Rania Ho: ASMR Olympics

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Horse Racing


Skeet Shooting

Rania Ho:

As a kid, I was really into the Olympic Games, and especially gymnastics. When I was 12 years old, my parents went on a three-week trip and while they were away, my sisters and I recorded 100 hours’ worth of VCR tapes of the Winter Olympic games for them, ice skating and skiing. Of course, they never watched it.


Does the spectacle of sports affect your art practice? One of your early works, Ho Fatso (2005), was an installation of inflatable fat suits for fun and competitive wrestling. The work subverts the spectacle of sports and the athleticism of the action.


Possibly. Donning the fat suits made people feel magical, and temporarily changed their physical existence in the world. And yes, elite athletics are inherently spectacular and performative, which is why it is tragic for the athletes that there are no audiences in Tokyo. I was talking to climber friends about this new Olympic sport climbing competition. I don’t understand how it works, but they told me that they don’t understand it either. Then I realized that competition rules are arbitrary. It’s actually bizarre and irrational to have two people who can do the same interesting thing with their bodies (diving with very little splashing, or doing double flips in the air). It’s even more bizarre for others to judge this arbitrary skill that these athletes work so hard to “perfect.”


Maybe by setting up rules, it creates yet another degree of abstraction—from scrambling on rocks out in nature to climbing as a competitive sport. This project you made for Heichi’s Olympic Reveries is a rendering of sports commentary as quiet and soothing whispers. Can you tell us about it?


The Olympics are a very loud, spectacular athletic event. There is nothing wrong with pure sport and athletes competing, but the Olympics have also historically been used to whip people into a frenzy and promote nationalism. I thought I would try to subvert this kind of pageantry, and play with a quieter understanding of what those athletes are actually doing.


I feel your artistic practice, spanning installation, action, organizing art spaces, and small-scale events, revolves around the idea of deconstructing the spectacle. The modus operandi of the space you cofounded—Arrow Factory (2008-2019), a 15-square-meter, artist-run storefront space in the old town of Beijing—was “small is the new big,” which differentiated grassroots practice from the pre-2008 hype of contemporary art in Beijing.


My impulse is to play with forms and to undermine some basic foundations in a way that hopefully transforms them into something else. For example, I’ve been doing small ASMR experiments. Breath control is difficult! It’s so interesting to me that some people respond to very soft and subtle noises in physical and visceral ways. ASMR makes some people tingle! The sound taps straight into their brains and their nervous systems. ASMR is intriguing because it has a strange aural quality, which I feel is related to the eerie audio-spatial quality of the current Olympic games. With very few audience members in attendance outdoors or in these big cavernous spaces, there is an underlying hollow texture to all the broadcasts. The ambient noises from each of the different competition locations is really fascinating.

** Interviewed and edited by Zian Chen

Currently living and works in Beijing and San Francisco, Rania Ho is a multidisciplinary artist working in installation and performance. Her works employ a humorous, unexpected approach to everyday objects and situations as a means of interrogating broader social or cultural concerns. Ho received her BA in Theater Arts from UCLA and MFA in the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at New York University. Ho is a co-founder of Beijing’s Arrow Factory and Wu Jin.


平行奥运 Olympic Reveries

In tandem with the Tokyo Olympics, Heichi Magazine is hosting a parallel assembly of artist essays. Olympic Reveries emphasizes the cultural spaces opened up by sports and the illusion of spatiotemporal unity created by live broadcasts. We invited artists to extend the ideas of athleticism and national culture into their practices and speculate on real or imagined games that present values different from those of mainstream sporting events.

Video still from "Love Hate Relationship" (2017)

Published: 2021.08.07