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CARL CHENG, Anthropocene Landscape 2, 2006, printed circuit boards and rivets on aluminum, 152.4 × 152.4 cm. Courtesy the artist and Philip Martin Gallery, Los Angeles.

Shape-shifting

Also available in:  Chinese

Whether adopting pseudonyms, exaggerating personas, or inventing alter-egos, artists have been leading imagined existences throughout time in order to tease out the fine lines that divide fiction and reality. There are many para-fictional approaches to art-making today, as hiding one’s identity can engender pluralistic and ambiguous forms of expression. Wearing a mask can conceal but also reveal. 

Beginning in 1967, the Los Angeles-based artist Carl Cheng began branding his creations under the name John Doe Co., a wryly generic corporate moniker for his “Nature Machines.” The company name served multiple purposes: it placed the artist’s experiments into a dialogue with the rapid technological developments happening in American industries of the postwar era while also deflecting attention away from his Chinese heritage amid rising anti-Asian sentiment during the American war in Vietnam. In this issue’s cover Feature, deputy editor HG Masters traces Cheng’s early awareness of how human technology would soon be able to recreate natural processes, leading to a world entirely shaped by humans, and how Cheng’s later disenchantment with the art market led him to concentrate his energy on installations and projects for the public sphere. 

Our second Feature brings us to Evelyn Taocheng Wang’s solo exhibition “Reflection Paper” at the Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen in Düsseldorf, where Wang alludes to a host of artistic and literary figures—among them Agnes Martin, Eileen Chang, Silvia Federici, and Ingeborg Bachmann—in her paintings and videos. Delving into the artist’s explorations of identity construction and fictional biographies, Hendrik Folkerts, contributing writer and a curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, writes: “Rather than appropriating the work of these often queer and female authors directly, [Wang] chooses a para-fictional approach to citation, using irony, wit, or absurdism as strategies to inhabit the space between her and them. Indeed, in order to stage a perpetual (re)formation of identity through a process of narrative reciprocity, she projects onto these figures her own meditations on body politics, artistic labor, the Kafkaesque bureaucracies of immigration, and language.”

Rounding out the Features, Up Close highlights Jes Fan’s three new sculptures commissioned for the 2021 Liverpool Biennial; Deniz Gül’s deconstructions of language at her recent SALT Galata exhibition in Istanbul; and Zhao Zhao’s new series of mixed-media paintings The Buddha (2021). For Inside Burger Collection, writer Kimberly Bradley traces the arc of artist Bianca Kennedy’s practice, from her films and VR works focused on bathing to her speculative animations created with The Swan Collective.

For Profiles, writer Sheila Regan spoke to photographer Pao Houa Her about her connection with the Hmong community in St. Paul, where she grew up, and her birth country, Laos. Elsewhere in the section, associate editor Ophelia Lai examines multimedia artist Aki Inomata’s interspecies collaborations, and managing editor Chloe Chu writes about how photographer Miti Ruangkritya tracks the dizzying transformations of Bangkok. 

This issue’s Essay is focused on the project “Owned by Others,” which sought to create conversations around the colonial histories behind the artifacts held on Berlin’s Museum Island. Comprising performances, public installations, and showcases, “the encounters of ‘Owned by Others’ became instances of micro-resistance,” writes Berlin desk editor Clara Tang, that respond to how “newly diverse and remarkably retrograde histories were simultaneously re-inscribed into Berlin’s urban landscape in the year 2020.”

In Dispatch, curator Raphael Fonseca describes the recent shifts in the arts landscape of São Paulo, most notably the inclusion of more Afro-Brazilian artists and curators in the public programs of museums and galleries. For the Point, artist, curator, and incoming Asia Art Archive director Christopher K. Ho probes how transnational communities of the many Asian diasporas might find new forms of solidarity. Artist Trevor Shimizu pens the latest One on One column, declaring that “Dan Graham and [his show] ‘Deep Comedy’ saved my art, and my life.”

Lastly, for Where I Work, contributing writer Frances Arnold visited aaajiao’s Berlin home and working space, which serves as a “portal to a global cyber studio,” where the new-media artist creates large-scale installations, websites, and interactive games reflecting on humanity’s relationship with virtual environments. In his recent, open-ended metagame Deep Simulator (2020), he encourages players to explore freely, encouraging “free will and an opportunity to reflect on what kinds of decisions we make and why.”

Whether it is through the 21st-century technologies that enable us to live double lives in the virtual worlds of the internet, or reflecting on the culturally unbounded personas that allow us to adapt ourselves to different places and people, artists expand the intersection of the imaginative and the real. 

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