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Videos in New Exhibit Make Social, Political Comments in Unusual Ways

By DNAinfo Staff on July 17, 2010 1:51pm  | Updated on July 18, 2010 10:07am

By Jennifer Glickel

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER EAST SIDE —A cantaloupe-stuffed bra and Burberry-clad office workers barking like dogs? It's one way of making a political statement.

The unusual films are among a selection being shown at the Asia Society Museum's latest exhibit of videos that highlights social and political issues.

“Go Figure: Five Contemporary Videos" highlights five young Asian and Asian American artists who utilize single-channel video of human figures to comment on topics ranging from consumerism to narcissism to urban development.

“We are focusing on emerging artists who are very talented at experimenting with new media,” said Miwako Tezuka, who curated the exhibit.

In each of the works presented in the show, the focus is a person or people who enact certain narratives, spoken or otherwise. Using single-channel video, which refers to works that involve a single electronic source and display mode, helps the artists convey their respective messages to the viewer.

“The simplicity of the format forces a heightened awareness of each artist’s unique approach to tackling the contemporary issues embodied and enacted by the people in the videos,” Tezuka told DNAinfo.

In his piece “The Video from a Man Calling Himself Bin Laden Staying in Japan,” artist Makato Aida impersonates Osama Bin Laden and presents a satirical hypothetical situation: the terrorist leader is hiding out in Japan. In a sake-induced stupor, he videotapes a message saying he’s quitting terrorism and to stop searching for him.

“The video is about how Bin Laden’s separation from the contested region in the Middle East changes one’s perspective of the terrorist,” Tezuka explained.

“It’s at once a commentary on Japan’s pacifist attitude toward world politics and also speaks to the uselessness of terrorism.”

In a piece called “Rabid Dogs,” Chinese artist Cao Fei depicts people dressed head to toe in Burberry classic check plaid roaming around on all fours in a modern office setting. Their faces are painted like dogs, in a style evoking Chinese opera face painting.

“It’s humorously depicting the consumer culture that’s growing fast in China,” Tezuka said of Fei’s video.

In one of the more bizarre videos of the group, Asian American artist Patty Chang speaks to the camera telling a story about her deceased aunt. The story becomes less of a commemorative act as she simultaneously performs the unexpected, narcissistic and self-cannibalistic act of cutting off and eating her own breast, made out of a cantaloupe.

“You start to follow her storytelling, but you’re so shocked by the gesture of her cutting into her breast that you feel conflicted as to whether you should be concentrating on the narrative side or simply focus on the visual aspect of the video,” Tezuka said.

While each piece addresses a vastly different subject, they all have one major thing in common: people.

“The idea behind all of the videos in the exhibit is really about the methodology of each artist and how they narrate a story or condition or situation through the depiction of human figures,” Tezuka said.

“Go Figure: Five Contemporary Videos” is on view now and runs through August 15th at the Asia Society Museum. The museum is located at 725 Park Avenue at 70th Street.