CH'IEN CHIEN
Nørrebro, Copenhagen
infoøchienchien.org

THE INAUGURAL CH'IEN CHIEN SHOW, BY TOMAS RYDIN (SE/UK)
open by appointment from 19.10.17 - 21.12.17, closing event 22.12.17

Exhibitions staged in a private flat, public only by appointment and through occasional private dinners and gatherings, could always be perceived (and even disregarded) as highly exclusive
Fair enough
But even though Ch’ien Chien is exactly that - exhibitions staged in a private flat, public only by appointment and through occasional private dinners and gatherings - exclusivity is the last thing it wishes to achieve
In fact, it aims for the opposite
Ch’ien Chien uses a format that everyone can follow
In this sense, it is democratic, not exclusive
Nevertheless, it could easily come to be seen as an exclusive club if precautions are not taken

Luckily, there are several strategies to avoid the precious yet constricting etui of perceived exclusivity
For example, one could make so bad PR that no one gets to hear about the shows, making sure the whole thing is forgotten before no one even gets to know about it - let alone has the chance to remember it
Still, the lack of communication could again be seen as a sign of exclusivity, and there’s also the ghastly risk of a curator who at some point in the future might “rediscover” the whole thing and make a career out of it (the risk is admittedly small, but you can’t be too careful in this day and age, now can you?)

Another option could be to make sure no one wants what is offered
According to the theory of supply and demand, a product is exclusive when the demand is high but the supply low
If you instead make sure to arrange loads of exhibitions (high supply) that no one wants to see (no demand), they wouldn’t be exclusive at all
If anything, they’d be pretty ridiculous
Appealing as this ridiculous solution may seem, the first exhibition is already installed, it already looks great, and people are sure to soon be queuing around the block to see it, so it’s not really an option anymore

The third and golden middle way is to make the supply and demand meet on an equal level of glorious abundance, high up in the Himalayas of free market capitalism, where people crave en masse for mass produced products, and where both the supply and demand are reaching for the skies, towering high up into the clouds where they make love in sweet harmony
Surely this is best and most democratic way to do anything at all
But by this standard too, Ch’ien Chien would be nothing but a massive failure
For this is the market-controlled land of plenty, ruled with a transparent iron fist, an invisible but firm hand, comfortably clogging the mainstream like an entire shoal of dead great whites
Like McDonalds, just to mention one of many examples
But then again, McDonalds is also not for everyone
Nothing is, obviously, and neither is a private flat
If it were, it wouldn’t be private

To complicate things even further, a private flat comes with its own specific constrictions
It is located in a residential building, and it is, by definition, private
To open the show by appointment only is one strategy to make sure it stays that way, and it probably should, for we wouldn’t want to completely break down the good ol’ public-private binaries, now would we?
After all, this flat is not Facebook
It is also not on Airbnb, and neither will it be, at least not under its current owner
In fact, staging this kind of semi-private exhibitions in one’s flat is to very actively not rent it out on Airbnb
It is to use the asset of an extra room to accumulate cultural rather than monetary capital
And to be able to stay on the sane and sound side of all the crap of today, the relative low-keyness of Ch’ien Chien is key - not the least in order not to disturb the relative harmony of the housing cooperative in which it is located

Having mentioned all of this, I’d also like to add that staging shows in a private flat, public only by appointment and through occasional dinners and gatherings, could in fact prove to be one of the most democratic ways of exhibiting art
Everyone can do it, and everyone has the equal right to own a flat big enough to actually do it
At least if you do it low key enough to make sure not to break the statutes of the housing cooperative - or at least not get caught breaking them
All you need to do is to either have or be able to borrow enough money to buy the flat in the first place
Or buy a first hand contract on the black market
And everyone, rich and poor alike, has the same right to make that amount of money
Which is all very democratic, of course

In the capital of Denmark, where the flat of Ch’ien Chien is snuggly located in the hip neighbourhood of Nørrebro (surely you have read about its multicultural vibe and natural bars in Vice Magazine, The Guardian or The New York Times), there are more adults who are allowed to own a flat than are allowed to vote in the Danish national elections
Unless you manage to become a citizen through passing all sorts of ridiculous “cultural tests” aimed at checking your Danishness, all of them carefully designed for you not to pass (you know the hunger games? These tests seem rigged in pretty much the same way), you are not allowed to vote
But even if you can’t vote, you will have no problem buying property in Denmark as a foreigner
In its own way, this makes real estate ownership more democratic than parliamentary democracy
This should also make an exhibition space run in a privately owned flat more democratic than any public art gallery

