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Issue 48 September-October 1999 RSS

Cities on the Move

Hayward Gallery, London, UK

When you reach Cai Guo-Qiang’s jokey golf course installation at the bottom of the first staircase in the Rem Koolhaas-designed ‘Cities on the Move’, you’re way too anxious to putt straight on the lumpy Astroturf green. After maybe 30 artists and probably the best part of an hour in the first room, the guide book says you still have the architecture compression chamber, the pleasure district, the political protest room, the cinema, the outdoor Kobe earthquake emergency housing stuff and the retail rooms to go. As an approximation of the urban helter skelter of the new East it does a convincing job of giving uptight Western types the howling fantods.

The first (pretty claustrophobic) room is a head-spinning plunge pool of South East Asian urban experience. Kicking off, Dominique Gonzalez- Foerster’s excellent Mini Festival Building (1999)is followed by a multiscreen survey tower of nine South East Asian video artists, alongside four other screenings that include Fiona Tan’s May You Live in Interesting Times (1997). All are worth stopping for. The pace and scale of the thing is unrelentingly greedy for your attention.

‘Cities on the Move’ has been on the move for a while. It arrived in London dusted off from the Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen. Before that it had been in Bordeaux, New York’s PS1 and the Vienna Secession. The two year road trip has accumulated some things that were created specifically for earlier venues: Huang Yong Ping’s table-bearing cement turtles from the Vienna Secession, for example.

The exhibition suffers to a certain degree from psychological wear and tear. Back in November 97, Koolhass’ absolutely spot-on examination of the planning of new Chinese mega-cites, ‘Cities of Exaggerated Difference’ added new layers of meaning to Huang Yong Ping’s Pearl River installationhe had previously shown at Documenta X. Shown again in London, the piece needs to struggle to be looked at properly. With so many specially created works in the show, only someone with, say, a particular hard-on for urban transport planning is going to spend any time with Renzo Piano’s Kansai Airport Model (1990) when they could look at the more interesting Precipitous Parturition (1999) by Chen Zhen, a huge 20 metre snake of inner tubes and rubber tyres that considers the Chinese commitment to upgrade every bicycle to a car. Almost in recognition of the viewer’s weariness, the curators placed a caged hamster nearby, spinning its wheel.

Other works are helped by the overall installation - particularly the motorised ones. Soo-Ja Kim’s video which documents a nearly silent 2,727 km drive through Korea in a powder blue truck loaded with traditional clothing bundles is now freighted with refugee meaning. The ‘Tuk Tuk’ taxis of Navin Rawanchaikul and Rirkrit Tiravanija have gained layers of stickers like the VW camper vans of Australians on a European tour, and still face the road with expectant forward-mounted video cameras. Wong Hoy Cheong’s extraordinary Seeds of Change (1997) and Vitrine of Contemporary Events (1998) campaign for the reform of the Malaysian judiciary by gathering thumb prints as signatures and displaying them like a thousand greenish sushi rolls on the gallery floor.

There’s a shortage of sex in the show’s sex district, despite its transactional significance in the new Asia. Among Araki’s photographs of blank-faced women as carrion for some Taipei and Bangkok pterodactyls, and Wang Du’s International Landscape (1997) - a group of genetically modified plaster hostesses with hamburger-sized nipples - Zheng Gougu’s photographs Impermissible Behaviour of Youth in Yangjiang (1996) stand out. They are staged images of a group of the artists teenage friends horsing around, but their frozen complicity leaves the subjects awash with circumstance, like stranded details from history paintings.

For the Hayward installation curators Hou Hanrou and Hans-Ulrich Obrist have, with Koolhaas, drawn on the most notable design jobs in recent Hayward history - Zaha Hadid’s ‘Addressing the Century’, and Robert Barnes’ Patrick Caulfield show. Which you might not notice except for the fact that the whole installation is hellishly complicated and slightly confusing, but in a way that manufactures a compelling tension between a large scale impulse to build and the creation of private space inside a building site. Aaron Tan and Louise Low’s photographs show Kowloon’s completely unplanned walled city sliced open just before its demolition, revealing the families that live there in. Koo Jeong-a set up her private bedroom - with its hand made MDF desk, CD player, futon and teenage girl wallpaper - to live and work in while the show was being built around her. Like the aftershocks of a seismic event, you could put your ear to Matthew Ngui’s Installation with Grey Pipes (1999), and hear the sounds of the exhibition being built, or the buses on Waterloo Bridge road.

Andrew Gellatly

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Issue 48, September-October 1999

by Andrew Gellatly

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