For our first project in Shanghai, Special Special presents Cyber Garden to inaugurate the pop-up space adjacent to the gift shop on the main floor of the new Museum of Art Pudong. Inspired by nostalgia for early millennial internet café culture, Special Special activates the museum with a 2540 sq ft (236 sq meter) installation that features collaborations with artists from around the world. Cyber Garden invites viewers to wonder at the generative fusion between the natural and the synthetic by traversing an immersive experience comprising eight digital art projects, including a virtual reality installation by Sebastian Masuda, and a retail shop that allows visitors to purchase accessible art editions for the everyday.
The pop-up is outfitted with Special Special’s custom furniture designs, which combines pastoral nature and cyberpunk, incorporating bonsai, cacti, and lily pad botanical varieties shaped from acrylic. The installation invites us to ponder how gardening metaphors can nurture different understandings of the history of the World Wide Web. Cyber Garden conceptualizes the internet as a sprawling garden of many paths, where files need “pruning” and “weeding”, and ideas need to be “cultivated”. Nestled amongst floral outgrowth, the collaborative technologies on view encapsulate Special Special’s dream of an internet café overgrown with simulated nature—a forking, multilayered repository for different creative nodes to come together.
The central fixture includes modular stations that invite viewers to sit and engage with seven digital projects. The installation builds upon Special Special’s ongoing “Show and Tell” program, a series of monthly digital exhibitions delivered straight to subscribers’ inboxes that began in 2019. For the first time, visitors will be able sit down and experience the projects in an ambient, immersive environment.
Featured digital projects include Max Bittker’s Sandspiel, a falling sand game that welcomes viewers to layer fire, water, fungus, and seeds together to compose an unpredictable tableau; Laurel Schwulst’s Flight Simulator, a relaxing app that pays poetic tribute to Airplane Mode, a new work featuring an in-flight entertainment system curated by the artist; and Recessed by Heidi Latsky and Maya Man, a dance-driven, browser-based experience that magnifies the isolation felt over the pandemic through an intimate arrangement of movement on screen.
Also on view is artist duo ZZYW’s open game system ThingThingThing, in which 3D avatars created during workshops co-exist, interact, and evolve in a collective worldbuilding process, and Will Doenlen’s Hot Air, a calendar app that releases the rigid structure of a productive life into a more natural way of being. Then there is Lullatone & Jono Brandel’s Typatone, a text-to-music editor. In Liu Chang’s Random Walker - Encounter, an interactive video installation, two screens are placed back-to-back in the cyber café. On each screen, flickering, morphing imagery of what is filmed on the other side gradually appears, creating unexpected encounters and reflections on socially-constructed boundaries.
Cyber Garden includes the world premiere of Sense Share Bear, a VR piece by Sebastian Masuda, the Japanese artist known for his whimsical reinvention of kawaii culture. The large-scale VR installation invites visitors to virtually create a colorful installation with their hands, and to haptically interact with a lonely toy bear in the physical setup.
Cyber Garden also features a retail shop, which completes the simulation of Special Special’s hybrid New York art space. Viewers will be able to peruse Special Special’s playful art editions in Shanghai for the first time, including Cardan Grille bookmark, Small Medium Big Ideas Notebook Set, and Tubers, a series of felt planters produced in collaboration with artist Benjamin Langford from the previous year’s exhibition in New York. Additional products will also debut at MAP—cyber-inspired accessories, lifestyle items, and even a Collector’s Toolkit in collaboration with Avant Arte—accoutrements for art collectors, internet café aficionados, and everyone in between.
All new products launched at MAP will be also available for purchase on Special Special’s WeChat store and specialspecial.com.
Cyber Garden is on view at Museum of Art Pudong, No. 2777, Binjiang Avenue, Pudong New Area, Shanghai, China, through November 1, 2021.
Special Special is pleased to present Special Special Shopping Network, a series of programming that takes inspiration from the culture of televised home shopping networks like QVC and Youtube unboxing videos to present product demonstrations, unscripted talk shows, and experimental performances through the medium of video.
Prepare for a spectrum of awkward self-promotion, tacky displays, and low-definition commodity fetish, all at Special Special and artist’s studios turned makeshift sets. Special Special has transformed into a TV studio, complete with microphones, lights, and an artificial backdrop, to produce programming for our technologically-dependent times. All products are available for sale in-store and online at specialspecial.com.
Special Special founder Wen-You Cai will host guests including: Yi Xin Tong, Use Value, Aria McManus, and Lu Zhang. Tune into Special Special’s IGTV or Youtube channel to watch each episode in the series.
Special Special is pleased to present Late Summer, Benjamin Langford’s first solo exhibition with the gallery. Langford transforms the space with large-scale, illusionistic sculptures that bloom and drape across the walls, including vines, leaves, and fauna in various stages of growth. The artist photographs found plants in high resolution, prints them on canvas, then hand-cuts and reassembles them into soft sculptures. The finished works invite viewers to examine their odd shapes, realistic textures, and minute details otherwise easily dismissed.
