Paul Chan: Breathers

Paul Chan: Breathers

Walker Art Center

Courtesy of Walker Art Center, 2022. Marcel Duchamp, quoted by Calvin Tomkins during an interview with Paul Chan. Excerpted from Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews, published by Badlands Unlimited, 2013.

November 7, 2022
Paul Chan: Breathers
November 17, 2022–July 16, 2023
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The Walker Art Center presents Paul Chan: Breathers, the artist’s first major US museum exhibition in 15 years. Chan, who was recently awarded the prestigious 2022 MacArthur Fellowship, came to prominence in the early 2000s with vibrant moving image works that touched on aspects of war, religion, pleasure, and politics. Around 2009, Chan embarked on what he described as a “breather” from the art world, turning his attention to experimental publishing by founding the press Badlands Unlimited. Taking the notion of a “breather” as its organizing principle, this exhibition surveys Chan’s activities since his voluntary break from that point to the present.

Paul Chan: Breathers opens with the radical publications produced by Badlands Unlimited, including selections of paperbacks, e-books, zines, GIFs, protest signs, and books on stone tablets across such genres as erotic fiction, artists’ writings, philosophy, and poetry. Badlands Unlimited was established in 2010 with the vision to challenge and expand the possibilities of publishing through experimentations with language, technology, design, and networks of circulation. In 2012, Chan began considering the possibilities that could result from freeing the moving image from the screen and the confines of the frame more broadly. His Arguments series (2012–2013) feature electrical cords plugged into a spectrum of objects and surfaces, from walls and doors to furniture to concrete-filled shoes. These gave way to the Nonprojections (2013), which separated the working projector—its lights flickering—from any surface onto which it could illuminate an image. These works, which broke the natural processes of projection and animation, laid the groundwork for his newest explorations.

The artist’s latest works, the Breathers series, explore animation through sculptural forms composed of nylon fabric figures and forms that are set in motion by industrial fans, shift the action of the moving image into real space and in connection with the people in it. Chan has taken the same precision to the choreography of motion with these kinetic installations as with the intricate animations of 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.

Curatorial team
Pavel S. Pyś, curator, Visual Arts; with Matthew Villar Miranda, curatorial fellow, Visual Arts

Exhibition tour
Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU: September 8, 2023–January 7, 2024
Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis: March 8–August 11, 2024

Related event
Paul Chan in Conversation with Aruna D’Souza
Thursday, November 17, 6pm
Walker Cinema

Join Paul Chan for a discussion about his newly opened exhibition Paul Chan: Breathers with writer Aruna D’Souza. Taking as their starting point the “breather”—a self-imposed break to turn away from familiar ways of working—Chan and D’Souza will explore the importance of maintaining joy in work, finding energy and enthusiasm to experiment with new ways of creating art, and the importance of rest.

Paul Chan: Breathers is organized by the Walker Art Center. The exhibition is made possible with generous support from Candace Barasch, Martha Gabbert, Eleanor and Francis Shen, and anonymous. Support for the exhibition catalogue is provided by 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. 

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November 7, 2022

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