…Properly Used, It’s Almost Invincible

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Production still from The Five Venoms 1978 | Director: Chang Cheh | Image courtesy: © Licensed by Celestial Pictures Limited. All rights reserved

The Australian Cinémathèque’s ‘Action, Hong Kong Style’ program at GOMA in 2013 included a rare double feature of the two films that laid the foundation for one of the most original music groups to emerge in the last twenty years. The Five Venoms 1978 M and The 36th Chamber of Shaolin 1978 were crucial in the development of the Wu-Tang Clan’s unique aesthetic.

]The Wu-Tang Clan

During the early 90s ascendancy of west coast g-funk, the sound epitomised by the L.A-sheen of Dr Dre’s The Chronic, the emergence from New York’s least celebrated borough of a chaotic group of nine ragtag rappers with a penchant for kung fu films seemed unlikely to have much impact on the world of hip hop, let alone the music industry and popular culture at large. Nevertheless, the Wu-Tang Clan forged a sound and a business model that would influence hip hop well into the new millennium, with a branding acumen that paved the paths to Jay Z’s imperial mind-state and the cult of Kanye West’s personality.

As well as tapping the common tropes of New York rap, the Wu’s murky aesthetic revelled in a fully-formed mythos that spliced mafia, chess and comic book references with a heavy dose of martial arts philosophy and imagery.

Hong Kong action cinema of the late 70s had a profound effect on a teenage Robert Diggs, later known as Clan producer, MC and mastermind, RZA. Trekking from his home, first in Brooklyn and later Staten Island, to the grindhouse theatres on Manhattan’s 42nd Street, he took in dubious imports like The Chinese Mack and Fists of the  Double K which were tacked on to first-run American horror movies to create a double or triple feature.

His fascination with these films turned serious with The Five Venoms, the story of a cohort of masked disciples whose fighting styles each embodied a different creature: Centipede, Scorpion, Snake, Lizard, and Toad, and the obsession was cemented with the release of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Director Lau Kar-leung’s dedication to depicting genuine martial artistry resonated with Diggs, who would later be equally concerned with authenticity in hip hop. Gordon Liu played San Te, whose painstaking mastery of the existing thirty-five chambers of Shaolin ultimately led to his establishment of a thirty-sixth chamber which would spread the knowledge of Shaolin to the world.

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Production still from The 36th Chamber of Shaolin 1978 | Director: Lau Kar-leung | Image courtesy: © Licensed by Celestial Pictures Limited. All rights reserved

As Diggs would tell Film Comment in 2008:

‘That one changed my life. It’s like a kung fu Rocky… I’ve never seen swords slashing like that before. It was through these films that I was able to see and feel from a non-Western point of view. Some of the dialogue struck a chord with me. It was Buddhism and psychology. “Without wisdom, there is no gain.” There’s beauty in that.’

These characters and plots, along with several others from the genre, shaped the Clan’s lyrical, sonic and visual palette. On the cover of their 1993 debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), masked clan members arise from the darkness of a candlelit dojo. Their home borough of Staten Island is rechristened Shaolin, and though RZA plunders well-used sample sources for his beats, once the kung fu atmosphere and the MCs’ high impact verbal acrobatics are added to the fray, the sum effect of Enter is an unprecedented kinetic menace.

Cover art from Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) 1993 | Loud Records/RCA

The album is shot through with homage to Hong Kong cinema of all stripes, not least in one tense and hilarious conversational interlude in which a disgusted Raekwon berates Method Man for not taking better care of a borrowed VHS copy of John Woo’s The Killer. No doubt it was a valued commodity in the days before DVD and torrents. The Killer screens Sunday 6 October at 3.00pm and Wednesday 9 October at 8.00pm.

The sound of Enter was the sonic antithesis of Dre’s highly-polished synthesisers and replayed samples, and the low-fi methodology was all part of the effect as RZA explained, again to Film Comment:

‘When we made the first Wu-Tang album in 1993, we only had VHS and it was hard to hook up your equipment to get a good sample. Another great sample, from Five Deadly Venoms, was, “The Toad Style is immensely strong . . . it’s immune to any weapon. When properly used, it’s almost invincible” Those types of intro lines were perfect for my imagination and what I wanted to represent.’

