Simon Leung War After War
Simon Leung Curated by Rirkrit Tiravanija March 24 - May 7, 2011
Board of Directors
Theodore S. Berger
Theodore S. Berger, Chair
Thomas G. Devine
Thomas K.Y. Hsu
Brian D. Starer
Rossana Martinez Juan Sรกnchez Irving Sandler, Senior Fellow
Gregory Amenoff Bill Berkson
Executive Director Jeremy Adams
Michelle Grabner Jonathan Lethem
Development Director Marni Corbett
Lari Pittman Thomas Roma
Programs Director Beatrice Wolert-Weese
Programs Coordinator Ryan Thomas Gallery Assistant Jessica Gildea Development Assistant Alexandra Rose
CUE Art Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit forum for contemporary art and cultural exchange that provides opportunities and resources for underrecognized artists. We value the astonishing diversity of creativity that artists provide and the importance of their activity in the social context of the city. CUE provides artists, students, scholars and art professionals resources at many stages of their careers and creative lives. Our programs include exhibitions, publications, professional development seminars, educational outreach, symposia, readings and performances. Since 2002, we have operated from our 4,500 square foot storefront venue in the heart of New Yorkâ€™s Chelsea Arts District. CUE exhibiting artists are chosen by their peers who are themselves selected by a rotating advisory council from across the country. This pluralistic process ensures that CUE consistently offers diverse viewpoints from multiple disciplines of artistic practice. Simply put, we give artists their CUE to take center stage in the challenging world of art.
Artist: Simon Leung
One night a couple of years ago, I descended into a Manhattan subway station with two acquaintances, a couple, after we exited an event together. Our conversation, somewhat art-world insular and light in tone, turned to Warren Niesłuchowski, someone we knew in common. Considering the topic of our discussion, the banter took a somewhat predictable form: we commented on Warren’s sartorial flair; his quick and formidable mind; his erudition and many languages; his peripatetic ways. I am quite sure, because this is often remarked upon among people in certain circles—Warren being the drawing of such circles—that we eventually got around to how, although our Zelig-like friend has an uncanny ability to turn up at an opening or a dinner in “any part of the world,” no one would be surprised if he did. Warren occupies a singular position among us—he is the cipher through which a 19th century Balzac character or a European interwar dandy springs forth into the present party, drink in hand, gathering momentum as an evening wears on. When the woman of the couple asked how I met Warren, I began to say that it was in 1992 when I had a studio at PS1, and that I had made a work about Warren as my work for the artistsin-residence show that year. But before I could finish she exclaimed, “Ah, so you discovered Warren early!” The way this was said, it was as if I had discovered an exotic island, once remote, but now overrun by tourists-in-the-know. Warren Piece (in the ’70s) was made as a type of reflection on a few remnants of the post-’68 era that were beginning to gather in my mind in the early '90s. Warren’s biography (a Polish refugee born in a displaced persons’ camp in Germany, an immigrant child to the US, a deserter from the American army between 1968-’75, returning to the US then after), coupled with the ’70s atmosphere of PS1, the historical import of its first show Rooms, the rumination on the relationship between ‘aesthetic attitude’ and ‘real life politics’ in the 1960s, and certain biographical congruences between Warren and Vito Acconci, facilitated the making of a work in relatively short order. In retrospect, if I had made Warren Piece quickly, it was in no small part because the first Gulf War was fresh on my mind, and Warren’s stance as a deserter from an earlier war enunciated something with the urgency of necessity. Namely, that desertion is a form of ethos—a trans-valuation of pathological patriotism that is all too common in a nation at war. Furthermore, it was through desertion and exile that Warren ‘became Warren’—the multi-lingual Euro-American sophisticate who, for some, still performs ‘the spirit of the ’60s’. In one part of Warren Piece, called nom de paix, I traced the pronunciation of Warren’s name (“Warren” being a name he took up while living in exile—a name containing a “war” within) as it progressed from birth through immigration, desertion, exile and return. To be a deserter, I surmised, continued on page 26 4
Simon Leung was born in Hong Kong and studied at the University of California Los Angeles, Columbia University, and the Whitney Independent Study Program. His projects in various media include a proposition of Marcel Duchamp’s oeuvre as a discourse in ethics; a rethinking of the psychological, philosophical, and political dimensions of the glory hole; meditations on the residual space of the VietnamAmerican War; a video essay on the site/non-site dialectic instigated by Robert Smithson’s reception of Edgar Allan Poe; “squatting projects” in various cities (Berlin, New York, Chicago, Vienna, Guangzhou, Hong Kong); and an ongoing opera project set in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park called The Side of the Mountain. Leung has participated in the Guangzhou Triennial (2008), the Luleå Summer Biennial (2005), the Venice Biennale (2003), the Whitney Biennial (1993), and has also exhibited at Pat Hearn Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Generali Foundation (Vienna), 1a Space (Hong Kong), NGBK (Berlin), and Sala Mendoza (Caracas). In 2008, he received a Guggenheim fellowship and the Art Journal Award for his essay The Look of Law. He has taught in the Studio Art Department at the University of California, Irvine since 2001. Leung’s exhibition at CUE Art Foundation marks his first solo show in New York City since 1996.
