A Beautiful Disorder

Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood, UK

Sculpture parks invite the strange and the spectacular. A wander through the forest is a tale in itself; if the art disappoints, at least the trees are beautiful. Cass Sculpture Foundation’s new exhibition, ‘A Beautiful Disorder’, curated by Ella Liao, Claire Shea and Wenny Teo, has commissioned 18 established artists from Greater China (the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan) to create sculptural works to be installed in Cass’s 26-acre site in the Goodwood forest. Four years in the making, the show takes its name from Jean Denis Attiret’s account of the Chinese landscape tradition. A Jesuit missionary who became court painter to the Qianlong emperor in the mid-18th century, Attiret described the Chinese garden as ‘a beautiful disorder, an anti-symmetry’. The curators suggest that each work ‘invites us to reflect on China’s past, present and future relationship with the world at large’. As ever, such seductive geopolitical pronouncements risk tarring artists with the broad brush of national identity: within the increasingly homogenous global currency of contemporary art, what is Chinese about contemporary Chinese art? A diversity of artists address the exhibition’s central conceit of the ‘borrowed view’ – an aesthetic principle of the Chinese garden’s multiple framing devices – not by way of answers, but by translations, interfaces and hybrids.

song_ta_why_do_they_never_take_colour_photos_2016_installation_view._courtesy_the_artist_and_cass_sculpture_foundation_goodwood

Song Ta, Why Do They Never Take Colour Photos?, 2016, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood

Song Ta, Why Do They Never Take Colour Photos?, 2016, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood

The works range in scale and scope from Song Ta’s Why Do They Never Take Colour Photos? (all works 2016), a hulking (and rather romantic) 7-metre-wide bust of Mao Zedong, to Zhang Ruyi’s Pause, a contemplative series of tiny cast-concrete plug sockets, inserted almost invisibly into tree trunks. Song’s prankish monolith references a public monument of the Chairman in a Guangzhou park, sculpted by the eminent director of the art school from which the artist himself graduated. One night, bemoaning the monotony of socialist realist sculpture, the artist and his comrades literally coloured in the original sculpture, which was later removed by the authorities. Here at Cass, it is re-created in a grey limewash that also covers the surrounding vegetation. Like the incongruous presence of his image in the hyperconsumerist culture
of contemporary China, Song’s icon is at once an absurdist spectacle and an ineludible spectre amongst these verdant natural environs.

xu_zhen_madein_company_movement_field_2016._courtesy_cass_sculpture_foundation_goodwood

Xu Zhen / MadeIn Company, Movement Field, 2016. Courtesy: Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood

Xu Zhen / MadeIn Company, Movement Field, 2016. Courtesy: Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood

In keeping with its title, several works in the show address the duality between discordance and hybridity in today’s cultural and political landscape. Xu Zhen/MadeIn Company’s Movement Field is a Zen garden whose forking paths are a superimposed cartography of historical protest routes, while Cui Jie’s Pigeon’s House blends a host of 20th-century architectural gestures into a piece of civic sculpture whose chimeric consistency is reminiscent of the dizzying architectural junkspace of the Shanghai skyline. A sense of sublime artifice is heightened in Cheng Ran’s Crossroads. Strangely beautiful, it comprises a blinding floodlight atop a tower of bare scaffolding, a ray of ‘eternal sunshine’ in the dank woodlands. Meanwhile, Wang Yuyang’s Identity presents an idiosyncratic vision of the artificial sublime. Resembling a 5.5-metre pancake stack served up by Frank Gehry, Identity appears to be the result of Wang feeding Karl Marx’s Das Kapital (Capital, 1867) into modelling software as binary code and leaving the computational commands of 3DS Max to do the rest. The conflated interfaces of digitality and exchange-value reflect back upon the ‘borrowed views’ of global culture – translations of translations – an autonomous whorl of data, images and capital.

cui_jie_pigeon_house_2016_installation_view._courtesy_the_artist_and_cass_sculpture_foundation_goodwood

Cui Jie, Pigeon House​, 2016, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood

Cui Jie, Pigeon House, 2016, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood

The prospect of ‘growth’, the political watchword of China’s ascent (as well as Britain’s economic stagnation), raises unknown potentials in the forest. Borrowing from the meticulously landscaped civic garden aesthetics of modern Chinese cities, Zheng Bo has installed a flowerbed spelling out the work’s eponymous party slogan, ‘Socialism Good’, in vibrant blossoms at Cass’s entrance. A simple appropriation of camply earnest state propaganda is complicated by Zheng gesturing proudly to the work’s newest focal point: a single weed rising determinedly between freshly planted flowers. Over time, Zheng’s socialist-realist typography will be left to the ravages of the British countryside, to be colonized by local plants. Meanwhile, inspired by the Hong Kong-mainland border, Li Jinghu’s Escape (My Family History) has searchlights roving over two chainlink fences, between which the illuminated lines of grass will grow taller than the surrounding greenery. Nature acts through these works in the character of the elemental, compelling their systems even as it disrupts them.

Zheng Bo, Socialism Good, 2016, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood

Zheng Bo, Socialism Good, 2016, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood

Zheng Bo, Socialism Good, 2016, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood

‘A Beautiful Disorder’ is a large, disparate and, at moments, beautiful show, upon which the ironies of global exchange are not lost. It makes its timely arrival at a moment in which the British government – unmoored from Europe – is looking optimistically to a ‘golden era’ of UK-Chinese relations. Fabricated in China and shipped into West Sussex, this exhibition concerning the ‘borrowed views’ of contemporary China seems itself indicative of the country’s burgeoning cultural influence, alongside its youthful status as an economic superpower. As Song Ta enthusiastically blasts hip-hop over a performance while mingling with his Barbour-clad benefactors, it is clear that the dynamics of global exchange are at work in the base as well as the superstructure. 

Gary Zhexi Zhang is an artist and writer. He is currently artist in residence at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK.

Most Read

Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018