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10 Socially Engaged Art Practitioners to Know: 7. Paul Chan

Paul Chan

Paul Chan was born in 1973 in Hong Kong and was raised in Omaha, Nebraska. He received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1996 and an MFA from Bard College in 2002. From the outset of his career, Chan has worked simultaneously as political activist and artist, known for such varied practices as his animated film projections and his invented fonts. The artist’s first major video piece, Happiness (Finally) After 35,000 Years of Civilization (After Charles Fourier and Henry Darger) (1999–2003), offers the realization and ultimate demise of the antiauthority utopia envisioned by 19th-century philosopher Charles Fourier. In 2002, at a time when US sanctions forbade working in Iraq, Chan spent a month in Baghdad with the aid group Voices in the Wilderness. Two years later, as a member of the collective “Friends of William Blake,” Chan helped create and distribute The People’s Guide to the Republican National Convention, a map for protesters that delineated the key RNC events. In Chan’s series of films Tin Drum Trilogy (2002–05), the artist addressed central issues to US culture and politics such as religion in the Bible Belt, former President George W. Bush, and America’s involvement in the Middle East. The double-channel digital animation My Birds . . .trash . . . the future (2004) borrows from a wide range of references including Revelations, William Blake, Biggie Smalls, Francisco Goya, and Samuel Beckett to present a world drowning in senseless violence. In his series The 7 Lights (2005–07), Chan transforms entire rooms with his large-scale projections of animated paper silhouettes, inviting the viewer into progressively hallucinatory, apocalyptic worlds. In 2007 Chan organized performances of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in the Lower 9th Ward and Gentilly neighborhoods of New Orleans. Chan has allocated a central role to the figure of the Marquis de Sade in his recent works like My laws are my whores (2008) and Sade for Sade’s Sake (2009), the latter of which was included in the Venice Biennale that year.

Solo exhibitions and screenings of Chan’s work have been organized by MOMA Film at the Gramercy Theater in New York (2003), the Hammer Museum of the University of California in Los Angeles (2005), Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston (2005), Blanton Museum of Art in Austin (2006), Portikus in Frankfurt (2006), Serpentine Gallery in London (2007), and Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (2007). His work has also been included in major group exhibitions such as the Carnegie International (2004), Lyon Biennale (2005), Whitney Biennial (2006), Istanbul Bienali (2007), Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation at the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (2007), Sydney Biennial (2008), and Venice Biennale (2009). Among several honors awarded to Chan, he has received a National Endowment for the Arts Development Fellowship from the College Art Association (2001), Lower East Side Printshop Van Lier Fellowship from The Andy Warhol Foundation (2001), and a Rockefeller Foundation new media arts fellowship (2003). He was the winner of the 2014 Hugo Boss Prize, and his solo exhibition The Hugo Boss Prize 2014: Paul Chan, Nonprojections for New Lovers was presented at the Guggenheim Museum in 2015. Chan lives and works in New York.

(Source: Paul Chan Guggenheim bio)

Photo courtesy School of Visual Arts

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