An excerpt from Vi Khi Nao’s Sheep Machine:
Can seeing be an act of reading? How does writing influence the process of seeing? And, what does a book look like assembled on a wall, and transposed into the format of art installation?
These thoughts come to mind, somewhat excitedly, at seeing some images from SPEED 2, an art exhibit at Malmö Konsthall, Sweden, which ran from 3.16–5.26.2019. Featuring new commissioned works by James Richards and Leslie Thornton, the show also included related works by other artists, including Vi Khi Nao, a Vietnamese American writer and artist whom we’ve featured frequently on diaCRITICS as we find her work (as well her in-depth interviews with writers) to be spirited, unexpected, and incomparable. So it is a thrill for us to see the text of Sheep Machine (Black Sun Lit, 2018), her book-length ekphrastic poem based on Leslie Thornton’s video art, displayed in its entirety, in wall-spanning columns, in conjunction with the videos by Thornton that the text “narrates”. To learn more about this unique poetic gesture, you can read the review of Sheep Machine by our book reviews editor Eric Nguyen, published earlier this year. As Eric reflects in the review:
“Sheep Machine is a meditation on the act of seeing. Nao asks: what do we see and how do we describe it? It is a question of truth: is what I see true and can I tell you what I see truthfully? What if what we see is different from what others see? And what happens when we ‘experience a collapse of reality, from what we can relate to’—when what we see we can’t possibly describe because they are outside of our personal experiences, personal vocabulary?…”
While diaCRITICS could not experience this wonderful convolution of seeing and questions-on-seeing in person, at the least we are happy to share a few images of the video+text installation, courtesy of Malmö Konsthall. A brief summary of the SPEED 2 exhibit is also excerpted below.
SPEED 2 takes the form of three major new commissions by James Richards (b. 1983) and Leslie Thornton (b. 1951), alongside a show-within-the-show convened by Richards with works by Horst Ademeit, Tolia Astakhishvili, Adelhyd van Bender, Bruce Conner, Emily Feather, Terence McCormack, Vi Khi Nao, Jens Thornton and Thomas Zummer.
[in these photos] :
a) Vi Khi Nao, James Richards & Leslie Thornton, Sheep Machine Redux, 2019
This moving image and text installation combines Leslie Thornton’s video work Sheep Machine (2011) with a dedicated poem by writer Vi Khi Nao (Black Sun Lit, 2018). One set of videos show sheep feeding in a field as a conveyorbelt of cable cars ascend and return from a mountain in the Swiss Alps. The other, a digitally manipulated and pulsing kaleidoscope, is a refraction of the same shot. The work draws on the long-running fascination of Thornton with the logic of mechanised violence, and the conveyor belt as metaphor. In her poemand response to this work, Vi Khi Nao has exploded the first three minutes ofThornton’s video into one second fragments. Each stanza is structured along a time code, such as ‘00:00 Pitch-black,’ ‘00:01 This is wheat & grass’, each section a different reflection on ethics, animals and machines.
b) James Richards, Phrasing, 2018
In James Richards’ Phrasing, radiography becomes a means of travelling through objects, and making visible a magical, sinister and inverted reality. The work occupies space like an oversized light box. Impossibly large collages draw upon material generated by an industrial x-ray machine, to which Richards subjected clocks, medical equipment, cables and anatomical figures. Held together in a grid, and organised in time through a mechanical and indexical ticking from one arrangement to the next, a sense of barely contained visceral and at times violent materiality unfolds. The attention to grain and illumination of negative space is reminiscent of the photogram, while collaged detritus andarchival imagery appear and then re-appear in different states of decay and exposure. A sombre and charged science fictional.
Exhibition descriptions from:
16.3 – 26.5 2019
Curated by Fatima Hellberg and James Richards with Matt Fitts
Commissioned by Künstlerhaus Stuttgart and Malmö Konsthall
Lena Leeb-Lundberg & Helene Toresdotter / Malmö Konsthall