Symptoms: Becoming Peninsula I (Cheng Ran, Li Wei, Lu Yang, Ren Hang, Yan Heng, Yan Xing, Yuan Yuan, Zang Kunkun)
Iberia Center for Contemporary Art, E06, 798 Art District, Beijing
3 March – 3 April, 2012
In the first of what the organisers promise will be a long-term project with regular presentations (although “…to be held once or twice a year in different ways…” is perhaps a little vague), Iberia Center for Contemporary Art in 798 has brought together a patchy, but (perhaps for that reason) representative selection of young Chinese artists to show the state of art production in China at this time.
This show is ostensibly based on the truism that the works and the artists’ sensibilities are ‘symptoms’ of the society they have grown up in. The wall text for the show makes the case that after the ‘idealism’ of the ‘90s, business culture took over and young people had to fit into tiny gaps in the “highly specialised division of labour and elaborate social structure[s]”. By doing so they could then only develop inwardly, using their new-found access to media and technology. I’m not sure I completely understood the argument, but the upshot is that ‘diversity’ became the key to their lives and productions.
Hot Blood, Warm Blood, Cold Blood: Cheng Ran solo show
Galerie Urs Meile, No. 104, Caochangdi Cun, Cui Gezhuang Xiang, Chaoyang District, 100015 Beijing, China
5 November, 2011 – 12 February, 2012
The press release for Hot Blood, Warm Blood, Cold Blood proposes that this new work is “not primarily a conceptual work.” This text goes on to lay the groundwork for this new three-channel installation – and for what I see as Cheng Ran’s work as a whole: “The artist hopes to reduce the technical influence to a minimum level through the deliberate use of inappropriate editing to demonstrate the formality embraced in symbolism and imagery, thus representing an unknown image-space.”
Although I could quibble over the subjectivity of a phrase such as “inappropriate editing,” and the vagueness of “an unknown image-space,” this distancing of his work from a conceptual reading is a consistent concern for Cheng Ran. In a conversation I had with him in 2010, he was very clear about this: “I never thought that the artwork should have a core meaning. Inspiration and instinct is very important to me in the creation of the work, not a concept. I really don’t consider myself as a conceptual artist at all.”
As problematic as I felt his attitude towards core meaning was at the time—I felt that it amounted to an abrogation of responsibility to the work—I’ve come to regard it as allowing for the possibilities for interpretation to be released from taking a stable form. This has the positive aspect of leaving space for the audience to become involved in the works’ production of meaning.
Realism by Yan Xing (part of 5 Solo Shows: Yan Xing, Christian Schoeler, Li Gang, Hu Qingyan and Cheng Ran)
Galerie Urs Meile, Caochangdi, Beijing, China
3 September – 23 October, 2011
Presenting five solo shows at once in their Beijing spaces seems an odd approach by Galerie Urs Meile. They state that it provides a way to present a selection of new works by some of their less established artists, and I expect it avoids the difficulty of finding an overarching theme for a group show. But in this case it seems each artist gets short shrift, without the opportunity to present a sufficient body of work to allow for more than a very basic understanding of their practice. Christian Schoeler perhaps gets the best out of this arrangement, with a large room for his technically competent paintings. On the other hand, Cheng Ran is insufficiently represented with only a single video work. I understand this fascinating artist will be having a major solo show at this same gallery later in the year, which begs the question: why include him now in a way that does this him little justice?
Putting these questions aside, it’s fortunate that 5 Solo Shows gives the opportunity to see the work of another very strong artist, Yan Xing. Yan Xing is an interesting character. As an openly gay man he lives in a country (if not a world) that tends to frown upon (if not actively suppress) displays of sexuality that are deemed outside of the norm. He maintains a personal blog of articulate and up-front missives about his life and thoughts and has become something of a minor celebrity within the online universe in China. His outspoken comments have positioned him as something of an informal representative for gay life in this country.