Jason Waite, Curatorial Fellow, Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program
In the text Art and Space, Heidegger questions the ontological relationship of what can be seen today as sculpture/installation and the ‘technical scientific’ realm of space. Does the Newtonian absolute space subsume all, homogenizing interior and exterior to form a singular objective space in order to provide a monolithic grounding for modernity? If certain tendencies of modernity are set on the domination of space, then Heidegger argues that art is concerned with place. As opposed to the enclosure and delimiting of space, art opens up a site for affinities to freely gather, ‘making-room’ for the assembly of objects and ideas to linger. It is art that can provide a place for other places to inhabit, and open up a site of consideration and critique. This site of free gathering is in stark contrast the colonization ideology in space.
“The future space station China is trying to build might be compared to a spacious villa,” remarked the Chinese first astronaut, Yang Liwei. This celestial floating mansion, the ultimate national status symbol, is an extension of the rein of sovereignty into the exclusive neighborhood of space. Here, space is restricted and enclosed with military precision. This insular capsule encircling in the sky – the traditional location of authority in China – can be seen as representative of aspirational lifestyles as well as the valorization of capital, a stellar luxury item that spatializes the stratospheric inequity – the distance between the majority of the population and the precipitous rise of the elite few.
An inequality that is further marked by the destructive creation of the space station which requires the launching of numerous booster rockets to put the station in orbit and then service it. These large disposable missiles, fired over mainland China, come crashing back down destroying homes, apartments and crops – a cosmic rain of terror – that demolishes terrestrial abodes to make way for a pied-à-ciel far from the rabble on the ground.
In the center of the David Winton Bell Gallery, a large model of the Chinese space station, Tiangong 1, silently rotates. Transformed by the artist Jin Shan into a farcical fetish object – a rotating disco-ball – whose mirrored sides question the superficial nature of this disarmed accoutrement of power. Is the party celebrating its launch or imagined crash? Or rather a spectacle for the sake of spectacle? An inversion of the existing logic of power, folding it back in on itself to expose its vapid superstructure.
The intensity of reflected light slowly melts the molded glue tricycle that hovers suspended above the space station while the surrounding false walls bear the imprints of the hands of those who labor with tricycles in Shanghai to collect refuse for recycling. A precarious position that provides the matera prima for the ‘world’s factory’, the sprawling industrial system that is the economic engine which makes possible the space station. Despite this link in the cycle of production the positions of the recycler and the means of production are separated by the invisible veil of corruption alluded to in the title My Dad is Li Gang!, the scandal involving a young member of the elite who drove over two students with impunity, proclaiming his family ties as a societal carte blanche. The irreconcilability of the positions of power and its vulnerable absence, demarcates a potentially parallax positioning, one that requires a clearing of the ground in order to re-establish a more equitable equilibrium.
It is here that the satire of Jin Shan is able to provide a place to dismantle ideological apparatus and supplant it with a Deleuzian patchwork of places – a heterogenous assembly of people, narratives and ideas that offers the possibility of not only critique but a place to come together and rearrange. A reorientation of strategies to face the bewildering expanse of power and capital. It is perhaps the subtle shift of focus from space to place that offers a means of making-room for more than what is given. An opening appears, for a larger recognition that the present economic engine is coming back down from orbit and that this crash might not just be destructive, but also produce a new framework for relations in its wake.