Guan Xiao has two works at the Jeu de Paume this summer, ‘How to Disappear’ and ‘Weather Forecast’. These titles indicate that transience and transformation are already at stake. The first expounds the possibility of Xiao not being there, which of course she isn’t, creating a double bluff to foil any suspension of disbelief. A still image of a 1950s-ish manual also titled ‘How to Disappear’ is displayed on a flat-screen monitor. On the adjacent wall faint sentences in French and English, fractionally out of synch with one another, scroll horizontally by, briefly narrating the book’s potential and Guan’s attempt to use it. Only a short pause followed by “I’m back and I did it!” implies success. A voice recording (presumably Guan) speaks the projected text from the other side of the room, conflating both languages to near incomprehension. Contributing to the construction of myth in faux Romantic spirit, this work acts as a simple gesture to destabilise presence, farcically.
The past, future, culture, geography and religion are apparently of no concern when one is trying to disappear. By contrast, ‘Weather Forecast’ is a kind of sensory overload addressing all of these things (and more), employing a selection of video clips gleaned globally via the internet, as well as additional sound, text, post-production and black screens. This highly aestheticised material, with images of violence, the absurd, leisure and technology, is juxtaposed in sets of three on a triptych of flat-screen monitors. Time, perception, connectivity, phenomena and travel come into play in different ways through the deluge of imagery and sound – the trick is not to try to keep up but to let it all just wash over you. It’s a kind of painful, pleasurable, poetic shape-shifting between modes of video representation – such as advertising, home video, art, archive footage, TV news, documentary, celebrity, self-celebration, digital gaming and promotional video. The audio is diverse, with found and recorded sound (concomitant with the footage and not), including a range of music – light jazz, soft rock, relentless ‘thumping’ trance, soothing classical piano – and a voiceover that punctuates the video throughout, describing and reflecting on all of the above (and still more), including a non-hierarchical approach to content.
Several times the question “Why can’t we view Europe from a chair?” is posed in large, wavy lettering: no question need be too challenging. Why be in one place when you can be elsewhere, or at least imagine you are? What is the nature of experience? How does perception change relationships with the world and others? What can the mediated provide that lived experience cannot and vice versa? How are all things connected? What is the root of our obsession with image making? Ironically, Guan has said in an interview that she hates technology. Indicative of the totalising effects of the internet (and of the everyday as it spills back and forth), Guan’s extensive use of heterogeneous content promotes a utopian and dystopian worldview, paradoxically re-absorbing itself in pursuit of fluid and fractured unification.