The Invisible Hand: Curating as Gesture

The CAFA Art Museum's second biennale features the works of six different curators

Located on the campus of China’s most prestigious fine arts academy, the CAFA Art Museum (CAFAM) is offering its second ‘biennale’, with six different curators connected to universities in China, Europe, and the United States presenting a range of artists from around the world. It’s a diverse collection that offers some involving and powerful works.

Chief among these is Israeli-born video artist Omer Fast’s three part video installation ‘Nostalgia’ (pictured), based around an African asylum seeker’s attempt to gain residency in the UK. Comprised of three separate videos, the work questions the nature of truth and comments smartly on the skewed relationship between Africa and the West. One of the videos is framed as an interview of an asylum seeker – but both interviewer and interviewee are played by actors. The video raises questions about the motives and sincerity of both, and is at times laugh out-loud funny. The narrative and themes are then echoed in the next video, presented as a kind of retro dystopian science fiction film in which a British refugee attempts to illegally immigrate to an unnamed African nation – a handy and wry turning of the tables on the standard view of geopolitical wealth and opportunity.

Equally powerful is Yin Ju-Chen and James T Hong’s multimedia installation The Turner Archives, which takes the form of a room that, initially, appears to be the cramped studio of an artist or inveterate mechanic. It’s only upon closer examination that one realises the room is in fact crammed with bomb making materials, attack plans and runic writings, revealing itself to be the lair of Earl Turner, the fictional white supremacist narrator of the notorious 1970s American novel The Turner Diaries. Turner inspired numerous hate crimes, including the Oklahoma City bombing. The room (which is also matched with a pair of videos) morphs into an increasingly threatening space. The longer you stay, the more you discover; convincingly plunging the visitor into a skewed, paranoid mindset.

The show is organised around the six curators, each selecting works based on a different theme. But, ironically given its focus on curation, The Second CAFAM Biennale often feels disjointed and even occasionally cluttered. In practical terms, it means that works vary greatly from one section to another. This is not an exhibit that can promise uniform excellence, but the pieces that do stand out within the show leave a very powerful impression indeed, and easily justify a visit.

The Invisible Hand: Curating as Gesture is at the CAFA Art Museum until Sunday 20 April. See event listing for details.