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Paul Chan: A Survey

Art Basel Online

Hong Kong

March 20 – 25, 2020

Paul Chan Happiness (Finally) After 35,000 Years of Civilization (after Henry Darger and Charles Fourier), 2000-2003

Paul Chan
Happiness (Finally) After 35,000 Years of Civilization (after Henry Darger and Charles Fourier), 2000-2003
Digital video projection on screen (color, sound)
17 minutes, 20 seconds

 

In this wide-format digital projection, Chan investigates the ways in which society is organized through various lenses of human social interaction. Drawing from outsider artist Henry Darger’s scenes of children and fantastical beings and French philosopher Charles Fourier’s theories of utopian socialism – among a plethora of other thoroughly-researched source material ranging from Jacques Derrida to Jay Z– Chan presents an imagined world in which blissful utopia turns to brutal catastrophe. Closing scenes of a cherry blossom tree one moment in full bloom and the next barren, followed by a vision of the original utopia, suggest the inevitable cyclical nature of these events and the real world on which they are modeled.

 

An edition of Happiness (Finally) After 35,000 Years of Civilization is held in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Paul Chan, Happiness (Finally) After 35,000 Years of Civilization (after Henry Darger and Charles Fourier), 2000-2003 (still)

Paul Chan, Happiness (Finally) After 35,000 Years of Civilization (after Henry Darger and Charles Fourier), 2000-2003 (still)

Paul Chan, Installation view, Paul Chan – Selected Works, Schaulager, Basel, 2014

Paul Chan, Installation view, Paul Chan – Selected Works, Schaulager, Basel, 2014

Paul Chan, Installation view, Paul Chan – Selected Works, Schaulager, Basel, 2014

Paul Chan, Installation view, Paul Chan – Selected Works, Schaulager, Basel, 2014

Paul Chan I pity you, unhappy stars, 2004

Paul Chan
I pity you, unhappy stars, 2004
Archival inkjet print
88 x 44 inches (223.5 x 111.8 cm)

 

In this digital print, Chan creates a background that recalls Vincent van Gogh’s signature swirls of line, within a frame reminiscent of grand windows and interiors seen in churches. Thick, swirling, entangled lines emerge from the bottom of the frame, seemingly moving away from the foreground. Resembling both the structure of DNA and weaving vines, this form’s dynamic directionality cuts through that of the swirling background. In this somewhat ominous work, a tone exaggerated by the sentiment of the title, Chan joins a wide range of associations, bridging disparate mediums and symbols.

Paul Chan 3rd Light, 2006

Paul Chan
3rd Light, 2006
Digital video projection, table
14:00 mins
Dimensions variable (table dimensions 133.5"l x 23"w x 29.5"h)

 

3rd Light, 2006

 

Paul Chan’s series The 7 Lights (2005–2007) is a series of digital video projects that cast their silhouetted scenes on walls, floors, and tables. Recalling the light that comes through a window and the vision of the outside world passing by from a moving vehicle, these works present entire worlds that float past the viewer in every direction. In these scenes, familiar moments can be identified. In 3rd Light, an apple with a bite taken out of it hints at both the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden and a childhood fairytale, all the more potent as its shadow is cast upon a replica of the table in Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (c. 1490) carefully position beneath the projector.

 

An edition of 3rd Light is held in the collection of M +, Hong Kong.

Paul Chan, 3rd Light, 2006

Paul Chan, 3rd Light, 2006
 

Paul Chan, 3rd Light, 2006

Paul Chan, 3rd Light, 2006

Paul Chan Chinese roof into pyramid - for 5th Light, 2006

Paul Chan
Chinese roof into pyramid - for 5th Light, 2006
Mixed media on styrofoam
32 1/16 x 23 1/8 x 3/4 inches
83.8 x 58.7 x 1.9 cm

 

Paul Chan’s Chinese roof into the pyramid - for 5th Light (2006) belongs to his “Light” series. The drawing’s swaths of black are akin to the shadows projected in the installation works from the series. As the strike through the word suggests, the absence of light is crucial to the work. Darkness gives the composition value and meaning, without it the styrofoam panel would be stark white. The formal tension between light and dark fills in for myriad opposing forces: good and evil, lawfulness and anarchy, idealism and reality, et cetera. In the work’s haunting atmosphere, Chan offers a bleak forecast of which direction this push-pull will ultimately favor.

