August 22, 2019
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Reality-bending exhibition by Argentinian conceptual artist opens in Beijing

By Jesus Centeno

Beijing, Jul 19 (efe-epa).- A pool full of people who remain dry and breathe without problem or an apartment block where people walk through the facade are some of the optical illusions Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich uses to blow up reality and question established order in an exhibition that has opened in Beijing.

Until Aug. 28, the Art Museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in the Chinese capital will display around 20 works of the renowned conceptual artist, who often adopts the characteristics of the cultural environment of the place they are exhibited.

When in London, he fooled the eye with a huge mirror suspended in front of the facade of a Victorian house, while in Beijing, he has opted for a "Chinatown," which serves as a meeting point of cultures.

Erlich, born in Buenos Aires in 1973, tells EFE during the inauguration of the exhibition that Chinese culture was "exported and transformed" and that he seeks to bring it back in an already "distorted" form.

"The building has a distinct identity: it is Western, but in a Chinese neighborhood. I was looking for an unusual situation," he says.

The exhibition, titled "The Confines of the Great Void," includes one of his most famous works, "La Piscina" (Swimming Pool), with which he represented Argentina at the Venice Biennale in 2001.

From the outside, the visitor sees people walking underwater, as if it were nothing. From the pool, which is empty inside but covered by a thin sheet of glass, the visitor sees how they are observed, turning the audience into an actor and interpreter of their own experience, which can generate bewilderment and even claustrophobia.

"Emotions have a life of their own. I have seen people reading in this space with the peace of a dreamed place," says Erlich, who creates his works under the premise of questioning reality as we know it.

He argues that to arouse feelings of strangeness, there must be a pre-existing concept of familiarity: "It is not possible otherwise. Destabilization cannot be generated if something is completely alien to us. There must be closeness to achieve distance and the possibility of bringing about a rupture."

The visitor passes through rooms that link everyday elements, but which turn out to be visual paradoxes.

"There is a lot in our daily life that has to do with anticipation. Believing that things are going to be in a certain way. However, in my work, one revisits elements that you think you know and that are transformed and destabilize us. From there starts a new story and every work has a different one," he says.

Although some may sense an intent to confuse with visual tricks, Erlich says that there is no intention to deceive, because although there is a trick, it is in plain sight, waiting to be discovered.

His intention is merely to propose games of perception "to challenge our comfort zones" and offer an opportunity to "rethink everyday life" as well as "everything that reassures us but limits us.”

To move forward, face challenges and break out of the daily grind, it is necessary to "do away with the known and imagine other horizons," the Argentinian argues.

Challenging political correctness using works of a playful and participatory nature is the way conceptual artists have managed to seduce many around the world, given that, according to the artist, "human perception is a common denominator and does not change according to culture."

After his exhibition drew over half a million visitors in Japan last year, Erlich views China as a unique opportunity.

"It is a world power that has grown enormously. Culturally, I sense a great eagerness to push the limits of things that have slowed down in the West," he says.

"It has to do with a historic moment, this boom that has left many young people interested in contemporary art," he adds.

During the inauguration of the exhibition, Argentina’s ambassador to China Diego Ramiro Guelar emphasized it is the largest-ever solo exhibition by an artist from the country in China, and an "example of the maturity" of bilateral ties.

It is also the first time that a massive 18,000 square meters (193,750 feet) of the Chinese academy is devoted entirely to a non-Chinese artist, thanks to a collaboration between the National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires and its counterpart in the Asian country. EFE-EPA

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