"Extra/Ordinary: Video Art from Asia"
- Where: Spencer Museum of Art, 1301 Miss., KU campus, Lawrence
- Age limit: All ages
- Cost: Free
A monkey with a pen greets you upon entering the room, convulsively writing gibberish on the floor.
Around the corner, three Chinese men dunk their heads in buckets of water for a parallel universe Olympics in which they’re competing for different colored peppers rather than medals.
Not far from there, an Afghan woman hauntingly paints a pile of rubble in a seemingly pointless yet moving ritual.
This synchronized collision of sounds and images is the new exhibit at the Spencer Museum of Art, “Extra/Ordinary: Video Art from Asia.” It’s an exploration of Asian art that’s more YouTube than Louvre, examining the commonplace through video, a medium that has itself become commonplace.
“The exhibition was conceived conceptually as an exploration of a phenomena that I had first observed percolating through many artists in East Asia in which the ‘everyday’ — that is common experiences or mundane objects — were being deployed as vehicles for developing new meanings,” e-mails Kris Ercums, Curator of Asian Art at the Spencer and organizer of the show, who is currently in Beijing conducting research.
“All of the videos in this exhibition furthermore take video itself as an everyday occurrence, using it more as a means than a medium for the presentation of performative acts that strive to transform the ordinary stuff and actions of life into moments of what I’ve been referring to as expanded meaning.”
And so you'll find pieces that tweak our perceived reality by experimenting with the video format, such as the playfully mind-bending work of Japan's Izumi Taro, including “Finland,” where a jar of water is placed in front of a monitor as video plays of people pantomime swimming.
Or in “Handmade Memories” by Korean artist Jung Yeondoo, in which postcard snap-shots of an interviewee's memory are constructed like soundstages as the camera rolls.
“I got idea from Kurosawa’s film ‘Rashomon,’ one incident with different testimonies afterwards,” says Yeondoo of his meditation on the pliability of perception. “I am hoping people think about the meaning of memories. I am creating meaning out of the possible stories that could be made through the medium of video. ”
By and large, the collection is contrary to the notion of high art as an impenetrable slog and is actually pretty whimsical.
Ercums found the video pieces now in the exhibit primarily through personal interaction with the artists, either through studio visits or viewing their work online. One of those selected was Taiwanese artist Tsui Kuang-Yu.
“In my opinion, if we could have more imagination in life, perhaps it would be possible to alter the relation between environment and us,” e-mails Tsui Kuang-Yu, whose humorous “Invisible City” series elevates the grit and kitsch of urban life to absurd new levels.
A Liverpool crosswalk becomes a dance party and a grimy Taipei restaurant becomes a makeshift New York City, embodying the show’s theme of ordinary transforming into extra.
“I try to reveal the invisible structure which is underneath our daily life and social system,” writes Tsui. “If people are inspired by my work to have more imagination on how they see things, changing their attitude toward daily life or adding more options and alternatives, it would be the best outcome I could hope for.”
Instead of the static art objects museums usually cater in, “Extra/Ordinary” is a dynamic experience with an almost arcade-like feel. The exhibition design by Richard Klocke, much like one of the videos, converts the everyday Kress Gallery at the Spencer into something different altogether. Video monitors and projectors are packed into a dimly lit space with an unfinished basement aesthetic.
“Internally, the exhibition had its challenges, but it is important for museums in the 21st century to incorporate new technologies into the visual experience,” Ercums writes.
“Video in museums remains a huge challenge and many new media curators point out how ill equipped a gallery setting is to media viewing, but it remains a process and that’s what makes it exciting, because even though we’ve seen video art in museums since the 1970s it remains far from perfected nor pervasive and even much less understood by a large cross-section of museum goers.”
The very nature of the show is unusual for the Spencer, but reflective of our increasingly wired global community.
“Video the world over, especially with the advent of cheaper digital modes, has become a means for artists everywhere to explore and experiment with relevant issues at hand,” Ercums writes.
“Another goal of this exhibition is to present the complexity of Asian culture to U.S. audiences. Coming to grips with this complexity, understanding it, and being able to navigate Asia will be one of the prerequisites to any successful engagement with the world in the coming decades, so for students at KU I wanted to begin to introduce them to a wider world.”
And the creators are hopeful that video is the perfect bridge between people separated by vast expanses of geography and culture.
“Visual language is different to the spoken language we use. It can sometimes carry the meaning beyond what our spoken language can express,” says Jung Yeondoo. “You might come up with some meaning from the work that I cannot dare to associate because it would be unique to you or your cultural experience.”
It’s a sort of electronic exchange program that excites the artists from half a world away, even if a few things may be lost in translation from Taiwan to Lawrence.
“It’s normal to be mistranslated,” writes Tsui Kuang-Yu. “But as long as there is communication in between, it’s worthwhile keeping on doing it.”