Wu Hung on ‘Curating Contemporary Chinese Art: A Personal Narrative’


For the last 6 weeks, Wu Hung has been delivering a highly engaging and provocative series of lectures on ‘Feminine Space: An Untold Story of Chinese Pictorial Art’ as this year’s Slade Professor of Fine Art.

Each week has seen Wu introduce a broad spectrum of pictorial art, employing his wit and erudition not only to make Chinese art accessible to a non-specialist audience but also presenting known images (at least to those who work on Chinese art) in a completely novel and compelling light.


Wu Hung discussing Ming Courtesan Culture on the 24th February.

A brief synopsis of the lectures, written by Wu Hung follows:

‘This Slade Lecture series retells the story of female images in Chinese art from a new approach. Such images appeared in China by at least the fifth century BCE and became a major subject of pictorial representation from the Han to Tang dynasties (206 BCE-907 CE). Centred on cosmic goddesses, alluring nymphs, Confucian paragons, and glamorous court ladies, they expressed contemporary ideas about immortality and the afterlife, gender relations and moral standards, fashion and desire. While this art tradition continued to develop after the Tang, it was demoted in aesthetic status, as landscape painting became the elite form of pictorial art after the Song and Yuan dynasties (960-1368). At that point, literati critics began to group all sorts of female images under the misleading title “gentry women painting” (shinü hua) or “beautiful woman painting” (meiren hua), reducing a rich, complex art tradition to generic figures and even pin-ups.

An encouraging trend in recent studies of Chinese art has been to bring female images to scholarly attention through rediscovering their historical, social, and artistic significance. Important progress has been made, but most research has focused on later examples. More seriously, the ahistorical identification of various female images as “gentry women painting” or “beautiful woman painting” still persists, blocking conceptual breakthroughs in interpreting these images. Responding to these two problems, this lecture series surveys the full range of female images in Chinese art from the fifth century BCE onward, and makes a greater effort to break away from later (mis)conceptions, returning instead to the images themselves to uncover their historical intention and visual logic. In particular, the analysis will depart from the conventional emphasis on isolated figures, and will approach each work as an integral spatial representation. Many paintings, for example, juxtapose women with men; their subject is the relationship between the two sexes, whether political or romantic. More generally, these and other works construct a feminine space around a female subject to define her character. This space can be the paradisiacal realm of a goddess, the inner chamber of a chaste widow, or the luxurious garden of a palace lady. It is not uncommon for this space to appear as an artificial world comprised of landscape, vegetation, architecture, atmosphere, and artefacts as well as selected human occupants and their activities. An analogy for this spatial entity is a stage with its props, scenery, sound and lighting effects, and actors. Just as the effectiveness of the theatre relies on all of these components, to achieve its full impact a pictorial feminine space often derives its vocabulary from individual painting genres such as portraiture, flower-and-bird painting, still life, landscape painting, and architectural drawing.’


As one of the world’s leading scholars of Chinese art, Wu Hung has written extensively on Chinese art from ancient times to the contemporary art scene, and the expansiveness and reach of his scholarship is truly remarkable. As someone working on contemporary Chinese art, works such as Remaking Beijing: Tiananmen Square and the Creation of a Political SpaceA Story of Ruins:Presence and Absence in Chinese Art and Visual Culture, Contemporary Chinese Art: Primary Documents (edited with Peggy Wang) and more recently Contemporary Chinese Art: A History are a must read for anyone interested in the visual arts.

On Monday Wu will be discussing his distinguished career as a curator of contemporary Chinese art and I would encourage everyone to attend for what promises to be one of the most informative and exciting events on the Chinese art calendar this year.

February 17th, 2016

32 billion virtual red packets were sent out over WeChat last week!

Source: Shanghaiist            Date: 16/2/2016


As though the number of e-hongbao sent out on NYE alone wasn’t already impressive enough, Tencent reported this week that the total number of digitized red packets shared among its WeChat users over last week’s 6-day CNY holiday was 32.1 billion. Business: booming.

That’s tenfold the number of electronic red envelopes from last year’s Spring Festival, which was a mere 3.27 billion, reports Shanghai Daily. This time 516 million participants on WeChat joined in on the virtual version of the holiday tradition. Reminder that China’s population in 2013 was estimated at 1.357 billion.

Tencent has been on a roll of late: last year, it launched a whole range of services on WeChat designed to integrate the platform into virtually every facet of everyday life. One of the more significant of those is the mobile payment scheme with capacity for overseas transactions. Such business manoeuvres are ensuring WeChat remains a big name not only in China, but also in places like South Africa.

Meanwhile, Alipay also has done well for itself, boasting more than 100 million players in its interactive sessions during the Spring Festival Gala. Interestingly, 64% of that crowd were from third and fourth-tier cities. In collaboration with 45 sponsors Alipay awarded a cumulative 800 million yuan as prize money.



February 16th, 2016

Subculture Hegemony

Very interesting read from Chublic Opinion on nationalism, sub cultures and the internet

By: Chublic Opinion      Source: Chublic Opinion     Date: 9/2/2016


Try to think of great subcultures worldwide, those surrounding Japanese anime and Norwegian black metal might come to mind.  After January 21, 2016, you might as well put Chinese online forum in that pantheon.

On that date, tens of thousands of users from mainland China logged onto Facebook and “occupied” the comment sections of the pages of major Taiwanese news organizations and politicians to express their disapproval of Taiwan independence.

If as a non-Chinese speaker you are confused by references to “Diba”, “D8” or “Tieba” in news reports about this incident, it means you are normal. By definition, a subculture tries to construct an alternative identity that differentiates itself from the one bestowed by the parent culture. It often has its own language, symbols and rituals that may be unintelligible to an outsider. Not surprisingly, it took many usually Internet-savvy Chinese observers some time to figure out what was going on. Equally dazzled were the Taiwanese targets of this campaign. Continue reading

February 9th, 2016

Rendering the Anatomy of Our Hard Drives

By: Claire Voon            Source: Hyperallergic      Date: 8/2/2016


Eric Corriel, “Enter the Machine 1.4 A.K.A. My Dropbox” (2015) (all images courtesy the artist unless otherwise noted)

For many of us, although a decent chunk of our digital lives exists on our hard drives, it’s easy to not give the unremarkable metal boxes that quietly sit on our desks or shelves much thought. Artist and programmer Eric Corriel has been contemplating the architecture and innards of these machines and has imagined what their small spaces would look like if one could shrink down and enter their casings, making visible the data hidden in those protective metal shells. In his solo exhibition Enter the Machine at Garis & Hahn, Corral visualizes the various contents of his hard drive by expanding what condenses our data into the palms of our hands, constructing a physical experience of an electronic world that translates coded data into vivid works.

Situated in the gallery’s basement level, Enter the Machine is meant to completely immerse visitors — keeping in line with the types of large-scale, transformative environments Corriel often creates. At the center of the dark room, a hard drive rests on a pedestal, with a network of wires radiating from its base towards the four walls. Each tape-sheathed wire connects to nine light boxes that show a stream of colors against a black background, representing certain files on his personal hard drive. A looping soundscape of glitchy beeps and droning tones, composed by Krista Dragomer, fills the room. Although titled “Digital Matter,” it sounds at times like human matter — specifically, the pulsing of a human heart. Similarly, each lightbox blinks slowly, its screen dimming and illuminating to introduce subtle but palpable shifts in the enclosed environment. The overall effect is oddly organic for a world inspired by the anatomy of technology: descending the gallery stairs feels like entering a womb-like space with sounds and movements reminiscent of our own bodily functions. Continue reading