November 10th, 2017

Party Poopers

Can art bring down the government? 

By: Louisa Lim       Source: Los Angeles Review of Books China Channel    Date: 7/11/17

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“Contemporary arts must also take patriotism as a theme, leading the people to establish and maintain correct views of history, nationality, statehood, and culture while firmly building up the integrity and confidence of the Chinese people.” – Xi Jinping, October 2015

In late July, after the death of Chinese Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, a ghostlike picturematerialised on walls around the world in Melbourne, Sydney, Ottawa, New York City, Taiwan, Dublin, and even Beijing. It showed images of Liu Xiaobo floating skywards, hand in hand with his wife Liu Xia, with blank white expanses where their facial features should have been. This was the work of Badiucao, a radical Chinese artist who, like Banksy, hides behind a pseudonym. He keeps his identity secret out of caution: “If you’re spreading negative energy like me, drawing criminals of the state, you become a problem.”

Such work was designed with one aim in mind: to survive inside the Great Firewall. To create a participatory art phenomenon, Badiucao uploaded the work so it could be printed out, and purposely made it easy to copy. This led to the second wave of reposts, of the picture appearing on walls around the wall, followed by a third wave of selfies from the different sites. Liu Xiaobo might have disappeared from the corporeal world and the pages of state-run newspapers, but Badiucao was determined he should live on in cyberspace.

In this way, a new breed of Chinese political artists has turned the borderless expanse of cyberspace into a virtual studio, a collaboration space and a digital museum, creating and sharing work about China that might not be shown there. Hong Kong artist Sampson Wong Yu-hin – part of the Add Oil Team with Jason Lam Chi-fai – also created a virtual, participatory homage to the Nobel laureate, asking people to record themselves reading Liu’s famous “I have no enemies” speech, which he was forbidden from finishing in court. The result – mostly in Cantonese – is especially poignant, with the young voices serving as a Greek chorus of doomladen augury. Continue reading

China’s new viral app could be straight out of Black Mirror

China’s new viral app could be straight out of Black Mirror

By: Eleanor Peake (with a few quotes from me)     Source: Wired    Date: 20/10/17

Getty Images / Pool

A bizarre new game has gone viral in China. Applaud president Xi Jinping for his party speech as fast as you can, and then share your results online.

The Tencent-owned app started to be rapidly shared as soon as it was released on October 18, netting 400 million players by 9PM Beijing time. Since then it has amassed more than 1.2 billion plays.

The game was released following the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Beijing. The conference and subsequent presidential speech are the biggest events in the Chinese political calendar. Coming once every five years, the series of Party meetings will go on until October 24 and will reset or reaffirm the agenda of the party.

To play the game, you have to first watch a 30-second segment of the Xi’s marathon 3.5 hour speech. In the section of the speech featured on the game (mobile only), President Xi Jinping declares that it is the mission of the Communist Party of China to strive for the happiness and the rise of the Chinese people.

The app lets you clap for Xi by tapping the screen of your phone as many times as you can in 18 seconds. You can then invite your friends to compete with you, sharing your results online and creating further digital content.

Screenshot of applauding President Xi

“In many ways, Xi Jinping has been described as the model of a modern multimedia leader” says Ros Holmes, research fellow at University of Oxford, specialising in popular forms of cultural production in China. “He is frequently across a broad spectrum of digital platforms designed to conflate his multiple roles as a ‘tireless public servant’, ‘skilled international diplomat’, ‘willing workaholic’ and ‘accessible everyman,’” she says.

“This type of propaganda drive is particularly important during the Party Congress,” says Holmes, “when the CCP is extremely vigilant about harnessing the full power of social media positively for the Party”.

The popularity of the game underlines how the Chinese government relies on much more than the power of censorship and control for legitimacy. “It encourages and feeds off popular feelings and mass action, much like the cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong in 1966,” says William Callahan, professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science and an expert on Chinese politics.

Screenshot of President Xi giving his speech 

Similarities can be found in the app ‘Xuexi Zhongguo,’ launched in 2015, which provides an educational insight into the teachings of Xi and the Chinese Communist party, as well as attempting to give an interactive playful side to party leaders.

