Radical Symmetry

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Elisabeth de Brabant Art Center , 299 Fuxing Xi Lu Every day except Monday Free

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In one of the projections of ‘Radical Symmetry’, an experimental film installation by US-based artist Leslie Thornton showing at the Elisabeth de Brabant Gallery this month, a black parrot is observed through two ‘binocular’ lenses. While the left eye remains trained on the bird, the right splices the image, projecting it into a kaleidoscopic vision. As the parrot ruffles its feathers, the image on the right blooms into an inky flower.

This is not the first time Thornton - a professor at Brown University whose work is part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection in New York – has visited China. She was originally here in 1983 making Adynata, a 30-minute film set in 1861 about a Chinese Mandarin and his wife that explored and challenged Western fantasies about the Orient.

Feminism and post-colonialism are familiar themes in Thornton’s works (she’s perhaps best known for Peggy and Fred in Hell, her self-described ‘lifetime project’), which engage with viewers through a media medley: video, photography, film and installation, and ‘Radical Symmetry’ extends her central themes using animals.

The parrot is one of a collection of creatures – including a writhing snake, scuttling ants and a zebra (which is shown only by its backside) – Thornton’s lens renders in intimate portraiture. ‘It makes sense that today a number of artists and writers are examining the animal world and our relation to other living beings,’ says Thornton of her work.

By studying the animals in minutiae, Thornton arrests the viewer – or voyeur – entering a discourse about animals as the ‘new other’. ‘[Animals are] the new victims of post multi-culturalism and globalisation,’ she says. ‘But it’s all the same thing in a way, a discourse on power, vulnerability, the unknown, the oppressed, difference, loss, growth and resilience.’

Nicola Davison

Radical Symmetry is at the Elisabeth de Brabant Gallery from Thursday 26 April.

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Date: Every day except Monday
Time: Midday-6.30pm
Event admission: Free
Event website: http://www.elisabethdebrabant.com
Venue name: Elisabeth de Brabant Art Center
Open: Midday- 6.30pm tues-Sun
Admission: Free
Metro: Shanghai Library
English address: 299 Fuxing Xi Lu, near Huashan Lu, Xuhui district
Chinese address: 徐汇区复兴西路299号,近华山路