 

The related work 5th Light (2006) is in the collection of Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

Paul Chan Untitled  - for 5th Light, 2006

Paul Chan
Untitled  - for 5th Light, 2006
Mixed media on Styrofoam
32 x 23 3/4 x 3/4 inches (81.3 x 60.3 x 1.9 cm)

Paul Chan Pyramid into cone - for 5th Light, 2006

Paul Chan
Pyramid into cone - for 5th Light, 2006
Mixed media on styrofoam
32 x 23 3/4 x 3/4 inches (81.3 x 60.3 x 1.9 cm)

Paul Chan Crystal into network - for 5th Light, 2006

Paul Chan
Crystal into network - for 5th Light, 2006
Mixed media on styrofoam
32 x 23 3/4 x 3/4 inches (81.3 x 60.3 x 1.9 cm)

Paul Chan Sade for Sade's sake, 2009

Paul Chan
Sade for Sade's sake, 2009
Three-channel digital video projection (color, silent)
5 hours, 45 minutes looped

 

Inspired by the writings and philosophies of Marquis De Sade (1740–1814), Paul Chan’s 5 hour and 45 minute-long projection titled Sade for Sade’s sake (2009) premiered at the 53rd Venice Biennale. Chan projects onto an irregular surface, extending what he has called the “spectral materialism” of projected moving images and their relationship to static architectural spaces. Organized in the form of a ballad, Sade for Sade’s sake comprises forty-five second scenes, interrelated like lines in a poem. The quivering, shadow-like imagery depicts naked human bodies in discursive, rhythmic, and orgiastic movements. Abstract shadows of geometric shapes float among the bodies like artwork hung on walls, windows in a room, or even devotional objects. As the narrative progresses, the intensity of bodily interaction grows; eventually, the entire projection erupts in trembling forms and part-objects, evoking how Sade’s obsessions with sex, violence, freedom, and reason echo in the 21st century.

 

An edition of this work is in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Paul Chan, Sade for Sade's sake, 2009

Paul Chan, Sade for Sade's sake, 2009

Paul Chan, Sade for Sade's sake, 2009

Paul Chan, Sade for Sade's sake, 2009

Paul Chan, Sade for Sade's sake, 2009

Paul Chan, Sade for Sade's sake, 2009

Paul Chan, Installation view, Sade for Sade's sake, Greene Naftali, New York, 2009

Paul Chan, Installation view, Sade for Sade's sake, Greene Naftali, New York, 2009

Paul Chan, Installation view, Sade for Sade's sake, Greene Naftali, New York, 2009

Paul Chan, Installation view, Sade for Sade's sake, Greene Naftali, New York, 2009

Paul Chan The body of Oh Monica (truetype font), 2008

Paul Chan
The body of Oh Monica (truetype font), 2008
Ink on paper and mixed media
91 x 58 3/4 inches (framed)
231.1 x 149.2 cm
84 x 54 inches (paper size)
213.4 x 137.2 cm

 

Paul Chan’s The body of Oh Monica (truetype font) (2008) transforms the act of typing into a generative performance that responds to French philosopher Marquis De Sade (1740–1814). Available for download on Chan’s website, each font spells out a hypothetical sexual monologue, transforming the conventional alphabet into the eroticized statements of Monica Lewinsky and Monica Goodling. The font takes on a “body” as it stands in the gallery as a large framed ink drawing propped atop a pair of shoes—acting as a cryptic emblem of our physical interaction with language and other people. With this work, Chan lays bare the interconnections of violence and sexuality that shadow all forms of contemporary communication.