The app translates directly as “Study China,” but is also a play on Xi’s surname, which could suggest the alternative reading of “Study Xi’s China”. In the past five years, the Central Publicity Department, formerly the Propaganda Department has devoted considerable resources to developing videos games which glorify the party and consolidate Xi’s position.

However, Holmes is sceptical of the Tencent app’s popularity. “I suspect that a significant proportion of those alleged ‘400 million players’ were engaging with the game in a more ironic manner than the party intended”, she says. A move which reflects the deeply satirical culture which has emerged in China’s online spaces in recent years, after various censorship campaigns by the State.

“Many of these forms of digital propaganda are clearly designed to humanise Xi and China’s top leaders, providing insights into their personal lives as well as presenting official statistics” says Holmes.

The app comes at a time when Xi has been making moves to further consolidate himself as the central authority in the CPC. The 19th Party Congress is predicted to refocus the role Xi and his central influence on the country. “What is more disturbing than the app,” says Steven Lewis, a C.V. Starr Transnational China fellow at the Rice University’s Baker Institute, “is the way traditional Chinese State media has begun to change how they reference Xi”. The media has begun to use the title ‘lingxiu’ or ‘leader‘ which in the past was used to reference Mao Zedong, from 1949 to 1976.

“Ideologically, the Party has elevated his words to new communist scripture, referencing them as Xi Jinping Thought” says Lewis, which all Party members must read and follow.

However, although Lewis says the app was likely born out of a benign marketing strategy by Tencent to meet their “public service quota”, he adds the real concern for Xi and the party is maintaining its legitimacy in the long-term. “If very bright young people do not join the Party to keep it going then it will wither” says Lewis, “the app contributes to that strategy”.

CENTRE FOR CHINESE VISUAL ART 10TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE: CHINESE ART OUTSIDE THE ART SPACE

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The Centre for Chinese Visual Art is hosting its 10th annual conference this week, which is themed around ‘Chinese Art Outside the Art Space’. As the organisers explain: “Focusing on art made, displayed, performed or executed outside the conventional venues of art museums and galleries, this conference not only offers a unique perspective to understand Chinese art in the contemporary context, but also, more importantly, it aims to critically reflect upon the understandings between art and art exhibition, between artistic productions and audience perceptions, and between art and our daily life. The unique programme of this confernece will focus on the questions, problematics and investigations around the theme of ‘art outside the art space’ in China.”

Date: 12-13 October 2017

Venue: Lecture Theatre, School of Art, Birmingham City University, B33BX

The full conference programme is included below.

 

September 27th, 2017

China Blocks WhatsApp, Broadening Online Censorship

By: Keith Bradsher       Source: New York Times    Date: 25/9/2017

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SHANGHAI — China has largely blocked the WhatsApp messaging app, the latest move by Beijing to step up surveillance ahead of a big Communist Party gathering next month.

The disabling in mainland China of the Facebook-owned app is a setback for the social media giant, whose chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has been pushing to re-enter the Chinese market, and has been studying the Chinese language intensively. WhatsApp was the last of Facebook products to still be available in mainland China; the company’s main social media service has been blocked in China since 2009, and its Instagram image-sharing app is also unavailable.

In mid-July, Chinese censors began blocking video chats and the sending of photographs and other files using WhatsApp, and they stopped many voice chats, as well. But most text messages on the app continued to go through normally. The restrictions on video, audio chats and file sharing were at least temporarily lifted after a few weeks.

WhatsApp now appears to have been broadly disrupted in China, even for text messages, Nadim Kobeissi, an applied cryptographer at Symbolic Software, a Paris-based research start-up, said on Monday. The blocking of WhatsApp text messages suggests that China’s censors may have developed specialized software to interfere with such messages, which rely on an encryption technology that is used by few services other than WhatsApp, he said.

“This is not the typical technical method in which the Chinese government censors something,” Mr. Kobeissi said. He added that his company’s automated monitors had begun detecting disruptions of WhatsApp in China on Wednesday, and that by Monday the blocking efforts were comprehensive.