Curator: Rirkrit Tiravanija
Simon Leung has been redefining the negotiation of territory and boundaries of identity and culture, both in physical and metaphorical ways, for the past fifteen years. Born in Hong Kong (then a British Territory), and relocating to Northern California with his family at a young age, Leung has, in his works both past and present, consistently reflected on cultural conditions that run parallel in daily and intellectual life. Since the early nineties, Leung has been making what he calls squatting projects’—a group of works based on the performative gesture of the squatting body—a move he perceives as a commentary on cultural specificity, and a temporary occupation taken up in an economic and sociopolitical position. Squatting is common amongst peasants or working class laborers in China and many other Asian cultures. A position of rest—an approximation of a seated position—Leung’s action can be seen as an intervention, relocating the subject’s position within a cultural landscape. In a ‘squatting project’, Leung both intervenes and interacts with the context of his occupation. These actions have taken shape as performative interventions as well as in various material forms in various locations around the world, from street posters installed site-specifically in Berlin, to a video installation in Guangzhou, China. Leung’s interest has been in the shape of the audience’s response, whether reaction or inaction, to the position that his body takes. Whereby a position occupied in one culture—such as squatting—necessitates questions and reactions from another; the position of a subject in one context becomes objectified in another context. In the to-and-fro of reading and misreading, the boundaries of a subject are defined. Leung has, in more recent works, taken up the notion of slippage in the narratives of identity and representation. In his video and filmic work, Leung investigates the formation of a subject through the use of language. In 2007, Leung installed POE, a filmic video collaboration at Wave Hill in the Bronx, featuring Yvonne Rainer, Warren Niesluchowski, and the late Gregory Poe (a distant relative of the poet) as players who weave through the spaces and works of Edgar Allen Poe in order to engage in a psychographic attenuation between allegories of the internal and external dialectics of life and art. A three-channel version of POE was recently installed at Las Cienegas Projects in Los Angeles. For his installation at CUE Art Foundation, Leung furthers his video investigation into the life of Warren Niesluchowski (the subject of a 1993 project at PS1, and more recently a participant in the Polish segment of POE). Well known for his vigorous intellectualism and as a professor to younger artists, Simon Leung has been practicing the art of underestimation for the past 6
two decades. Quietly, he has made a meaningful and insightful body of work known and appreciated in certain spheres, but with little exposure. With an interest in presenting his work in this context, I would hope for more of us to be exposed to the ideas and the complexities within Simon Leungâ€™s work.
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija is widely recognized as one of the most influential artists of his generation. His work defies mediabased description, as his practice combines traditional object making, public and private performances, teaching, and other forms of public service and social action. Winner of the 2010 Absolut Art Award and the 2005 Hugo Boss Prize awarded by the Guggenheim Museum, Tiravanija was also awarded the Benesse by the Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum in Japan and the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Lucelia Artist Award. He recently had a retrospective exhibition at the Kunsthalle Bielefeld (Bielefeld, Germany) along with a previous retrospective exhibition at the Museum Bojmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam that then was presented in Paris and London. Tiravanija is on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts at Columbia University, and is a founding member and curator of Utopia Station, a collective project of artists, art historians, and curators. Tiravanija is also President of an educational-ecological project known as The Land Foundation, located in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and is part of a collective alternative space called VER located in Bangkokâ€”where he maintains his primary residence and studio.
