Beijing Commune (798 Art District 4 Jiuxianqiao Road Chaoyang District Beijing 100015), Sep 30–Nov 15, 2014
Variously rebuked and remembered for “Uglier and Uglier” (2012), in which he spliced together and counted down footage of thousands of women at his university based on their level of attractiveness, Song Ta now has his first solo show at Beijing Commune.
The exhibition is airy, with works lightly presented strung across the gallery and blue-tacked to a couple of the walls; a video, “Who is the Loveliest Guy?” projects in the end room. On the wall, photographs and scraps of paper constitute the piece “People Who Write Like Me”, which is what it says it is, though with more comic variation than might be expected; one example of handwriting has been done on an octopus. Hanging up are English language exam papers which have been answered by pupils and (sometimes incorrectly) marked by a teacher. “These Are Your Test Scores, and You’re Still Playing Around?” makes for pleasing, inconsequential reading, at a glance.
But the real pull of this show is the video. “Who is the Loveliest Guy?” is a piece of real comic dexterity. Split between 3 screens is a short recording of naval officers dressed impeccably in white, as if to go on parade. They climb aboard a rollercoaster, which various camera angles then show ascending feverishly around and to the top of the rails and plunging down; muffled shouts from the officers, their rigorously presented bodies sometimes embarrassed by gravity, legs dangling, are heard sometimes against a brilliantly incongruous soundtrack of Bizet’s overture to Carmen. Witty art like this is truly rare—not least amid Beijing’s highly self-conscious and competitive scene. The value of its directness and low-key appeal is clear.
Song Ta is an artist working humorously and unapologetically. These works are born not of a deep conceptual idea, but instead often start from a whim (finding hand writing like his, or wondering whether a rollercoaster can shake naval officers’ composure). Relying neither too much on form, nor commercial appeal, nor necessarily complex thinking, this is an enjoyable and worthwhile show.