Contemporary artist Laurens Tan (Tan Sikao 谭思考) has been making and exhibiting graphic, video, performance, and sculptural works in several locations – Sydney, Las Vegas, Beijing – for many years. A selection of Tan’s recent Beijing-oriented works in now being shown in the Steve Sun Art Gallery at the University of Chicago Center in Beijing. An August 29 opening exhibition brought together members of the local arts scene, the Beijing Australian community and UChicago alumni to enjoy the new installations and hear from Tan about the origins of his works. The exhibition, entitled “Empire Bookends: Basketcase,” features two standard-sized Beijing tricycles (sanlunche 三轮车) and a series of sketches and graphics. The tricycle sculptures recall this most mundane piece of mobile urban infrastructure – the ubiquitous vehicle for trash management, snack vending, used-goods collecting, deliveries – in a humorous art context.
Tan’s previous versions of the tricycle have made witty allusions to disciplined urban crowds, the viewpoint of the foreigner in the city, and the aggressive presence of written Chinese characters over and inside every thing. New graphic and sculptural work for this exhibition is inspired by the comedic but uncanny object of the rubber chicken, and by its plucked and cleaned street-market counterparts, the real dead – or just killed – chickens offered up for urban family meals.
Tan’s artwork in and from Beijing renders the gritty down-to-earth realities of the city as sleek and gorgeous objects reminiscent of post-modern architecture and product design. At the same time Tan redirects our gaze to find beauty in the actual mundane city that surrounds us.
“Empire Bookends: Basketcase” is on display at the Center in Beijing from August 29, 2014, to March 27, 2015.