Yishu Journal: ON | OFF – China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice

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Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, 798 Art District, Beijing

January 13–April 14, 2013

With ON I OFF, an extensive group show that occupied all of the exhibition spaces at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing, curators Bao Dong and Sun Dongdong attempted to come to grips with the ongoing issue of rationalizing the latest round of artists to have emerged on the Chinese visual arts scene over the past few years. They chose to pursue a course of highlighting what they see as the diversity of current art production in China. The curators framed this diversity as a distinctive trait of the Chinese art environment, a trait they say works against generalizing views, describing the exhibition as an expression of “polyphony” and “multiplicity.” They go so far as to characterize contemporary art in China as “a series of encounters,” each of which must be taken on its own merits, also claiming that “any artistic practice is yet another attempt at defining the scope of practice itself.” As a result, contemporary art practices can be understood neither from “a sociological perspective—seeing [them] as evidence of any number of social realities and ideologies”—nor “by way of the so-called internal logic of artistic language and method.”1

In the exhibition format of ON I OFF itself, the curators deliberately attempted to reflect this understanding of the contemporary art world in China. Its fifty participating artists (or, in three cases, a duo of artists) were presented in what might be described as a “flat” format in the sense that there was no articulation by category, theme, or highlight. That said, despite the curators’ premise of multiplicity and the consequent lack of logical organization in the gallery spaces themselves, it was possible to pick out particular connections among the artworks.

Several artists’ work displayed an interest in investigating form or material, a a manifestation of a kind of “internal logic” that the curators apparently dismissed. The painterly abstractions of both Xie Molin and Wang Guangle, which, while using diametrically opposed techniques—Xie Molin has developed a machine to create the evenly-spaced furrows in the thick, multi-hued painted surfaces of Ji No. 4 (2012) and Inconsistent Output No. 6 (2012); while Wang Guangle labouriously hand-paints subtle progressions of coloured pigments, layer after layer, to create physical stacks of paint on the canvases121101 (2012) and 121102 (2012)—share a concern with the physicality of paint. In Heiqiao Tower of Babel (2012) and The Unknown Shimmering at the Edge of the World (2012) by Li Shurui, multiple canvases depicting shimmering interference patterns were connected to create structures that invaded the spaces in which they were installed. Liang Yuanwei’s paintings of repeating floral motifs, Pisces (left) (2011), and Pisces (right) (2012), retain an element of process-based activity in their creation, as these motifs were meticulously picked out from a gradation of colour travelling from the top to the bottom of the canvas. At first glance these repetitions appear cool and unemotional, yet the patterns apparently relate to clothes worn at significant events in the artist’s life.

[To read the full article, please pick up a copy of the Journal or visit the Yishu website]

ArtSlant: Dialogue with History

Image History Existence – Taikang Life 15th Anniversary Art Collection Exhibition

National Art Museum of China, 1 Wusi Dajie, East District, 100010 Beijing, China

20 August – 7 September, 2011

 

It’s not often I get excited about the significance of an exhibition, and while Image History Existence is not perfect, I believe it is an important show in the issues it brings to play and in the constructive fashion with which it deals with them.

This survey show celebrates the 15th anniversary of the art collection of Taikang Life, one of China’s top insurance firms, founded by Chen Dongsheng (previously founder of China Guardian Auctions). Chen has put together a rather remarkable collection of artworks, covering a broad range of periods in Chinese modern and contemporary production.

This exhibition is straight-forwardly divided into three semi-chronological sections: “Revolution and Enlightenment,” covering the early period of China’s modern history from 1942 until 1989, this period symbolically ending with artist Xiao Lu’s controversial installation Dialogue (more on which below); “Pluralist Patterns,” which addresses the ’85 New Wave movement and its aftermath up to the present day; and, “Extended Vision,” which marks a shift in methodology from collecting existing work, to commissioning new works from emerging artists through the 51m2 Project Space, part of the organisation’s non-profit Taikang Space.

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ArtSlant: Two Artists and a Mentor

“Curated By Song Dong” Ma Qiusha: Address & Wang Shang: Sleuthing

UCCA Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, 798 Art District, No. 4 Jiuxianqiao Lu, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China 100015

16 July – 8 September, 2011

It feels like curation has become somewhat undisciplined. “Good” curation, in my experience, is distinguished by a thoughtful and productive presentation and response to the works selected. I realise this plays down the more academic aspects related to working with collections in, say, a museum context. But in the environment in China where there is little institutional support for serious curation (at least of contemporary art), you take what you can get.

