If we consider an artwork a thing that inherently contains various sets of relationships, constellations of ideas, ways of making, and genealogies, then my work here is to suggest a few connecting threads that weave through these already overlapping and interconnected worlds. My selection of works for FIAC doesn’t follow an overarching theme, logic, or historical narrative, but there are a few running themes that connect different artist practices and strands of thinking with each other.

One of these threads is abstraction, but not a hard-edge, historically modernist approach to form and function. In this case, abstraction is intimately related to body politics. Artists like Sadie Benning, Yang Jiechang, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, and Lucy Skaer engage in abstract ways of making and offer counter-narratives to historically modernist approaches. For other artists like Deborah Segun, Pamela Rosenkranz, Suki Seokyeong Kang, non-figurative representation becomes a way to sensorially navigate issues of identity, and present a transfeminist poetics of the body through movement, curve, and color.

Another trail through this selection is focusing on artworks that more directly with the politics of representation and bodily visibility. Works by Lyle Ashton Harris, Haegue Yang, and Liliana Porter explore alternative representations of the body as a means to intervene, reclaim, or hijack ideologies that oppress alterity or “otherness.” These works task us to interrogate how identity is constructed through our relational experiences with others, and artists like Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Julien Creuzet, and Anne Imhof particularly consider how life is animated through movement and performance.

A third thread that weaves through this constellation of works is an interest in “fringe” intellectual movements, mysticism, and schools of thought that operate outside of mainstream intellectual history like academic philosophy and other Europeanist disciplines. Drawing inspiration from alternative histories of spirituality, ritual, and magic, artists like Gertrude Abercrombie, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Guo Fengyi evoke symbolic representations of the body as shadow, gesture, vocal utterance, and vessel. In doing so, these artists also interrogate the politics of cross-cultural contact, exchange, and consumption from the perspective of the fringe or subaltern.

I hope you enjoy my selection and have a great visit at FIAC Online Viewing Rooms.

X Zhu-Nowell

X Zhu-Nowell
X Zhu-Nowell is an Assistant Curator at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Currently, they are working with artist Wu Tsang on a large-scale film installation specially designed for the Guggenheim’s rotunda space. Conceived in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, this project will be part of a series that rethinks the Guggenheim’s iconic rotunda as a site of assembly, reflection, and amplification. Zhu-Nowell joined the museum in 2014 as part of the curatorial team for the major survey exhibition, Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, and managed its subsequent tours to SFMOMA and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. They are one of the founding curators for the museum’s Asian Art Circle (est. 2019), an acquisition group dedicated to facilitating the museum’s ongoing efforts to diversify and strengthen its programming and collection, through a concerted focus on the contributions of emerging and established artists from Asia and Asian Diaspora. Within this initiative, Zhu-Nowell is also responsible for programming the annual performance program, Asian Art Circle Presents. This public program initiative provides a institutionally supported platform for Asian artists, especially those that have traditionally underrepresented intersectional identities, and whose individual artistic practices often cast them to the fringes of dominant historical narratives. They also leads Frameworks, a curatorial working group within the curatorial department, as a think tank dedicated to (re)considering dominant notions of curatorial practice and discourse, underlining the importance of decoloniality and transfeminist thought. Zhu-Nowell served as a member of the writing group that drafted Guggenheim Museum’s DIVERSITY, EQUITY, ACCESS, AND INCLUSION (DEAI) ACTION PLAN and currently serving on the inaugural DEAI committee to facilitate and lead the implementation effort of such plan.

Prior to joining the Guggenheim Museum in 2014, they were part of the curatorial team for the 14th Istanbul Biennial SALTWATER: A Theory of Thought Forms and held curatorial positions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Sullivan Galleries and the Hyde Park Art Center. They hold a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since 2018, X Zhu-Nowell has collaborated with the musicologist Frederick Cruz Nowell as Passing Fancy, a curatorial and artistic research duo.

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