Simon Leung War After War
Squatting Project / Berlin, 1994 1000 public posters
Surf Vietnam, 1998 Various media Dimensions variable
Warren Piece (in the â€˜70s), 1993 Various media Dimensions variable
Stills from POE, 2007/2010 [above and opposite] Single-channel video, three-channel video
Stills from War After War, 2011 [above and opposite] Single-channel video
Stills from War After War, 2011 [above and opposite] Single-channel video
Stills from War After War, 2011 [above and opposite] Single-channel video
Stills from War After War, 2011 Single-channel video
Simon Leung: The Surface of the Earth By Cole Akers
This essay was written as part of the Young Art Critics Mentoring Program, a partnership between AICA USA (US section of International Association of Art Critics) and CUE Art Foundation, which pairs emerging writers with AICA mentors to produce original essays on a specific exhibiting artist. Please visit www.aicausa.org for further information on AICA USA, or www.cueartfoundation.org to learn how to participate in this program. Any quotes are from interviews with the author unless otherwise specified. No part of this essay may be reproduced without prior consent from the author. Elizabeth
Throughout the 1990s, Simon Leung produced a series of works that addressed what he calls “the residual space of the Vietnam/American War.” The term “residual space”, in Leung’s words, “evokes a sense of a remainder—the physically repressed that is bound to return.” 1 In each of these projects—comprising video, performance, and a variety of other media—the artist explores the legacy of violence and displacement generated by the Vietnam War, as well as the disparate identities forged by war. Leung’s single-channel video War After War (2011), on view at CUE Art Foundation, is an elaboration of these projects. Leung made the first of these projects, Warren Piece (in the ’70s), while he was an artist-in-residence at PS1 in 1992-93. Informed by contemporaneous discourse that sought to rethink site-specificity, Warren Piece was simultaneously a rumination on the institutional history of PS1 and its inaugural 1976 exhibition Rooms, and a portrait of Warren Niesłuchowski, an assistant to PS1
Baker and Lilly Wei are AICA’s Coordinators for this
1. Interview with Marita Sturkin, “Displaced Bodies in Residual Spaces.” Public Culture 17(1), pp. 129-152.
program this season. 21
Simon Leung: The Surface of the Earth
director Alanna Heiss and a U.S. army deserter who fled to Paris during the Vietnam War. Exhibited as an installation at PS1 in 1993, Warren Piece consisted of works made from various documents that referenced the museum and Niesłuchowski— such as correspondence between the artist and his subject, institutional marketing ephemera, newspaper clippings, and photographs from Niesłuchowski past—as well as three looped videos shown on pedestal-based monitors. The videos included Under History Lessons 1993, in which Leung interviews Vito Acconci, who participated in Rooms and shares some similarities with Niesłuchowski; Songs 1968-1975, footage of Niesłuchowski working in his PS1 office with a sound track of him speaking about his time in exile and singing popular Leftist songs from the late 1960s; and How Far is Far From Vietnam?, in which Niesłuchowski and Leung perform physical exercises for actors that were developed by experimental Polish director Jerzy Grotowski, overlaid with an audio track in which Leung repeatedly asks the question, “How far is far from Vietnam?” As a whole, Warren Piece draws parallels from Warren’s identity as an immigrant and deserter and the “dematerializing” artistic practices of the late 1960s/early 1970s that, although often nonrepresentational, were conceptually identified with the antiwar movement. Squatting Project/Berlin (1994), the second project in Leung’s series, was commissioned by the Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst in Berlin for an exhibition on the “the business of violence.” Responding to the political effects of German reunification, Leung wheat-pasted one thousand posters throughout the city of Berlin that depicted a nearly life-size image of an Asian man squatting with his back to the viewer and his head slightly turned. The following text appeared in German next to the squatter on only five hundred of these posters: Proposal 1. Imagine a city of squatters, an entire city in which everyone created their own chairs with their own bodies. 2. When you are tired, or when you need to wait, participate in this position. 3. Observe the city again from this squatting position. After the reunification of Germany in the early 1990s, fifty thousand of the sixty thousand Vietnamese “guest workers” who had come to East Germany in the 1980s as a result of the U.S.-led economic embargo were forcibly repatriated back to Vietnam. In 1993, the German Parliament barred the entry of many would-be immigrants and refugees by revising the country’s asylum laws. In light of these
