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November 17, 2022–July 16, 2023
Paul Chan: Breathers, the artist’s first significant US museum exhibition in fifteen years, is on view at the Walker Art Center. Early in the 2000s, Chan—who was recently given the esteemed MacArthur Fellowship for 2022—became well-known for his bright moving picture works that explored themes of war, religion, pleasure, and politics. Around 2009, Chan left the art scene for what he called a “breather,” focusing instead on experimental publishing by starting the publisher Badlands Unlimited. This exhibition examines Chan’s efforts from that time to the present, using the idea of a “breather” as its organizing premise.
Breathers by Paul Chan begins with the avant-garde publications created by Badlands Unlimited, featuring a variety of paperbacks, e-books, zines, GIFs, protest posters, and books on stone tablets in sexual fiction, artists’ works, philosophy, and poetry, among other genres. The goal of Badlands Unlimited, which was founded in 2010, is to push the boundaries of publishing by experimenting with language, technology, design, and distribution networks. In 2012, Chan started to think more widely about the potential outcomes of releasing the moving image from the constraints of the frame and the screen. Electrical cords are plugged into a variety of surfaces and objects in his Arguments series (2012–2013), including walls, doors, furniture, and shoes filled with concrete. These were replaced by the Nonprojections (2013), which isolated the operating projector from any surface on which it could cast an image, their lights flickering. His newest explorations were built on the foundation of these pieces, which disrupted the normal functions of projection and animation.
The artist’s most recent works, the Breathers series, explore animation through sculptural forms made of nylon fabric figures and forms that are propelled by industrial fans. These works move the action of the moving image into real space and in relation to the people in it. With these kinetic installations, Chan has applied the same meticulousness to the choreography of motion as he did with the intricate animations from his early career. At the same time, the billowing forms convey a sense of openness and breath—a notion central to Chan’s life and career since 2009 and one that is amazingly astute in its relationship to our contemporary climate, as we all grapple with the ramifications of the pandemic, the proliferation of digital screens, and the profound and pervasive communal sense of burnout.
The exhibition is accompanied by a Walker-produced catalogue, created in close collaboration with Chan, with contributions by the artist, exhibition curator Pavel S. Pyś, and Vic Brooks, senior curator of time-based visual art at EMPAC, Troy, New York.
Pavel S. Pyś, curator, Visual Arts; with Matthew Villar Miranda, curatorial fellow, Visual Arts
Paul Chan in Conversation with Aruna D’Souza
Thursday, November 17, 6pm
Paul Chan will be joined by author Aruna D’Souza for a talk about his recently launched show Paul Chan: Breathers. Chan and D’Souza will examine the significance of upholding joy in work, finding energy and passion to experiment with new ways of making art, and the need of rest. They will choose as their starting point the “breather”—a self-imposed break to turn away from familiar ways of working.
Paul Chan: The Walker Art Center is in charge of putting on Breathers. Anonymous, Eleanor and Francis Shen, Candace Barasch, Martha Gabbert, and anonymous have all donated generously to make the exhibition possible. Girlfriend Fund, Greene Naftali, New York; Maja Oeri, Schaulager Basel; and a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of Walker Art Center publications all contributed to the show catalog’s creation.
Walker Art Center
725 Vineland Place
Minneapolis, MN 55403