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Transformer presents impressions from a trip to Beijing by four artists
Chandi Kelley, Black Cloud, 2014.

WASHINGTON, DC.- Through photography, video and painting, artists Chandi Kelley, Stephanie Kwak, Paul Shortt and Zach Storm share impressions of Beijing, China as experienced via a two-week visit summer 2013, organized and funded by Transformer via support from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities’ Sister Cities International Art Grant.

During their time in Beijing, the artists presented a series of creative and educational panels and workshops at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. In tandem with that, they visited galleries throughout the 798 Art District, spent July 4th with Ai Weiwei and cats at his studio, and toured The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, The Great Wall, The Summer Palace, the Panjiayun Antique Market, and the Llama, Confucius, and Dongyue Temples, among other experiences.

Throughout the visit, there was continuous reflection on ‘atmosphere’: the weather, air and smog; the dramatic cityscape and its feeling of congestion; and the mesh and clash of contemporary and ancient culture. With these reflections in mind, the artists were invited to create new work based on their time in Beijing. What results is an exhibition of thoughtful work that share the artists’ sensibilities of DC’s Sister City Beijing.

Chandi Kelley’s work highlights the tension between fiction and documentation through constructed environments and the objects that inhabit them. In these environments, the natural world becomes a mere representation of itself - no longer the thing it was, but signifying its past. Facades of nature give the illusion of natural space, but only emphasize the longing that we feel for a wilderness untouched by mankind. Objects meant as stand-ins for nature underscore this detachment from the natural world. Regarding her photographic work in Atmosphere, Kelley states: “I was drawn to the emphasis of the landscape on tarps over construction sites or painted onto the sides of buildings, and objects artificially proclaiming nature. These images and objects felt familiar and distant, enhanced by the estrangement of an unknown place. I sought blurred lines between the real and the unreal and the points where these two worlds intersect.”

With smfoggy, Stephanie Kwak highlights the combination of exhilaration & fatigue she experienced in Beijing. Kwak states: “smfoggy is a remix of a video that Chandi Kelley and I ‘made’ on a hot summer day in the tourist trap known as the Forbidden City. I was drawn to ‘making’ the original video because the two-minute blue-screened experience seemed to capture the humor, absurdity, as well as the brief rapture (or Rapture) of being a tourist in one of the biggest, and increasingly important and talked-about, cities of the world: Beijing. The original video is enough by itself, but I wanted to make a remix to distort & magnify its awkward whimsy. Through the use of repetition, layering, and fast cutting, I hope to match (or at least get close) to the frenetic pace of Beijing in my remixed video.”

Paul Shortt’s Smog is a video that draws comparisons between the smog and pollution of Beijing and the rising tide of gentrification in Washington, DC. “In the video, a man is seen walking the streets of DC, wearing a facemask to protect himself from pollution as cars and people move past him. As the video progresses, it becomes clearer that he is walking just ahead of a continual stream of encroaching city construction,” states Shortt. “As sister cities, Beijing and DC share not only the status of national capitals, but also that of cities that have been completely transformed by quick growth and development. Smog attempts to explore this growth and the ramifications of it through the simple act of strolling the city streets.”

Blending elements of pure abstraction with phenomenological experience, Zach Storm’s paintings are seductive, quick to appeal visually and slow to reveal themselves conceptually. “The body of work presented in Atmosphere focuses on the smog-filled skies of Beijing as viewed through the same hotel window everyday for eleven days,” states Storm. “Repeated coats of acrylic urethane, pigments, inks and metal fleck build layers of information that light passes through after bouncing off of the aluminum surface below.” Storm's paintings demand that the viewer shift position in relation to the statically installed work of art, in order to incorporate movement and the play of light into the aesthetic experience.

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