Home Arts Sin Wai Kin’s Films Challenge Gender Binaries and Italian Fascist Architecture

Sin Wai Kin’s Films Challenge Gender Binaries and Italian Fascist Architecture

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Videos may be a tough sell at fairs, but they can help grab the attention of major trendsetters – a strategy that has paid off for London-based Chinese-Canadian artist Sin Wai Kin, who is one of two recipients of this year’s award. Baloise Art Prize for presentations in the Statements section of Art Basel 2023.

Sin receives the $33,000 prize for his solo stand with London gallery Soft Opening, in which they show five 10-minute videos of characters, played by Sin, seated for portraits. Their heavily stylized appearances are based on costumes from Cantonese and Peking opera, while also referencing portraits of Frida Kahlo and Caravaggio.

Installation view of Sin Wai Kin: Portraits, Soft Opening, Art Basel 2023 – Statements

Photo: Mark Blower

Created in 1999, the Baloise Prize spotted talents such as Haegue Yang and Tino Sehgal early in their careers. Thanks to this prize, Sin’s work will be collected by the institutions MMK Frankfurt and Mudam in Luxembourg.

Sin’s is already a household name for many. The artist was nominated for last year’s Turner Prize, for which they showed the film A dream of fullness in parts (2021), which examines and distorts the perceived binaries of reality and fantasy, as well as performance and authenticity. Through their practice, nonbinary sin argues that these black-and-white constructs rely heavily on identity. “Growing up, the things that resembled my life were almost never depicted in realistic or traditional narratives, but more so in science fiction and fantasy,” they say. “I’ve always been interested in how a storyteller’s positionality defines whether their story is interpreted as fact or fiction.”

Sin Wai Kin’s dream the end (movie still) (2023)

© The artist. Courtesy of the artist and Fondazione Memmo, Rome

These themes are explored in more detail in an ongoing solo exhibition of Sin’s work at Fondazione Memmo in Rome, dream the end (until October 29). The show takes its name from a central film that depicts two characters, the Storyteller and the Builder, both played by Sin, who transform into each other and appear in theatrical costumes and make-up based on the movie. Cantonese opera. The film depicts a dreamlike state of suspended reality, and its inhabitants are shown struggling with questions of identity in relation to their names and gender identities.

Shot in Rome over four days, the film uses some of the Eternal City’s grandest sets, including the gardens of the Villa Medici. Among Sin’s many stylistic inspirations were 20th-century Italian filmmakers Dario Argento and Federico Fellini, who both directed famous works in the Italian capital. “Rome is not a city you can just bring your own story to,” Sin says. “It’s a city built on top of cities. Everywhere you turn there’s a monument of political gravity – art history is inescapable here.”

Sin Wai Kin’s dream the end (movie still) (2023)

© The artist. Courtesy of the artist and Fondazione Memmo, Rome

These towering legacies are of particular interest to Sin. “Italy is full of examples of how stories are cemented in architecture and art, which are then presented to us as the true or natural result of human culture – often without noticing it. is an example of how humans shape the context which in turn shapes us again.”

This concerns not only the ancient buildings of Rome, but also its fascist architecture. Speaking of one of the film’s sets, the Palazzo della Civilta Italiana, which is part of a larger complex initiated in 1935 by dictator Benito Mussolini, Sin says: “The rationalist style of architecture attempts to demonstrate an aesthetic of purity and logic without any emotion, and present it as an inevitability of history that it is really a front for violent and oppressive ideologies which are in fact illogical and based on fear, hatred and unchecked prejudices . In the film, I use the building as a facade for the inner world, in which constructed narratives and names are imposed, gender is binary, and the Change character must learn the rules of their context in order to survive before realize that there are other ways to exist.”

Sin Wai Kin’s Embodied image (2017)

Courtesy of the artist and Soft Opening, London
Photography: Theo Christelis

Also in the Memmo show are several busts wearing the wigs used in the movie, as well as a number of Sin’s signature makeup wipes, which bear the ghostly imprints of blush, eyeshadow, foundation, and of the lipstick they wore in the film. “I’ve been doing makeup remover wipes for as long as I’ve been doing drag,” Sin says. The artist cut his teeth on the London drag scene in the early 2010s, and although he no longer actively performs in drag, the culture still heavily influences his work. “These works mean many different things to me – an archive, a vestige or even a death mask of a performance that can never be repeated again.”

Much like the quasi-static portraits of Art Basel, the make-up wipes works break the fourth wall of Sin’s cinematic practice. “Revealing the construction of the thing, while presenting the thing, is exactly what flirting is,” Sin says, before returning, as they tend to do, to an overall storytelling preoccupation: “A Once we are aware of the act of storytelling in everything we do, we have the ability to change narratives.”

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