Wu-Tang Clan | Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ (clean version)

What RZA wanted to represent was the largest and most versatile arsenal of rap styles ever amassed in a single group. Like the Venoms, each Clansman had a distinct style. Method Man’s charismatic growl, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s drunken master lilt, GZA’s rocksteady punchline delivery, and Ghostface and Raekwon’s visceral narrative interplay were all parlayed into successful solo albums shortly after their group debut. RZA as sufi had used his studio as dojo to hone these styles. Speaking to Brian Coleman for the book Check the Technique, he likened the competitive sharpening of their verbal skills to kung fu training:

‘It’s like being in Shaolin, where the monks all train with each other. One monk may be nice and another monk may be nicer… It was like sharpening metal against metal.’

The Clan’s fortunes have varied over the past two decades, but even when faced with internal squabbles, critical ambivalence and creative missteps, they’ve remained unpredictable and unswervingly original. RZA’s savvy philosophy of building the group and taking its teachings to the world through the 36th Chamber, like San Te in the film, undoubtedly set the template for much of what followed in hip hop, a genre which continues to seep into popular culture at a broader level.

Artists Announced: Seventh Asia Pacific Triennial (APT7)

An-My LE, Vietnam/USA b.1960 | Patient Admission, US Naval Hospital Ship Mercy, Vietnam (from ‘Events Ashore’ series) 2010 | Archival inkjet pigment print on 380gsm Harman Professional Inkjet paper mounted on sintra, ed. 2/5 | The Kenneth and Yasuko Myer Collection of Contemporary Asian Art. Purchased 2011 with funds from Michael Sidney Myer through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

The Gallery today announced the 77 artists and artist groups from 27 countries that will feature in ‘The 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT7)’, marking the 20th anniversary of the international exhibition.

On display at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) and Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) from 8 December 2012 to 14 April 2013, the exhibition will range from internationally renowned senior artists, including Huang Yong Ping (China/France), Atul Dodiya (India), Raqib Shaw (India/UK) and Fiona Tan (Indonesia/The Netherlands), to young and emerging artists from the region.

Highlights of APT7 will include the first major focus on artists from West Asia; works by young generations of Indonesian and Vietnamese artists; new work from a group of seven Australian artists; and the most significant representation yet of contemporary work from PNG.

Mohammed Qasim ASHFAQ | United Kingdom/Pakistan
Asmat artists: Ben AFEX; Amatus AHMAK; Antonin ARKE; Primus ISIMIN; Stefanus JAKFU; Norbertus JOKOMEN; Paulis KOMARE; Paulis POKMAN; Yakobus SERAMBI; Dinisius SIRETS | Papua, Indonesia
Rina BANERJEE | India/United States of America
Daniel BOYD | Australia
Louisa BUFARDECI | Australia
Neha CHOKSI | USA/India
Tiffany CHUNG | Vietnam
Lorraine CONNELLY-NORTHEY | Australia
Michael COOK | Australia
Timothy COOK | Australia
Atul DODIYA | India
Inci EVINER | Turkey
Graham FLETCHER | New Zealand/Samoa
Parastou FOROUHAR | Iran/Germany
HUANG Yong Ping | China/France
GIMHONGSOK | South Korea
Roslisham ISMAIL aka ISE | Malaysia
Takahiro IWASAKI | Japan
Susan JACOBS | Australia
Chia-En JAO | Taiwan
Tomoko KASHIKI | Japan
Sangdon KIM | South Korea
Joanna LANGFORD | New Zealand
An-My LE | Vietnam/United States of America
LEE Kit | Hong Kong/China
Shirley MACNAMARA | Australia
Basir MAHMOOD | Pakistan
Sheila MAKHIJANI | India
Richard MALOY | New Zealand
MIXRICE | South Korea
NGUYEN Manh Hung | Vietnam
NGUYEN Minh Phuoc | Vietnam
NGUYEN Thai Tuan | Vietnam
Manuel OCAMPO | The Philippines
Michael PAREKOWHAI | New Zealand
Pratchaya PHINTHONG | Thailand
PHUAN Thai Meng | Malaysia
THE PROPELLER GROUP | Vietnam/United States of America
Sara RAHBAR | Iran/United States of America
Wedhar RIYADI | Indonesia
Edwin ROSENO | Indonesia
RUANGRUPA | Indonesia
Dominic SANSONI | Sri Lanka
Greg SEMU | NZ/Samoa
Raqib SHAW | India/United Kingdom
Dayanita SINGH | India
Tadasu TAKAMINE | Japan
Fiona TAN | Indonesia/Netherlands
TE Wei | China
Sopolemalama Filipe TOHI | Tonga/New Zealand
TROMARAMA | Indonesia
Tintin WULIA | Indonesia/Australia
YUAN Goang-Ming | Taiwan
ZHOU Tiehai | China