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September 20th, 2017

Where the Wild Things Are: China’s Art Dreamers at the Guggenheim

From left, Kan Xuan, Yu Hong, Sun Yuan, Peng Yu and Qiu Zhijie are in the Guggenheim exhibition “Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World.” The backdrop is Qiu Zhijie’s ink-on-paper “Map of Theater of the World,” commissioned for the show. CreditGilles Sabrie for The New York Times

BEIJING — The signature work at “Art and China After 1989,” a highly anticipated show that takes over the Guggenheim on Oct. 6, is a simple table with a see-through dome shaped like the back of a tortoise. On the tabletop hundreds of insects and reptiles — gekkos, locusts, crickets, centipedes and cockroaches – mill about under the glow of an overhead lamp.

During the three-month exhibition some creatures will be devoured; others may die of fatigue. The big ones will survive. From time to time, a New York City pet shop will replenish the menagerie with new bugs.

In its strange way, the piece, called “Theater of the World,” created in 1993 by the conceptual artist Huang Yong Ping, perfectly captures the theme of the exhibition: China as a universe unto itself, forever evolving and changing into a new order. It also sums up a sense of oppression the artists felt from 1989 to 2008, as they were making these works.

Many of the more than 70 creators were born in China and grew up there, yet like Mr. Huang — who fled the country in dismay after the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters on Tiananmen Square — they reject the label “Chinese.” One paradox: The artists appreciate the big splash on Fifth Avenue but express mixed feelings about a nation-themedshow. Most consider themselves international artists who have contributed mightily to the global avant-garde art movement.

“Whether artists are Chinese or French is not important,” said Mr. Huang, who lives and works outside Paris. “I think the duty of the artist is to deconstruct the concept of nationality. There is going to be a day when there is no concept of nationality.”

The curators have selected nearly 150 pieces of sometimes shocking, often scruffy experimental art — video, installation, photography, performance — that questions authority, and uses animals (on screen) to highlight the violence of humankind. (“Theater of the World” caused a stir in Vancouverin 2007 when Mr. Huang included scorpions and tarantulas; he withdrew the piece from the show there rather than comply with requests to remove those particular creatures.)

Huang Yong Ping’s “Theater of the World,” which features live insects and reptiles.CreditHuang Yong Ping/Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

The emphasis at the Guggenheim is on conceptual art. There are few oil paintings, and none of the flashy visages of big faces of the political pop school of the 1990s and early 2000s that fetched skyhigh prices at auction.

”We felt the whole concept of contemporary Chinese art needed to be exploded,” said Alexandra Munroe, the lead curator.

The chronology covers two distinct periods: the political repression after Tiananmen and the economic boom in the 2000s. In the aftermath of the protests, the government banned installation art. That provoked conceptual artists to stage furtive shows in anonymous apartments. Artists struggled. Many escaped abroad, came back, went out again. There were almost no galleries and little money to be made.

By 2001, when China joined the World Trade Organization, opening its doors to the global economy, the government understood that art could be China’s calling card. Money poured into places like the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. Commercial galleries popped up in Beijing and Shanghai.

The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games were staged as China’s coming out party. Many artists dismissed the celebration, preferring to concentrate on government corruption and the demolition of charming old Beijing. But the Games did help to open the eyes of outsiders to China and its art scene.

Soon after the opening at the Guggenheim, the Communist Party will hold its national congress in Beijing, a conclave set to anoint the current president, Xi Jinping, for a second term. The uninhibited avant-garde art at the Guggenheim will offer a jagged contrast to Mr. Xi’s stiff internetcensorship, and repression of human rights that keeps some of China’s artists — including perhaps the best known, Ai Weiwei — from living and working in their homeland.

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other,” 2003, a seven-minute video with eight American pit bulls on eight treadmills. CreditGalleria Continua, San Gimignano, Beijing, Les Moulins, Habana

Only nine female artists appear in the show, a poor representation that the curators say they are acutely aware of. One of the nine, though, is Xiao Lu, who achieved notoriety when she fired a pellet gun at a sculpture at a Beijing exhibition in 1989.

The few works by women is a reflection of the male-dominated government-run art academies of the period, Ms. Munroe said. The teachers were mostly men who wielded disproportionate influence with their power to dole out studio spaces, video equipment and paints. Most of the students were men. Now some classes are evenly split between men and women.