events, Leung’s project attempts to reinsert the presence of expelled Asian bodies back into the urban fabric of Berlin. His proposal for a city of squatters might be read, in this regard, as an open invitation to participate in a productive perversion of space. For a seven-week exhibition in 1998 at the Huntington Beach Art Center in Orange County, California, Leung collaborated with three local communities—Vietnam War veterans, Vietnamese immigrants, and surfers—to produce Surf Vietnam, the third project in his series. Surf Vietnam took as its premise “Surf’s Up At China Beach,” a New York Times article that described an Orange County high school surfing team’s participation in a competition at Vietnam’s China Beach, a site popularized by an American television show of the same name and the 1979 film Apocalypse Now. The exhibition comprised nineteen identical surfboards on top of which were printed an enlarged reproduction of the Times’ China Beach article. China Beach—known locally as My Khe—was ascribed its name by American soldiers who used the beach recreationally during the Vietnam War. In the 1990s, Vietnamese officials eager to capitalize American tourism appropriated the nickname for a resort built at a different location. In this sense, “China Beach” is a floating signifier that connotes a sense of projection: the fantasies of American G.I.s and the economic aspirations of the Vietnamese. Leung gestures towards this profusion of meaning by arranging the surfboards into six different configurations: three of these were based on phrases that appeared in the Times article (“Apocalypse Now,” “The Vietnamese are waiting for us to come,” and “The kids really enjoyed getting up on the board”) while the remaining three were arranged in collaboration with the three community groups mentioned above. The specificity of the exhibition’s location also informs a reading of the work: Huntington Beach, a major destination for surfing in Southern California, is directly west of Little Saigon, a neighborhood in the city of Westminster that is home to the largest concentration of ethnic Vietnamese outside of Vietnam. According to art historian David Joselit, Leung’s recontextualization of the China Beach article in Orange County “elaborates the ‘residual space’ of the Vietnam War [and] charts a complex territory of meaning which exists between words, objects, and communities.” 2 War After War (2011) marks a return to the artist’s initial collaboration with Warren Niesłuchowski. For the last decade, Niesłuchowski has been without a permanent home and, according to Leung, lives as a “cosmopolitan nomad”
2. David Joselit, “Of War and Remembrance,” Art in America (May 1999), pp. 142-145. 23
Simon Leung: The Surface of the Earth
who stays with friends across Europe and America. The mainstay of the video depicts Niesłuchowski’s visit to a library where he alternately reads books, reprises the Leftist songs in Warren Piece, and speaks with Leung about their ongoing collaboration. Interwoven through the video are voiceover passages from Immanuel Kant’s 1795 essay “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch.” An exploration of the possibility of permanent world peace, Kant’s essay characterizes peace as an inherently continuous project that relies upon conditional and legal agreements between governments. Leung excerpts the following passage of the essay: Hospitality means the right of a stranger not to be treated as an enemy when he arrives in the land of another. One may refuse to receive him when this can be done without causing his destruction; but, so long as he peacefully occupies his place, one may not treat him with hostility. It is not the right to be a permanent visitor that one may demand. A special beneficent agreement would be needed in order to give an outsider a right to become a fellow inhabitant for a certain length of time. It is only a right of temporary sojourn, a right to associate, which all men have. They have it by virtue of their common possession of the surface of the earth, where, as a globe, they cannot infinitely disperse and hence must finally tolerate the presence of each other. Originally, no one had more right than another to a particular part of the earth. 3 The concept of hospitality is a foundational element of the cosmopolitan world citizenship central to Kant’s vision for peace. In this model, the temporary sojourner—a visitor, a refugee, perhaps a “cosmopolitan nomad”?—has the right to be welcomed by any nation by virtue of every person’s common ownership of “the surface of the earth.” The limits of the earth’s surface necessitate a tolerance of others. Niesłuchowski—whose origins are marked by war and exile—is one such temporary sojourner in need of being welcomed. However, his privileged ability to move freely across the globe is aided by the international art world, an apparatus that legitimates and operates on the logic of “cultural nomadism” Like the city of squatters and China Beach, Niesłuchowski is a cipher on which disparate identities (the nomad, the refugee, the perpetual dinner guest) are projected and unresolved. In a recent issue of October on artistic practice and the antiwar movement, Leung suggests that “the radical political subject is also always an ethical subject who must open him/herself to otherness.” 4 Like Kant’s proposal to welcome strangers, Leung’s projects poetically open up a space for an ethical encounter with the other in the face of war’s remains. 3. Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace. New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1957. 4. Simon Leung, “Questionnaire Response.” October 123 (Winter 2008), pp.102-104. 24
Cole Akers is a writer and arts
Stephanie Cash has been an editor
organizer interested in urban history and contemporary art. He was formerly Programs Assistant for Artist Residencies and Academic Programs at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and has organized numerous programs and film screenings around Southern California, including a screening of the films of David Wojnarowicz at Workspace and a symposium on Learning From Las Vegas at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. He received his B.A. in Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and his M.A. in Visual Studies from the University of California, Irvine.
