size sculptures are eerily still and lifelike. In relation to their tattered bodies constructed of industrial scraps and sagging plastics, their facial expressions signify a resignation, at times resolute.

Each figure has a unique face; the Venetian models were chosen at random from a large group that had volunteered through Althamer's website. Walking amongst the figures, it's immediately apparent that none of the figures interact with others; they are lone individuals lost in their own thoughts, eyes inevitably closed. But their physiques draw the eye even more: gravity and its effects are integral to each piece, tenuous strands of plastic and empty expanses of air contribute equally to give the bodies their substance

The process of making art is an unavoidable theme of the artist's work. Although the figures in Venetians look painstakingly crafted, Althamer clarified that the molten plastic of each one had to be applied in two hours or less. "You should be concentrated because the machine is giving you all the material and you have to connect all these elements," he recalled before pausing and staring off into space for a beat. "That may be the point of any art process: the phenomenon of connection."

The Pawel Althamer exhibition will continue until August 29, 2014.

Fee: 10 rmb

Ullens Center of Contemporary Art: 798 Art District, No. 4 Jiuxianqiao Lu, Chaoyang District

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