“That source of livelihood was closed to a privileged few, and the few were men exclusively,” Ms. Munroe said. “The good news is that it has changed.”

Some of the artists in Beijing and Hangzhou looked back at their work in the show, the atmosphere during those two decades and how they and the country have changed.

Peng Yu and Sun Yuan

They are known as the bad couple of China’s art. Peng Yu, 43, and Sun Yuan, 45, her husband, work in adjacent studios in Beijing’s thriving 798 Art District. Three heavy-duty motorcycles are parked outside Mr. Sun’s door. Inside, skeletons of a lion, a boar, a griffin and a few other animals decorate the shelves. Ms. Peng’s space is smaller, more spartan and contains a bare-bones kitchen.

In 2000, they attracted attention with a performance piece, “Body Link,” at a show in Shanghai. Both artists took part in a transfusion of their own blood into the corpse of Siamese twins. The piece was created just after they decided to get married and was “a special kind of coming together,” Ms. Peng said.

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Xu Bing’s “A Case Study of Transference,” 1994. The artwork originally featured live pigs, their backs stamped with gibberish. The Guggenheim settled for a video of the Beijing performance.CreditXu Bing

Ms. Peng revels in her brazen politically incorrect attitudes. The fuss about too few female artists in the Guggenheim show was unjustified. “Personally I think female artists in China are not as hard-working as male artists and their art is not as good as male artists,” she said.

The couple’s work at the Guggenheim is one of their less radical pieces. The seven-minute video shows four pairs of American pit bulls tethered to eight wooden treadmills. The camera closes in on the animals as they face each other, running at high speed. The dogs are prevented from touching one another, a frustrating experience for animals trained to fight. The dogs get wearier and wearier, their muscles more and more prominent, and their mouths increasingly salivate.

The piece was first shown with the actual dogs appearing before an audience at the Today Museum in Beijing in 2003.

“The piece was so special, it stood out,” Ms. Peng said. “The art critics didn’t know what to say.”

Xu Bing

Xu Bing, 62, a small wiry figure with long black tangled hair and rimless glasses, is a veteran of China’s conceptual art movement. Early on, he showed that Chinese artists could be at least as provocative as their Western compatriots.

His work, “A Case Study of Transference,” from 1994 illustrates his fascination with the ugly and the primitive versus the beautiful and the classical.

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Xu Bing gathered dust from the 9/11 site in Lower Manhattan for his 2004 artwork “Where Does the Dust Itself Collect?” CreditXu Bing

The original version of the work featured two live pigs — a boar and a sow — having sex in front of audiences at one of the early informal art spaces in Beijing. The backs of the pigs were stamped with gibberish composed from the Roman alphabet and invented Chinese characters.

The Guggenheim drew the line on live pigs in the museum, and settled for a video of the Beijing performance, said Philip Tinari, a guest curator, from the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing.

Mr. Xu, who has lived in New York for nearly 20 years, spent time on pig farms during the Cultural Revolution. Why pigs and calligraphy? “Animals are completely uncivilized and Chinese characters are the expression of supreme civilization,” he said.

His second work in the show deals with 9/11. Mr. Xu lives in a townhouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and when the planes hit the World Trade Center, he watched from across the river. A few days later, he went to City Hall and scooped up dust and packed it into a plastic bag.

On the eve of the Guggenheim show he plans to blow the dust from a leaf-catching machine into a small sealed room. The dust will fall on a stencil of a Zen Buddhist stanza.

Of all the artists in the show, Mr. Xu perhaps best straddles China and the West. He was a young teacher at the Art Academy in Beijing during the protests at Tiananmen. His students created the green foam and gypsum “Goddess of Democracy” that became the protest’s symbol for freedom.

Yu Hong’s “Witness to Growth” series, from 1999 to the present, juxtaposes historical images with self-portraits. Here, “Deng Xiaoping’s Tour in the South of China, ‘China Pictorial,’ P. 2, No. 6, 1992,” with “Twenty-Six Years Old, a Still of the Film ‘The Days,’” showing the artist snipping her hair. CreditYu Hong

“After June 1989, the cultural world became silent, everything became muted, my pieces were not allowed to be shown,” he said over Italian espresso brewed in his studio kitchen in Beijing. He fled in 1990. In the United States, the art schools welcomed him. He moved to New York in 1992 and in 1999 he won a MacArthur Fellowship.

