Whether seen or unseen, people feature prominently in this volume of Parkett. Artists Yto Barrada, Nicole Eisenman, Liu Xiaodong, and Monika Sosnowska investigate their presence and absence in every conceivable form: from direct, face-to-face confrontation to subtle studies of the traces that remain long after they have left. These are artists who engage the “strategy of proximity” (Hou Hanru on Liu Xiaodong) in order to better understand reality. In their paintings, photographs, and sculptures, they encompass social realities in a poetic imagery that challenges and, indeed, surpasses a hackneyed “realism,” or rather a realism that has been relegated to the dusty shelves of history.
Liu Xiaodong abandons the studio, seeking to relate directly to his models in the process of painting—a telling act at a time of great social upheaval in China. Although understated and at a distinct remove from hyperbole, social conflicts lie at the core of his art, such as forced resettle ment in the wake of a gigantic building project or the living conditions of the Uygurian jade miners in the restive province of Xinjiang. In observing people going about their daily lives, Liu participates, rubs shoulders in foreign territory, in a situation where those present are quick to comment on his painting. Against the backdrop of a once ordained, heroic social realism, Liu Xiaodong counters uncertain times by seeking closeness, immediacy, and intimacy.
The voice of an artist’s model is also heard in this issue of Parkett: Litia Perta offers us a highly personal, discerning description of what it means to be portrayed by Nicole Eisenman. Despite the intimacy of her characterization, she seems to be speaking for all the quirky figures that congregate in the beer garden of Eisenman’s art, where liberating humor is coupled with gloom. More recent plaster sculptures strikingly demonstrate how exhilarating and affective can be the act of making and acquiring form (inside front cover).
Yto Barrada presents us with contradictory perceptions of time, juxtaposing the fleeting moment of the photograph with primordial tectonic, continental shifts. Her photography is a record of Morocco, or more precisely the contemporary city of Tangier and its restless pace of change; but it is also a record of the past, a past that goes as far back as African dinosaurs. In pictures that “dawdle and dally,” she speaks “a language of orientation, paralysis, pain, fragile resistance, a declaration of love for a city that signifies home, politics, commodities, trade—and life.” (Urs Stahel)
In Monika Sosnowska’s work, we discover that “nudity” can also be applied to buildings and their interiors, such as corridors, stairs, or their structural underpinnings. Her configurations are unmistakably real and yet, as in a dream, subject to unfathomable forces of metamorphosis. Nick Relph has designed the Insert with the help of the World Wide Web, exploiting the unintended, painterly effect that results when an image is scanned several times—febrile Impressionism in the age of Google.