On August 19, 2016, the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing has opened New Directions, the first solo show of Nadim Abbas in mainland China. Abbas transforms the Long Gallery into a single work, The Last Vehicle, dividing the space into two separate but interrelated segments: part alien landscape, part domestic living quarters. The “vehicle” in question refers to a remote-controlled rover, fitted with a prosthetic eye and wireless transmitter, which relays live footage of the foreign terrain and its solitary inhabitant back to the sedentary view of an armchair explorer. Here, the death of experience is re-enacted through the afterlife of images; multiple hallucinatory frames of reference played out in a perpetual cycle of ruin and regeneration.
Initiated in 2015, New Directions offers some of China’s most promising artists a platform to realize their first institutional solo exhibition and monographic publication. Deepening UCCA’s ongoing commitment to emerging practices pioneered by shows including ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice (2013), Breaking Forecast (2009), and the Curated By… series (2010-2012), a series of solo exhibitions that aims to present, through a constellation of singular positions, an overall sense of the richness and complexity of new art in China today. New Directions: Nadim Abbas, the fifth instalment of the New Directions series, is curated by UCCA assistant curator Guo Xi. New Directions is initiated by UCCA Director Philip Tinari. The exhibition is accompanied by a monograph of the same title and is available at UCCASTORE.
Using Paul Virilio’s critique of accelerated culture as a springboard, The Last Vehicle furthers Abbas’s metaphysical interrogation of constructed environments and the psychological neuroses inscribed therein, staging a laboratory of experience governed by the paradoxical principle that image always already precedes object. Central to the work is the figure of the “explorer,” whose sedentary-ness speaks immediately to the realities of zhainan [urban male shut-ins] or otaku culture—see also his work I Would Prefer Not To (2009). Tasked with patrolling an alien terrain via proxy, the narrative of the explorer parodies a scientific community reliant on visualizations of physical phenomenon produced from data sets collected by remotely operated instruments, a concern he has developed across several bodies of writing as well as Afternoon in Utopia (2012).
Regarding this philosophical dilemma, Abbas writes, “…[I]t is as if the image is all that has ever been, and that the object has always already been displaced, ungraspable; not a distant object, but that object as distancing—in short, alien.” A rich subject in itself, the alien body, while given presence enough by the strange sandbox-like terrain akin to Apocalypse Postponed (2014), is allegorically enacted by a performer resembling a pastiche of anime characters and appearing sporadically much to the mystery of viewers. Oddly humorous, the figure illustrates Abbas’s interest in re-contextualizing kitsch to form instances of melancholic identification.
Other references to previous works include a sink endlessly recycling water, a quotation from Cataract (2010), his first major exhibition at Hong Kong’s Experimenta. New Directions: Nadim Abbas rewards viewers with a seemingly condensed survey of his works, while introducing the previously unforeseen element of performance. A conceptual artist known to combine disparate cultural references, Abbas’s exhibition cascades meaning through diverse literary references and other linguistic play, akin to spending hours clicking through hyperlinks on Wikipedia.
Nadim Abbas (b. 1980) is a visual and installation artist from Hong Kong. Abbas received his BFA from London’s Chelsea College of Art & Design and MPhil from the University of Hong Kong Department of Comparative Literature. He teaches at the City University Hong Kong School of Creative Media and the Hong Kong Art School/ RMIT University. His work explores technologies of perception, culminating in the construction of complex set pieces where objects exist in an ambiguous relationship with their own image, and bodies succumb to the seduction of space. He examines the structural and political properties of images and their precarious relationship with reality. Revolving around the psychological influences of kitsch and cliché, his sculptural installations are immersive environments of ambiguous forms. Frequently incorporating objects from flea markets and dollar shops, casting, animation and photography, Abbas weaves together extensive research with sophisticated visual manoeuvres to destabilise our perception of space.
Nadim Abbas has exhibited extensively worldwide in many private and public art spaces. He was awarded with the Asian Cultural Council Altius Fellowship and the HK Arts Development Award (Young Artist / Visual Arts) in 2014. Recent exhibitions include: 2015 Triennial: Surround Audience (New Museum, New York, 2015); Unseen Existence (HK Arts Centre, 2014); Zone (1) (The Armory Show 2014, New York, 2014); Tetraphilia (Third Floor Hermés, Singapore, 2013); Satellite of ⁂ (CL3 Architects, Hong Kong Arts Centre, 2013); and Marine Lover – A Hermatypic Romance (Gallery EXIT, ARTHK 11, Hong Kong, 2011).