“The relationship between China and the world has changed,” he said. “After 1989, artists stepped out into the world and they worshiped Western culture. Now younger artists want to stay more in China. They get more inspiration from China, there are more problems to explore.”

Yu Hong

When Yu Hong joined the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in 1984, she was 18 and the only woman among the dozen students in the entering class. It was after the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, and the art schools were coming to life after years in the wilderness.

Ms. Yu, now one of China’s most esteemed realist painters, was an instant star. One of the first assignments for her class was to draw Michelangelo’s David. Ms. Yu’s rendition won first prize. It is still shown to students more than 20 years later.

Her oil painting in the Guggenheim show is entirely different. A self-portrait, the canvas shows Ms. Yu, a few years out of art school in the early 1990s, scissors in hand, snipping her own hair.

The back story is intriguing. Ms. Yu, and her husband, Liu Xiaodong, also an artist, were acting in a low budget movie, called “The Days,” about the couple’s true-life story as impoverished art teachers in a backwater province in northeast China. One of the scenes included Ms. Yu cutting her own hair. The movie was too bleak for the government censors and has never been officially released in China.

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Zhang Peili’s video “Water: Standard Version from the ‘Cihai’ Dictionary,” 1991, depicts the absurdity of the state broadcaster never reporting Tiananmen Square protests. CreditZhang Peili/Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

The self-portrait is part of a historical series she began in 1999 called “Witness to Growth,” in which she paints herself at the various stages of China’s economic growth, juxtaposed against a photograph of the period.

The curators could have chosen a more dramatic work from Ms. Yu. A black and white self-portrait on the wall of her studio in Beijing shows Ms. Yu among the protesters near Tiananmen Square before the tanks rolled in. Adjacent to the canvas is a photograph of the crackdown’s aftermath. Dark smoke hangs over the square. The demonstrators’ tent city is demolished. Soldiers are on watch.

But such photographs are banned in China. A display of the photo overseas would almost certainly draw protests from the Chinese government.

Zhang Peili

A standout work by Zhang Peili, China’s first video artist, shows a female newscaster on China’s state television, CCTV, repeating a meaningless screed about water. The woman, Xing Zhibin, with bouffant hair, and an expressionless middle-aged face from the 1980s and 1990s, was China’s Walter Cronkite.

Mr. Zhang, 60, was shattered, he said, by the end of the democratic movement at Tiananmen Square. “That left a heavy influence on every Chinese person, and it lasts until today,” he said in his small apartment in Hangzhou.

He wanted to find a way to depict the absurdity of the state broadcaster never reporting the monumental event on the square.

Kan Xuan’s video “Kan Xuan! Ai!” catches glimpses of her running through a subway tunnel.CreditKan Xuan

A friend of the artist contacted Ms. Xing and suggested that she read the definition of water many times over.

“I lied and let my friend pass on the message that I was doing an education project about water,” he said. “I still don’t know if she knew that this video of her was actually used for a contemporary art piece.”

Mr. Zhang is one of the most influential art teachers in China. He detects less political restlessness among the new generation of students, who are impressed by the new consumer-driven economy.

Still, the huge gap between the rich and the not-so-rich in China is a recipe for future unrest, he said. But for the moment, he went on: “I procrastinate. Society is procrastinating. There is a lot to be done to change society but mostly we just skip it and wait.”

Kan Xuan

Visitors climb six flights of stairs to reach Kan Xuan’s studio overlooking the red tiled roof of Beijing’s ancient Confucius Temple. On a wooden table rests her laptop and a monitor. There is little art on the walls and no signs of her video works. “I like video because it disappears,” she said. “It doesn’t hang around.”

Ms. Kan’s two videos in the show are from 1999, and more personal in style than that of her mentor, Zhang Peili. The first, “Kan Xuan! Ai!” catches glimpses of her as she runs through a subway tunnel, weaving in and out among the commuters.