However, that rather negative preamble is by way of introducing a show that ultimately restores my faith in the possibilities of curation. I think we are fortunate to see the artist Song Dong put in the position of curator as part of UCCA’s “Curated by…” series, running concurrently with his own solo show next door. His choice to present Ma Qiusha and Wang Shang, with whom he has worked since they were very young, shows the results of a long-term commitment, and the opportunity for an extended understanding of their collective work based on this relationship.

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ArtSlant: Monuments to What?

Constructing Form: Ma Qiusha, Tang Hui, Li Yousong

Beijing Commune, 798 Art District, 4 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China

27 February – 20 March, 2011

[It may appear that I have something of an unhealthy obsession with Leng Lin (Director of Pace Beijing and Founder of Beijing Commune) and his activities, having now written two pieces about shows in which he has directly or indirectly been involved. Maybe this means he is doing something right, to have attracted my attention so often. That said, the reason those particular shows have attracted my attention has been for negative reasons, due to a lack I’ve seen in the quality of the work or the quality of the presentation. So, although I’m reviewing a show at Beijing Commune this week, for once I will concentrate on the artists’ own work.]

Constructing Form is a small group show presenting three Chinese artists—Tang Hui, Li Yousong and Ma Qiusha—including drawings, paintings and collages produced over the last two years. The artists all deal with a human relationship to architecture, but between the three of them, show two distinct approaches to this subject matter.

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The way to see linear video and new media

“Scene • Area • Emotion” New Video Media Art Exhibition, curated by Wu Qiuyan, at WenJin Art Center

Out in the University District of North-West of Beijing, near the South Gate of Tsinghua University, the WenJin Art Center has just opened inside the WenJin Hotel. Yesterday it was hosting a day of video and new media work curated by Wu Qiuyan, a teacher at the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

This was a great opportunity to have, if not the cream then at least a representative collection, of the last few years’ linear work on video presented. Splitting the works into the sections titled “scene,” “area,” and “emotion” presented the audience a broad range of artists, work and techniques, from the computer generated works of Miao Xiaochun and Feng Mengbo; through narrative (including a particularly subtle yet quietly sensationalist piece by Ma Qiusha, I still don’t now what I think about that…); semi/pseudo-documentary from Gao Yuan etc,; performance (for me the weakest set of works, but that’s my personal preferences). All of this was presented in a fairly tightly curated selection, which—although long—really felt like a comprehensive but concise account of the field in the time available.

Being able to devote this kind of time and attention to all this lovely material was a real luxury which I can’t often don’t give to linear video work (much less to interactive, non-linear work, but it’s usually not such a requirement of that). When I visit a gallery there is never enough time to view the whole video as I duck in and out of the screening rooms. So I really appreciate what the curator was doing here, enforcing some kind of participation, it was a real joy to experience.

Artists by section:

Scene: Miao Xiaochun 缪晓春, Feng Mengbo 冯梦波, Bo Hua 卜桦, Zhang Xiaotao 张小涛, Wu Junyong 吴俊勇, Bai Chongmin 白崇民, Ye Dan 叶丹, Wu Weihe 吴玮禾, Gu Zhenzhen 谷真真, Dai Hua 代化, Liu Qianyi 刘茜懿, Xu Ruotao 徐若涛, Chen Hailu 陈海璐.

Area: Liu Xuguang 刘旭光, Chen Zhuo + Huan Keyi 陈卓+黄可一, Tan Ji 谭奇, Wu Qiuyan 吴秋龑, Ding Xin 丁昕, Cheng Jie 盛洁, Wang Gefeng 王歌风, Ma Qiusha 马秋莎, Chen Wei 陈伟.

Emotion: Feng Jiangzhou 丰江舟, Zhang Haitao 张海涛, Chao Fang 沈朝方, Tan Tan 炭叹, Tian Miaozi 田苗子, Song Song 宋松, Wang Tingting 王婷婷, Chen Zhou 陈轴, Pei Li 裴丽, Gao Yuan 高媛, Shi Jingxin 史晶歆, Deng Li 邓黎, Chen Xi 陈曦, Zhang Minjie 张敏捷, Ren Lun 任伦.

In March, the curator Wu Qiuyan will be hosting another event of film and new media, this time at UCCA. More details when I have them.