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For the past 10 years, after leaving his native Sweden, Tomas Rydin has managed to keep working in relative low-keyness in London, the epicentre of global real estate speculation
The Inaugural Ch’ien Chien Show, his first exhibition in Denmark, is his first solo show since the installing of a series of anti-climb paintings (the untreated canvases left all but bare, showing only minor and seemingly random traces of the sticky, oily paint) in an office-turned-artist-studio at Rua de Arroios in Lisbon (2015) – a downplayed yet meticulously precise show, marketed neither through e-flux nor through a flattened out Contemporary Art Daily avatar of itself
The Lisbon show as well as the current Copenhagen one, both taking place outside established art institutions, could also be seen as continuations of his installation of posters throughout the medina in Tangier (2010), his display of a series of home made plasterboards in a second hand furniture store located next door to his studio (2014-2015), his vacuum cleaner sound performance in the flat of Ellen Wettmark, then the Swedish Counsellor for Cultural Affairs in London (2017), and his on-going practice with Rollaversion Gallery (2013-)
Despite their scarcity, none of these rare occasions are even the tiniest bit exclusive
And then again, they are scarce in relation to what exactly?
After all, everyone can make his or her own plasterboards
Everyone can put up posters all over a Moroccan medina
Everyone has the right to get a place with a backyard
And just like everyone can build a shed in his or her backyard, every shed can be a gallery if you tweak it right

A mere 2,5 kilometres from the Square Mile, Tomas Rydin is running Rollaversion Gallery in a shed in the backyard of his studio and home, located in one of East London’s few remaining former factories that are yet to be converted into luxury flats - or torn down to make space for new “developments”
With the extreme demographic effects of the even more extremely democratic practice of global real estate speculation (in which everyone has the equal right to participate) closing in around it, Rollaversion has managed to hold its ground, keeping its minimal yet vital program above the rising sea level of an increasingly hostile London
The gallery is still going strong and stable on its fourth year while other, bigger (yet modestly mid-sized in the grander scale of things) local galleries such as M.O.T., Limoncello, and Vilma Gold have gone under in an aggressive gallery crunch (surely you have read about “the death of the mid-size gallery” in a never-ending series of lamenting articles in artnet news)
So while other galleries have been forced to close because of the soaring rents of the speculative London property market and the increasing overhead costs of running a gallery in a winner-takes-it-all-and-opens-an-art fair kind of art world, Rollaversion has managed to stay afloat through its size (4m2), format (shed), and, of course, through the no bullshit attitude of its hardworking director
And don’t underestimate its size
The size does count
For just like everything else, economies of scale go both ways

The Inaugural Ch’ien Chien Show, by Tomas Rydin (SE/UK) is yet another example of the artist’s exercises in quotidian humbleness and often seemingly non-institutional (or is it extra institutional?) art thinking
The mundane, not the spectacular
The downplayed, not the bombastic
The private and the public, not the institution and the institutionalized
The dealing with things, not the art of the deal
Without being too unfair to it, the show could be described simply through listing the things it consists of
Through its materials
Through a list of materials conveying if not the meaning of the show, then at least the context in which this meaning could possibly be found
For the show is an inornate list of modest materials - balcony pot holders, plasterboards, shelf track, shelf bracket, covered aluminium plate, anti-climb paint, electricity cable, track light rail, usb cable, bluetooth loudspeaker, sound recordings of vacuum cleaners - but somehow, one sticks out
The one that doesn’t dry

Anti-climb paint is a paint used to prevent climbing on objects such as lampposts, drainpipes, walls and fences
It is similar to smooth gloss paint when applied but remains slippery indefinitely, thereby preventing any intruder from gaining a foothold
It owes its effectiveness to the fact that it is based on non-drying oil and keeps the surface greasy and slippery
As an additional advantage, it leaves its mark on the person touching it and hence makes it possible for intruders to be identified

Anti-climb paint is a very English thing, applied to walls all over the island Kingdom that Tomas Rydin has adopted as his home
Since it’s England we’re talking about, the vast majority of these walls are obviously made out of bricks
Since it’s England we’re talking about, and since the English absolutely love decorating brick walls with signs (many signs, as many signs as possible, as many as badly designed signs as possible), every wall with anti-climb paint must also sport a sign saying “WARNING Anti-climb paint”
And since it’s England we’re talking about, just to frame the thing in the best possible way, walls are often decorated with some sort of barbed wire, or (if the wall belongs to a more crafty person who likes expressing him or herself through home decoration), with pieces of broken glass
Where they get the glass from is a mystery to me - it is, after all, a country where the rare wine drinker would not drink wine from bottles but wine surrogate from boxes, and where the beer is always flowing, but from cans and taps, not bottles - but this is a bit beside the point
The point is that Anti-climb paint is used as a measure of property protection, a sport which although being global may very well be considered one of England’s national sports, second only to fox hunting

But while fox hunting is a sport of the elite, property protecting is fundamentally democratic
Everyone has the equal right to own property
Everyone has the equal right to protect his or her property
Everyone has the equal right to erect walls for this purpose
And everyone has the equal right to cover those walls with anti-climb paint
In fact, walls are among the most democratic things ever invented
Walls keep people away from each other, and protect society from unnecessary social friction
Here, anti-climb paint plays an important role
It is the glue that keeps society together
And that glue must never dry

 

Text by Henning Lundkvist