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In Qiu Zhijie’s video “Assignment No.1: Copying the ‘Orchid Pavilion Preface’ 1000 Times,” 1990-1995, the artist nearly obliterates a classic calligraphy text. CreditQiu Zhijie

In the second piece, “Post-Sense Sensibility,” Ms. Kan surveys an underground art exhibition held in a basement on the outskirts of Beijing. The show was an exuberant, anything-goes outburst of installation art that surfaced after the sullen post-Tiananmen period.

Ms. Kan’s hand-held camera captures the outrageous art — pig intestines strung from the ceiling, a stillborn fetus lying next to a human face poking through a bed of ice. Art lovers crowd around the installations, hungry for a new era of unfettered expression.

The documentary is important for the sake of history, Ms. Kan, 45, said. But she long ago moved on.

Her more recent video work focuses on the tombs of Chinese emperors and their courtiers. She has traveled to the far reaches of China, often trekking up mountains to capture the emperors’ remains. “When I was traveling I told myself: ‘See what you see and feel what you feel.’ I have used simple techniques.”

Ms. Kan was one of four female artists for the 2007 Venice Biennale but she doesn’t care, she said, about gender politics. What’s more important, she pointed out, was to remain independent of the commercial galleries. Unable to survive on her creative videos, she has often taken jobs in high-end commercial film production, including filming luxury sports cars on treks from Beijing to northern Italy.

Even though her themes dwell on China, she considers herself an international artist and lives between Beijing and Amsterdam. “I only choose to be in shows where the curators and the artists work hard,” she said, “whether it’s Chinese artists or not.”

Qiu Zhijie

A vast multipaneled ink on paper map by Qiu Zhijie, one of the pioneers of China’s contemporary art world, is the only new work in the exhibition.

Over the years, Mr. Qiu has drawn outsized maps that combine fantasy with politics. The Guggenheim commissioned a map that juxtaposed Chinese and global events with the unfolding contemporary art scene in Beijing and Shanghai.

A master calligrapher, Mr. Qiu, 48, learned the discipline of painting characters as a child. His spidery writings, in English and Chinese characters, scrawl across the map that traces the torturous path from Mao to Xi Jinping. Some may see the work’s style as resembling Saul Steinberg’s maps for The New Yorker.

A figure who straddles the establishment and the fringes, Mr. Qiu works in a cavernous studio outside Beijing. He was still putting finishing touches to the map just weeks before the show’s opening. “Coca-Cola back to China, Star Wars, Ronald Reagan,” he said, reading out some of the early references.

The map seems politically safe: The Tiananmen Square crackdown is referred to as an “incident,” buried in small print. One milestone seems unintentionally pointed in its misspelling. “Reunifiction of HK” reads a phrase, a reference to the Chinese government’s plans for reunification of Hong Kong with the mainland. The banner “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” is strung across the top of the map, a motif that should please the government.

Mr. Qiu has been criticized in China’s social media for leading a government-run academy. “A lot of infuriated netizens say I am bribed by the government,” he said. “But if we didn’t teach in the art institutions how are the younger artists going to be trained?”

The variety and rebelliousness of the works from the ’90s and the early 2000s were long overdue for exposure at a mainstream Western museum, he said.

“The art I see here in Beijing is totally different to what I see in New York,” he said. “The big face school of painting gave a fake image of what Chinese art is. The Guggenheim will correct the image.”

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Call for applications: (due 10 September) The Judith Neilson Scholarship in Contemporary Art

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The Judith Neilson Scholarship in Contemporary Art

 

The Judith Neilson Scholarship in Contemporary Art has been established to support the study of contemporary Chinese art in its global contexts. The Scholarship provides support for full-time doctoral study to be undertaken through the Department of Art History at the University of Sydney.

 

We invite applications from highly motivated individuals interested in engaging deeply with issues related to contemporary Chinese art, global art cultures, and transcultural studies. Prospective students must possess demonstrable research skills, high proficiency in writing in English, and academic experience in one or more of the following fields: art history and theory, Chinese studies, visual culture, and/or curatorial studies. Proficiency in Chinese is strongly preferred. Applications that demonstrate potential for engagement with the White Rabbit Collection are encouraged.