at Art in America since 1993. She edits and writes features, reviews and news stories. Since 2008, she has served as News Editor, which has involved reconceptualizing the news sections in print as “hard” news transitioned to the Web. Recent print articles have included an “In the Studio” visit with Sanford Biggers (March 2011); “Terrible Beauty,” a feature on Wangechi Mutu (May 2010); and “Funding the Arts: Pay to Play,” a story looking at the future of artist grants through private initiatives and DIY online fundraising (February 2011). Cash has a B.A. in Art History from the University of Texas, Austin, and did her graduate work in Art History and Criticism at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.
continued from page 4
was to assume a name/no (nom) of peace (paix), a no less enabling identity than the nom de guerre. War After War is, in many ways, made to accompany Warren Piece, almost twenty years later. Unlike the earlier piece, this has been much longer in the making—since when? 2003? 4? 5? I can’t entirely remember, but I know that I began to think about making a new work with Warren when this country entered into a flagrantly endless war. This was because it was around this time that the circumstances in Warren’s life had again shifted. For most of the last decade, maybe all of it, Warren has lived the life of a cosmopolitan nomad (‘cosmopolitan’ my word, ‘nomad’ his), staying with friends across Europe and America after losing his New York apartment, and then eventually, perhaps atavistically, finding a more or less permanent bed in Warsaw. Still, Warsaw being far from the main stage, his travels consequently persist, and more than a dozen times I have heard others wonder aloud, especially when War is nigh, “But how does he manage to…?” At times, Warren has been described as a “professional guest,” but I believe that he might not identify with such or any profession, that he would simply “prefer not to.” Perhaps what I am interested in is not so much to dwell on the identities of our choosing—say “a nomad”—but those that are less motivated by choice than are the effects of circumstance. To be constantly on the move is a difficult life, and I am reminded of how Warren was born a refugee—a displaced person. Is the life of War askesis or habitus? It is commonplace to believe that wars mark the times in which we live— that even if we do not live under the direct threat of war’s violence, we understand ourselves in relationship to the state-sanctioned killing of others, elsewhere, in our time, and at times in our name. In this work, I once again return to a thinking of how war resides in us. I return to many motifs from the earlier one, but the tone has shifted (for example, Warren sings the same songs he did two decades earlier, but I think the songs resonate differently now), and what was previously several wall pieces and three videos have been distilled into one single-channel video. Perhaps this condensation is indicative of how this work is, more than or beside or failing at being “about Warren,” the recording of a tone, provoked by the precarious nature of a life spent in need of being welcomed.
CUE Art Foundationâ€™s operations and programs are made possible with the generous support of foundations, corporations, government agencies, individuals, and its members.
Major program support is provided by: Accademia Charitable Foundation Inc. CAF American Donor Fund The Viking Foundation AG Foundation The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Inc. The Greenwall Foundation The Greenwich Collection Inc. Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation The Joan Mitchell Foundation The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts National Endowment for the Arts New York City Department of Cultural Affairs New York State Council on the Arts (a State agency) William Talbot Hillman Foundation The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Trust The Koret Foundation The Hyde and Watson Foundation
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Cover: Still from War After War, 2011 Single-channel video All artwork ÂŠ Simon Leung ISBN: 978-0-9843122-9-0 Catalog design: elizabeth ellis Printed by mar+x myles inc. using 100% wind-generated power
CUE Art Foundation 511 West 25th Street, New York, NY 10001 212-206-3583 f 212-206-0321 cueartfoundation.org
Catalogue accompanying March 24 - May 7, 2011 exhibition