As with each exhibition, Special Special has also worked with the artist to produce a functional art edition. For Late Summer, the gallery collaborated with Langford to create felt planters entitled “Tubers”. The planters come in two varieties—either turnips or sunchokes—each available in editions of 200. Often taking form as enlarged, edible structures beneath the soil surface, tubers function as storage organs for nutrients in some plant species. The hyperreality of the planters, which look like tuberous roots, distorts the perception of the real plants living inside them to play with the boundaries between the container and contained.Together, Langford’s sculptures and usable planters envelop the viewer in a wondrous simulacrum of nature. The exhibition brings together the transitional nature of late summer with its material metaphor, the tuber. Summer’s end is characterized by intense heat, pests and blight, thick stagnant air. The season is punctuated by afternoon thunderstorms, undergoing the last spurt of growth before harvest time. This frenetic, pent-up energy draws a parallel to the destabilizing social-political reality that is currently unraveling, as life becomes irrevocably marked by a prolonged public health crisis and civil unrest. In response, many turn inwards to learn and unlearn, to heal and to transform. Rather than escape, introspection offers the opportunity for self-nurturing and collective cultivation.
Langford developed this body of work during quarantine, while caring for his houseplants as a grounding exercise. Just like the way tuberous roots are buried humbly in the earth, turning the last of summer’s bountiful energy into nutrients, the artist’s emphasis on small gestures of care towards the self and nature is driven by feelings of hope and optimism towards the future.
Special Special will also launch the gallery’s first Plant Residency to coincide with Late Summer. The residency selects individuals to leave plants at the gallery that remind them of someone for a short duration, where they will receive water, care, and an accolade on their CV.
Benjamin Langford (b. 1992) is an artist and photographer who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York and graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2014. He was born in Connecticut but grew up in London and subsequently Singapore, which exposed him to a diverse range of cultural influences from a young age. Traces of these cities, with their different gardening traditions and plant species, can be found in his work, which centers on contemporary representations of nature and the hyperreal.
Exhibition has been extended through August 31, 2020. Open by appointment!
Special Special is pleased to announce Artists’ Tools, a group exhibition showcasing the innovative devices created by artists to aid in their creative practice or in daily life. Custom, handcrafted, repurposed, or created through assemblage, these tools can be considered artworks in their own right. Artists’ Tools features contributions from 32 artists working in a variety of mediums across fields of art, design, and technology. Featured tools include a string necklace that serves as a measurement device, a self-driving gallery pedestal, and a teapot that doubles as an audio synthesizer.
Special Special will also introduce a limited edition of works on paper in collaboration with James Chrzan. Created daily throughout the course of the exhibition, each site-specific drawing is produced by a hygrothermograph, recording changes in the temperature and humidity inside the gallery over a 24-hour period.
For Artists’ Tools, the gallery space is transformed into a pegboard-clad and studio-inspired setting, serving as a backdrop for viewers to discover these imaginative, playful, and functional objects.Featured artists include Agnes Fries & Giada Montomoli, Beka Goedde, Brett Gui Xin, Britt Moseley, Cevahir Özdoğan, Che-Wei Wang, Conor Klein, Del Hardin Hoyle, Dier Zhang, Half–Wet, Hannah Wnorowski, Izzy Van den Heuvel, James Chrzan, Kevin Abosch, Kunning Huang, Lorraine Li, Ludovic Namin, Marianne Vieulès, Martie Holmer, Max Spitzer, Northy Chen, Patrick Carlin Mohundro, Sebastián Morales & Tiri Kananuruk, Sofía Clausse, Songyi Kim, Steph Mantis, Tim Simonds, Vincent Kosellek, Winslow Funaki, Yin Ming Wong.
As part of the group exhibition Tie Me Up! Lock Me Down! Special Special hosted a series of performances, “Tie Me Up! Cam Shows,” in collaboration with Wildman Clab.
“Tie Me Up! Cam Shows” twists internet broadcast culture into an art form, playing with notions of spectatorship and voyeurism. The series consisted of several artist performances inspired by the themes in Tie Me Up! Lock Me Down!, including imagined psychic space, the composite nature of selfhood, and virtual/actual spectatorship. Special Special set up multiple cameras within the space, and the live streamed across Instagram and YouTube.
This was the fifth project in the poetry/performance series The Frontiers Conference, organized by Wildman Clab at Special Special.
January 25, 2020
12:00 pm—ASMR Chinese Banquet Mukbang
The Special Special staff and friends consumed 100 dumplings as we celebrated the new year of the rat.
6:00–7:00 pm—Mia Kerin
Mia Kerin performed Number 1, a site-specific piece taking place in the world of Tie Me Up! Lock Me Down!, mediating on the art of being prepared.
January 26, 2020
4:00–5:00 pm—Kristen Lee
Kristen Lee’s demonstrated shibari, a decorative knot-tying practice associated with erotic bondage.
Taj’s performance assessed relationships with past lovers while seeking solace in the pleasure found in loving oneself through movement and the luxuriousness of chocolate.