Papua New Guinea (Co-curator: Martin Fowler)
SULKA: Camilius TEPE (team leader), Paskalis BILL, Moky CAMILIUS, Makude JOESEPH, Tadius LOHALI, Herman PAPE, Antonius SAVUO Jr, Herman TEP, and Bernard VIETON
ARAWE: Bruno AKAU, Alfred SAPU
COASTAL ARAPESH: Alex GABOUR (team leader), Connor AUKA, James AUSORI, Alex BERRY, Connor KOMONAIN, Joan MABUT, Fransica SALID, Joe SARUM, Rupina SUNA, Baka WILSON
TOLAI: Iatapal Cultural Group; Ravat Cultural Group, Vunapaka Cultural Group
IATMUL: Issac KAPUN; Gibson KAPUN, Aamus KAMDUKA, Ganot KAM, Willie MASO; David YAMANAPI
KWOMA ARTS: Anton WAIAWAS (team leader), Kevin APSEPA, Simon GOIYAP, Jamie JIMOK, Nelson MAKAMOI, Rex MAUKOS, Terry PAKIEY
Senior project advisors: Waikua NERA (Abelam), Anton WAIAWAS (Kwoma), Gesley RIVAN (Tolai), Damien GULKLEDEP (Pomio), Camilus TEPE and Robert DIUA (Sulka), Otto KAMA and Anton AQUI (Iatmul) and Alex GABOUR (Coastal Arapesh)

0 – Now: Traversing West Asia (Co-curator: November Paynter)
Cevdet EREK | Turkey
Erbossyn MELDIBEKOV | Kazakhstan
Almagul MENLIBAYEVA | Kazakhstan
Hrair SARKISSIAN | Syria/Armenia
Wael SHAWKY | Egypt
SLAVS & TATARS | Poland/United States of America/Iran
Oraib TOUKAN | United States of America/Jordan

The 20 Year Archive
Heman CHONG |  Singapore
{disarmed} imagining a Pacific archive: Torika BOLATAGICI | Australia/Fiji; Mat HUNKIN | New Zealand/Samoa; Teresia TEAIWA | United States of America/Kiribati/New Zealand
MAP OFFICE | Hong Kong, China

Over 20 years, the Asia Pacific Triennial has attracted over 1.8 million visitors and continues to be the only recurring art exhibition focussing on contemporary art from Asia, the Pacific and Australia.

APT7 is made possible by founding sponsor the Queensland Government, presenting sponsor Santos, and principal partners Events Queensland, the Australia Council for the Arts and the Australian Government’s Visual Arts and Crafts Strategy. The PNG component is sponsored by Kramer Ausenco, and a range of cultural organisations have also made invaluable contributions.

Occupying all of GOMA and key spaces in QAG, including the iconic Watermall, APT7 will include several artists whose work has never been seen before in Australia, numerous major commissions, and site-specific works.

APT7 will feature a free opening weekend program involving many of the exhibiting artists and several performance events; the GOMA Talks series of discussion panels; two film programs; the 20 Year Archive project; as well as printed and online publications and education resources.

Kids APT will premiere interactive artworks and installations by participating artists and the On Tour program will be presented throughout regional Queensland.

The project ‘0-Now: Traversing West Asia’, developed in collaboration with Istanbul-based curator November Paynter, will feature works by artists from Egypt, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Syria, Jordan and the diaspora, united by an interest in the movement of peoples and changing landscapes of West Asia.

APT7 will feature vibrant new work by an exciting group of young artists from Indonesia and Vietnam where the emerging contemporary art scene is being driven by independent artist-run spaces and a highly engaged art community.

The Australian component of APT includes new work from five Aboriginal artists — Daniel Boyd, Lorraine Connelly-Northey, Michael Cook, Timothy Cook and Shirley Macnamara — in addition to Louisa Bufardeci and Susan Jacobs, all reflecting on the varied histories that contribute to their distinctive senses of place, which is one of the key threads running through the exhibition.

The major presentation of contemporary works informed by customary practices from Papua New Guinea will bring together performance objects with two major architectural commissions by artists from the East Sepik province.

The public sculpture The World Turns by New Zealand artist Michael Parekowhai, which was commissioned in November 2011 to mark the fifth anniversary of the opening of GOMA and the 20th anniversary of APT, will be located outside GOMA on the bank of the Brisbane River.

