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Self-Criticism War After War

Beijing Inside-Out Art Museum

The exhibition Self-Criticism brings together several curator respondents and artist respondents acting concurrently as a provisional battlefront, each of which presents a project based on their own practices. Each of these projects speaks independently, while retaining a certain openness to the others. We will successively present them in the following weeks.

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War After War

Respondent / Artist: Simon Leung

War After War (2011), Simon Leung’s filmic meditation on his friend and collaborator Warren Niesłuchowski, serves as a companion piece to two other works by Leung on Niesłuchowski. Born to Polish refugee parents in a “displaced-persons camp” in Germany, Niesłuchowski immigrated to the United States with his family as a child. He became a deserter from the US Army during the Vietnam War, and lived in exile in France from 1968-1975. Warren Piece (in the ‘70s) (1993), simultaneously a portrait of Niesłuchowski during this period of his life and a retrospective look back at “Rooms”, the first exhibition at PS1, was made when Leung was an artist in residence at PS1 and Niesłuchowski was the assistant to Alanna Heiss, the institution’s director. Made as a rumination on the relationship between ‘aesthetic attitude’ and the ‘real life politics’ of the ‘60s into ‘70s, and certain biographical congruences between Warren and Vito Acconci (who was in “Rooms”), Warren Piece proposed considering desertion as “an ethics”—a trans-valuation of patriotism. It was through desertion and exile that Niesłuchowski became “Warren”—the multi-lingual Euro- American sophisticate who, for some, still performs ‘the spirit of the ’60s.’

In the early 2000s, when Niesłuchowski found himself no longer employed and without a home of his own, he began to live as a “professional houseguest” who depended, continually, on the kindness of friends and acquaintances to give him shelter. As if dictated by fate to return to the refugee conditions into which he was born, the various war stories in his life came back to the fore. It was then that Leung and Niesłuchowski resumed their collaboration. Towards the end of this near decade-long project, Leung invited Niesłuchowski to stay in the Penthouse of the Los Angeles MAK Center’s Mackey Apartments. This resulted in Artist in Residence (2011), conceived by Leung as a work or art where Niesłuchowski performs as an artist in residency in the MAK Center’s residency program, reflecting back on the original conditions of their initial meeting, while solving the practical problem of Niesłuchowski somewhere to stay.

In War After War, the work on view in this exhibition, the viewer follows Niesłuchowski, playing a version of himself, as he wanders through what seems to be a free-standing library of one of his hosts, where he reads, rest, sings “leftist songs” in several languages, and reflects on his collaborations with Leung over the past twenty years. Throughout the film are voiceover readings by Niesłuchowski’s former hosts from Immanuel Kant’s essay Perpetual Peace, which considers the possibility of a world beyond war. For Kant, “peace” is a difficult, if not impossible ideal, given that that “the state of nature is rather a state of War.” This is where Leung’s work steps in – taking its audience to the place where ethical ideals and war’s remains look upon themselves, where the viewer is left to consider war’s ramifications, and to imagine the (im)possibility of living otherwise, while contemplating the duty of hospitality to welcome the other.

Text by Simon Leung

About the Respondent / Artist

Simon Leung

Simon Leung was born in Hong Kong and lives in New York and Los Angeles. He is Professor of Art at the University of California, Irvine. His work has been presented at the Venice Biennale (2003), the Guangzhou Triennial (2008), the Generali Foundation (Vienna), Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art (Warsaw), NGBK (Berlin), Sala Mendoza (Caracas), the Whitney Biennial (1993), the Museum of Modern Art, MOCA (LA), and the Hammer Museum. Leung’s projects include an opera set in Griffith Park; a live/video performance addressing AIDS in the figure of the glory hole; a trilogy on “the residual space of the Vietnam War”; an extended proposal of Duchamp’s oeuvre as a discourse in ethics; a meditation on the site/non-site dialectic by way of Edgar Allan Poe; context-specific works centering on the squatting body; “art workers’ theater” addressing the intersection of art and labor; and a twenty-plus year collaboration with Warren Niesłuchowski.

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