Being a performance artist at a time when almost all public displays of self are treated as performative provokes difficulties. When all it takes to be a performer is to dress, talk, behave, or act a certain way, what distinguishes a performance artist like Pan Daijing from everyone else? In her current exhibition at Grazer Kunstverein, Until Due Time, Everything Is Else (on view until November 19), Daijing comes to grips with the deadlock that faces performance, the art form that we all now take part in, willingly or not. Having a body is more than enough to interpret or symbolize oneself and others, and, with that realization, the role of a performance artist remains contested, if not increasingly challenging. Being a composer as well as a choreographer grants Daijing insights to this impasse which are all too often cast aside: insights about codependency, incompletion, the Sisyphean task of reaching, at some point, somehow, harmony – harmony with the environment one is in, the people with which one spends time, and the physique one has.
Walking into Daijing’s exhibition at the Grazer Kunstverein, disjointed noises float in space; these are two or three elongated musical tonal strokes, stretched and ambient, that brush off against higher-pitched piano notes. Constant tremors. The jagged, atonal, and shameless attempts of Daijing’s melodic concordance set the tone for the rest of Until Due Time, Everything Is Else.
Metal (2023) provides a visual backdrop to the audible. Two large glazed slabs with a grainy photographic quality focus on body parts such as fists, a back and a torso. Those body parts are all in movement; modality; uncertainty. There is a creeping effect at work in Metal that sets the tone for the rest of the show; that of something tense being woven. Not another perfected performance put on center stage, but saw-edged efforts at defining both motion and the mind that animates it. Think about it as a show in the making – forceful presentations stripped from celebration.
Dry Score (2023) takes up the space moving forward; a slender passageway without sources of light, graced with a set of remaining arches curving downwards from the ceiling. Like Metal, the three boards that make up Dry Score are placed on metal platforms. Finding balance, being grounded, not keeping one’s chin up – these elements of Daijing’s practice situate themselves by the artist’s use of unsettling darkness. Inspecting further, these “floored” slabs are filled with scribbles; repeated words, with different handwritings competing for space, erasing and etching on the limited breaks in between others.
In this way, Dry Score contributes to the gentle cacophony that is the solo exhibition’s leitmotif. Composed of fragments from a set of large scale paintings that are bigger than the hands that inscribed them, Dry Score was produced during a durational performance that spanned across three weeks, six hours each day, in the Tai Kwun Contemporary, a cultural institution housed in a former prison and police station in Hong Kong. Now it all clicks: the scribbles are names. Not necessarily the work of memorizing names over and over again, but rather frenetic scripts in defiance of being erased. In this re-creation of the engraved prison walls of political prisoners, there is a cliff nearing. This is the edge – the very end of agency.
Before moving on to the last chamber, the almost absolute lack of vivid color that commands Daijing’s artworks, and the coated white architecture of the Grazer Kunstverein, become too stark to ignore. Daijing splurges the exhibition space and her artworks with gray tones. Monochrome miraculously induces drama here, somehow. Daijing’s mastery of the black and the white in Until Due Time, Everything Is Else reflects both shades as the oldest, most elementary art binary.
Here, Daijing offers luminous ambivalences by shifting the focal point once more. Instead of organizing another carnival that defies duality and celebrates nonbinary thought and existence, what is intentionally shown and heard at her exhibition is the wearing-down effect of polarities. Be they polarities between colors, bodies, or musical notes that remain antagonistic to one another. Time and time again, Daijing brilliantly teases out the possibility of the viewer’s catharsis, only to deny it.
Without a stage, clear choreography, or a working definition of an audience, all that is left for the performer-to-be is to warm up. Little surprise then, that the first television set that composes Grief Lessons (2023) presents a single person, a bit far from view, imprisoned by the framing of the camera’s lens. Dressed with a gray jumpsuit, the person rattles from side to side with their arms embracing their chest. The recurring movement is more than a literal warm up. In that loneliness, the person is innocent; a baby soothing itself to sleep. Incompletion strikes once more with Grief Lessons, but so does the initial abandonment, which encompasses all fresh beginnings of life, language, sound and movement.
Two more television sets are placed behind the warmed up performer, making up the rest of Grief Lessons alongside two additional video projections. First, a looped video of a lighthouse at night plays in a pitch black room of the exhibition space – enlightenment in the murk. Making its 360º rotation, the lighthouse is both on the lookout and being looked at; an astute metaphor for performance. But as a goal, a safe haven, one can never reach it. The lighthouse is witnessed from the point of view of a boat right off the coast. Looped, it will forever be adrift and never approach shore. Never reached, perpetually spectating.
Likewise, the final installment of Grief Lessons is a litmus test of endurance. Two performers, maybe more, are running in a lightless tunnel. Elsewhere, we see other performers in a wrestling match. No unison here, either. Unlike Metal, which focuses on a grainy image to fend off idealization, or the metaphorical abandonment presented in the other televised screens, here, the film lags. Two almost become one, but at different tempos, one falling behind. What distinguishes Daijing’s work and showcases her brilliance as a composer, performer, and artist is her innate knack of making the disjointed cohesive. Her thematic cohesion makes for a rejuvenating visit at the Grazer Kunstverein, even if the tones Daijing reaches are bleak, existential, and hard to swallow. Because of all that, the sudden abrupt shift of Grief Lessons is a surprising conclusion to the exhibition, if not completely contradictory in tone and effect. Suddenly, all monitors shift into color; sharp camera movements and speed that resist the constant stability of the other artworks. Glimmers of hope; bits of sunshine, too.
Romanticism after all? Hardly. For the grand finale, despite colors and playfulness, Daijing herself attempts to capture the movement of a bird, hoping that her eyes and hands will be as fast as the flapping of wings. Freedom comes quicker than witnessing it. But until that unity will be reached, Until Due Time, Everything Is Else.
- IMAGE CREDITS
Cover: Installation view of Pan Daijing, Grief Lessons, 2023, as part of Until Due Time, Everything Is Else, Grazer Kunstverein, 2024. Courtesy of the artist and Grazer Kunstverein. Photo: kunst-dokumentation.com
fig. 1: Installation view of Pan Daijing, Metal, 2023, as part of Until Due Time, Everything Is Else, Grazer Kunstverein, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Grazer Kunstverein. Photo: kunst-dokumentation.com
fig. 2: Installation view of Pan Daijing, Dry Score, 2023, as part of Until Due Time, Everything Is Else, Grazer Kunstverein, 2024. Courtesy of the artist and Grazer Kunstverein. Photo: kunst-dokumentation.com
fig. 3, 4, 5: Installation view of Pan Daijing, Grief Lessons, 2023, as part of Until Due Time, Everything Is Else, Grazer Kunstverein, 2024. Courtesy of the artist and Grazer Kunstverein. Photo: kunst-dokumentation.com