The twentieth anniversary of APT is an opportunity to reflect upon the unprecedented transformations that have occurred in Australia, Asia and the Pacific over the past two decades. With this in mind, APT7’s 20 Year Archive project invites four artists and artist collectives to explore a range of regional archives, including QAGOMA’s Australian Centre of Asia Pacific Art, and present creative interpretations of their content.

The Gallery’s Australian Cinémathèque will present two major cinema programs for APT7: one that expanded upon the exhibition’s exploration of social, political and aesthetic changes occurring throughout Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East during the last 20 years, and a historical survey of Chinese animation.

APT7 will be accompanied by a wide-ranging suite of publications, online resources and educational material. For more information on the exhibition and artists visit www.qagoma.qld.gov.au/apt7

Winner Announced: National New Media Art Award

George Poonkhin Khut | Photograph: QAGOMA

New South Wales-based artist George Poonkhin Khut was today named the winner of the $75,000 National New Media Art Award for 2012.

George Poonkhin Khut’s winning entry Distillery: Waveforming 2012 consists of a clip-on heart monitor, tablet computer and a program that shows the viewer a visual interpretation of their beating heart.

The judging panel said Khut’s work poetically explored the interactions between the mind and body; and art and science. By visually displaying the viewer’s heartbeat the work instantly responds to their changing reactions, creating a continuous biofeedback loop.

The work was originally developed as a relaxation training system for managing the pain and anxiety experienced by children undergoing medical treatment. The judges commended Khut’s creative approach to experimental research, and the great potential it showed for other applications.

George Poonkhin Khut, Australia b. 1969 | Installation of Distillery: Waveforming (Portrait of Lian) | Photograph: QAGOMA
George Poonkhin Khut | Distillery: Waveforming (Portrait of Lian) 2012 | Still from video portraits of sitters interacting with heart rate controlled composition software for iPad | Photograph: Julia Pendrill Charles | Stylist: Troy Brennan | Photograph: Courtesy the artist
Distillery: Waveforming 2012 | Screen capture of heart rate controlled iPad app | Signal analysis software: Angelo Fraietta (Smart Controller) and Tuan M Vu; iOS visual effects software: Jason McDermott (ARUP Informatics), adapted from original code by Greg Turner | Photograph: Courtesy the artist | © The artist

The selection committee also highly commended Kirsty Boyle’s Tree ceremony, which they said engaged beautifully with the history and cultural implications of robotics; and Robin Fox’s CRT: homage to Léon Theremin, a subtle re-viewing of obsolete media, and a sophisticated yet playful interactive installation.

In addition to the main prize, the National New Media Art Award also incorporates the Queensland New Media Scholarship, which is now open for entries. This $25,000 travel and study scholarship for an emerging new media artist living and working in Queensland aims to foster and assist in developing aspects of creative practice in new media. Entries for the scholarship close on September 14 and the successful applicant will be announced on 22 October 2012.

You can view the award exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) until 4 November 2012 which is accompanied by a richly illustrated publication.

Dresden Dolls drop in


Amanda Palmer performance at the Gallery of Modern Art

Today, GOMA received a surprise visit from Amanda Palmer of Brechtian punk cabaret duo the Dresden Dolls. In Brisbane ahead of the Dolls’ show at The Tivoli tonight, Amanda threw one of her impromptu ‘ninja gigs’ on the Maiwar Green, to the delight of fans, and possibly the bewilderment of unsuspecting passers-by.

Armed with her trusty ukulele, she treated the crowd to her musings on pop art with ‘Gaga Palmer Madonna’ and a heartbreaking cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ before being joined by Dresden Dolls compatriot Brian Viglione for a rousing conga line version of their ‘Coin-Operated Boy’ and a touching finale of ‘Amazing Grace’.

Amanda was drawn to GOMA by global attention received by Yayoi Kusama’s The obliteration room installation over the past few days, thanks largely to design blog Colossal. Part of GOMA’s current survey exhibition ‘Yayoi Kusama: Look Now, See Forever’, The obliteration room played host to Amanda and a lucky group of colour-coded fans.

No stranger to the art world, Amanda recently recorded an audio guide for the exhibition ‘Degas and the Nude’ at the Museum of Fine Art in her part-time home town of Boston.

Installation views of The obliteration room 2011 as part of ‘Yayoi Kusama: Look Now, See Forever’, Gallery of Modern Art, 2011 / © Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc. / All photographs: Natasha Harth