Ma Qiusha @ Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art


Emoji summary: 🔪👅😰

lately I’ve been thinking about how The White Pube sits against other critics (by which i mean everyone with @ArtReview // @ArtMonthly in their bio); wondering what’s drawing people our way instead of theirs; asking what is our essence? Well the white pube has been called a new style of criticism. I can’t remember who or when but someone labelled our writing embodied criticism, which sounds very official but that’s it. We articulate the somatic experience of an exhibition, what happens when art-things are brought together in a special room, n write around the aesthetic ~ political ~ personal value they can offer a visitor. we focus on those takings more so than the value an exhibition can add to the museum/gallery/host by being associated with the artists involved, or what the art gives to critical value in general, in terms of the entire history of art & all the references that go over my head.

embodied criticism is clear in our reviews when we walk into an exhibition with things on our mind;; like when I wrote about Wu Tsang at the FACT after I’d just been to therapy; or the last time i came up here to middlesbrough institute of modern art for their shows last autumn. there, i was attributing panic attacks to my millennial freelance status and never seeing myself moving out of my parents house slash develop into an actual adult: so the art was triggering almost. u get a better example this time around though because for this week’s review i travelled to mima to see new exhibitions as well as their collection changeover,,,,,,,but I woke up in a travelodge with hot-cold nausea, strong magnetism to the bed and back pain. I did make it to mima once i had no choice but to check out of the hotel but i was hurting, like if you were to touch the tops of my arms I might flinch. Any bad health for me is always mental so I’d forgotten what it was like to have a bug tbh, i might have been dramatiqq.

but it made for a tender visit, i couldn’t believe I wasn’t in bed and i felt so so far away from home. although there was a lot on, I could only handle/feel/remember a few pieces by artist Ma Qiusha. and honestly, that’s ok. One was a large projected video of someone’s legs wearing ice skates on the back of a motorbike, the blades scraping their way along the tarmac. the legs sway so either side of the blades are worn down like u would sharpen knives,, just, the way the legs move is defeated and fluid. the action put forward the title of video All My Sharpness Comes From Your Hardness, video falling into its own emotion. I wondered if i watched long enough would the metal disappear but i needed to find somewhere to sit so off i went, wrapped up in my coat towards the only chair in the room. it was in front of a video of the artist square in front of a camera speaking in Chinese about how her parents had regretted her not being born a boy; how they had drilled into her the need to b exceptional and not like everyone else. her parents, she says, spent more than their salary getting her an accordion but when she wasn’t especially gifted at it, they put her in drawing classes. the video is called From No.4 Pingyuanli to No.4 Tianqiaobeili and it is uncut, grounded. Ma Qiusha’s tone throughout is urgent but diplomatic, like someone invisible is holding her back, like she knows this is just an art video and not a real speech to her mum and dad. She remembers her mum standing outside those drawing classes tho and berating her afterwards for the times she lost concentration and still, she sympathises with her parents’ aspirations as much as she didn’t want to have to handle the pressure. And! When she has said everything she needs to say, the camera zooms in a little and Ma Qiusha pulls something out of her mouth - and i watched it a few times trying to see what. at first I thought it was dark paper or card, and then a large razor?, but whatever it was had left her tongue bloody and so it could have been either.

there was a screen next to that video that i sat on the floor for, Must Be Beauty, a camera over the artist lying on a bed emptying bottles of moisturiser-creamy products into her mouth. (does it all gather at the back of her throat, is she actually swallowing it?). What i’d been thinking about, us as embodied critics - which was coming tru here sick and crumpled up on a gallery floor - was matched in embodied artist ingesting cosmetics/admitting a sad life/and cutting into a road with ice skates. Depressingly feminist, difficult and ambivalent actions with violence like entertainment or ritual. And as i mentioned there was a lot more art in the room but these 3 works were all that got to me - which I think was more about curation than not feeling well tbh. cause I think sometimes with museum-exhibitions I have selective hearing, only seeing what I think should be put out on the floor. When an exhibition is in a museum rather than a gallery, i find the limit to my stamina very quickly because I’m working to understand the art rather than what plays out in a spacey white cube gallery, where art happens to me and I don’t so much feel the need to figure anything out, i just feel time pass. does that make sense? something switches, the direction in which an experience happens. I’ve never acknowledged this before, that there might be a limit to the aesthetic experience of a museum-exhibition in a way the gallery-exhibition doesn’t have to fight for. bc a museum is more like a school, and a gallery closer to a stage; museums feel vertical, galleries horizontal. it FEELS worlds apart, feels, feels. and so when embodied criticism is how I taste the world, reviewing shows at mima can be difficult because it has museum vibes over gallery ones;; I’m trying to stretch my mouth around it and it’s not really working.

It’s mad how much architecture and space dressing can change how you see a video. but i was still so glad to be introduced to such a good and dangerous artist. i just think rather than a full room of art by Ma Qiusha to the point of retrospective, wouldn’t it more true to the artist to pull out the purest elements and offer the public an elevated, intense exhibition - but thats because with art that day i wanted an experience instead of an education. if I’d have gone the day before, it might have been the other way around.

the artists legs hang down from the back of a car, and she is wearing ice skates that scrape against the road as the car moves, and the video is being shown on a projection screen in the middle of a dark gallery space

the artist on a CRT screen with a blunt hair cut and fringe

the artist lies back on a bed surrounded by pots and potions