 

Another work from this series, The body of Oh Marys (truetype font) (2009), is in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Paul Chan Famous hanky panky, 2009

Paul Chan
Famous hanky panky, 2009
Ink on paper
Paper: 14 x 17 inches (35.6 x 43.2 cm)
Framed: 20 3/16 x 17 3/16 inches (52.3 x 43.7 cm)

 

Paul Chan produced Famous hanky panky (2009) in the same year as his monumental projection work Sade for Sade’s sake. The writings of French philosopher Marquis De Sade (1740–1814) fuel both works. The figures in Chan’s erotic drawing are forged from a bold, undulating, tangled line. Other elements enforce the sense of eroticism established by the unclear division of bodies, like the phallic pointing hand. Famous hanky panky captures Sade’s perspective on sex enmeshed with freedom and violence wrapped up with reason.

 

Another Sade-inspired drawing is in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York. 

Paul Chan Crippled America By Donald Trump, 2016

Paul Chan
Crippled America By Donald Trump, 2016
Oil on board and fabric
56 1/2 x 69 x 1 3/4 inches (143.5 x 175.3 x 4.4 cm)

 

A noted writer and the publisher behind Badlands Unlimited, Paul Chan often kneads literary references into his visual art. Yet, in Crippled America By Donald Trump (2016), books present themselves in a rather literal fashion, serving as the base for collage. On the book covers, Chan assembles an unforgiving landscape—snowy and mountainous. From left to right, the artist’s hanging library consists of Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man (1791), Ulrich Hiesinger’s Impressionism in America (1991), The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1969), and Russell Schroeder’s Walt Disney: His Life in Pictures (1996). Crippled America By Donald Trump evidences Chan’s unique ability to string together objects that swiftly distill socio-political happenings into layered and incisive commentary.

Paul Chan, Crippled America By Donald Trump, 2016 (detail)

Paul Chan, Crippled America By Donald Trump, 2016 (detail)

Paul Chan, Crippled America By Donald Trump, 2016

Paul Chan, Crippled America By Donald Trump, 2016

Paul Chan Model Argument: Retail Outlet, 2016

Paul Chan
Model Argument: Retail Outlet, 2016
Wood, plaster, wire, acrylic paint
20 x 20 x 4 inches (50.8 x 50.8 x 10.2 cm)

 

Upon winning the Hugo Boss Prize in 2014, Paul Chan created the body of work that includes Model Argument: Retail Outlet (2016). The sculpture’s five shoes beg personification and, yet, stepping into them would give a figure pause. None of Chan’s shoes make a pair. The lonely shoes are strewn aside, most of them lying on their side. Furthermore, the plaster shoes are connected by so-called suicide cords. With pronged hardware at each end, they contrast the positive and negative ends of a household extension cord. Generally used by electricians, cords of this kind are a fire hazard in the wrong hands. In Model Argument: Retail Outlet, as in other works, Chan presents an unassuming scenario that soon unravels into something more sinister and disorienting.

Paul Chan Pillowsophia (after Pope Offred), 2017

Paul Chan
Pillowsophia (after Pope Offred), 2017
Nylon, fan
228 x 76 x 22 inches (579.1 x 193 x 55.9 cm)

 

Paul Chan’s Pillowsophia (after Pope Offred) (2017) is from a body of work that Chan calls “breathers.” These works have the dual designation of sculpture and moving image, incorporating techniques that combine fashion design, patternmaking, drawing, and physics. By manipulating the airflow and sewing patterns, the breathers can be infinitely animated and choreographed. This specific work references the fictional character Offred, protagonist of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale. Here, Chan looks into the future while turning away from “screen images.” Chan claims that such projector- and monitor-based images are essentially all the same, pointing to the “regressive” nature of the moving image. To push the medium forward, Chan suggests that we must abandon preconceived notions of the moving image, including the frame itself.

 

Another work from this series, Pillowsophia (after Pope Biggie) (2017), is in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. 

Paul Chan, Pillowsophia (after Pope Offred), 2017

Paul Chan, Pillowsophia (after Pope Offred), 2017

Paul Chan, Pillowsophia (after Pope Offred), 2017

Paul Chan, Pillowsophia (after Pope Offred), 2017

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