 

Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact Dr Stephen Whiteman stephen.whiteman@sydney.edu.au with questions and expressions of interest. Continue reading

September 8th, 2017

HOW A NEW GENERATION OF CHINESE ART COLLECTORS ARE TAKING ON THE WORLD

 

By: Vivienne Chow           Source: SCMP        Date: 5/9/2017

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Lin Han and his wife Wanwan Lei have had a fruitful summer. The co-founders of Beijing’s M Woods Museum recently spent nearly a month on an art tour around Europe. Their travels took them from Antwerp in Brussels and Basel in Switzerland to Venice in Italy and Kassel in Germany, but the young collectors are keen to emphasise this was no shopping spree. Rather, it was an intense learning experience.

“When we planned for this trip, we wanted to focus on art. On the road we went to many important and meaningful exhibitions in small towns, meeting a lot of artists and curators. To us it was a research trip. We were there to do our homework. We wanted to experience these artistic events and museums, and take references that could inspire our work,” said Lin. “Our mission was to see and to learn rather than buying art.”

Lin Han, left, and Wanwan Lei in Switzerland. Photo: Handout

This summer, various important art events in Europe have coincided: the Venice Biennale; Documenta, which takes places in Kassel every five years, and this year has an additional venue in Athens; and Skulptur Projekte Münster (Münster Sculpture Projects), a decennial outdoor exhibition of public sculptures in northeast Germany. Continue reading

Getting round the Great Firewall of China

I’ve just written a short piece for Apollo on the potential impact of a recent series of online restrictions for the country’s thriving new media scene. The piece can be found online here and I’ve included a copy of the text below.

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A recent series of directives has sought to curtail the already fragile spaces for free expression in China. In June, a new cybersecurity law decreed that companies report the virtual activities of their employees. A month later came the news that Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) – a form of software that enables users to circumvent the restrictions of China’s ‘Great Firewall’ – will be outlawed by February 2018.

Currently only about one per cent of China’s estimated 731 million internet users employ a VPN, but many members of China’s creative community fear that these increased restrictions will have a profound impact on their work. Like their counterparts around the world, artists in China use social media to disseminate their work and connect with international audiences. China has a thriving net art and new media scene, supported by galleries and art centres, innovative online initiatives capitalising on the popularity of social media platforms, a major prize for net art, and a growing body of young artists graduating from the new media departments of China’s major art academies. These developments reflect China’s hyper-networked and mediatised art world and the increasingly mobile culture that has arisen alongside the country’s technological advances.

While many artists eschew overtly political themes, others have chosen to confront the complex and contradictory facets of China’s restricted web, producing provocative and challenging works which not only satirise the government’s cybersecurity initiatives, but also comment on the psychological effects of censorship. The artist Miao Ying, for example, refers to this as her ‘Stockholm syndrome’ approach to the internet in China. Other artists such as Xu Wenkai (Aaajiao) strive to make the mechanisms of the Great Firewall visible, exposing the fault lines between censorship and self-expression. One of the regime’s fiercest critics is obviously Ai Weiwei, who, earlier this year wrote a polemic about the perils of self-censorship, calling for others to reject the ‘China model’ of development, which has promoted economic ascendancy at the cost of political freedom.

Recent developments illustrate that we would do well to heed these criticisms. Cambridge University Press briefly decided to block access in China to over 300 articles from the China Quarterly, one of the world’s leading China Studies journals, at the behest of Chinese censors, before eventually reversing the decision. As China expands its global engagement, seeking to reinvent itself as a 21st-century superpower, the long arm of censorship doesn’t just affect artists and writers within the country itself, but also has serious ramifications beyond China’s borders.

Second conference of the European Association for Asian Art and Archaeology (EAAA), Zurich 24-27th August

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On Thursday I’ll be travelling to Zurich to take part in the second EAAA conference, which is being held this year at the University of Zurich from the 24th- 27th August. A unique gathering of artists, art historians, archaeologists, researchers and students working across disciplines and time periods- from neolithic China to contemporary Korea, the conference promises to offer three days of stimulating discussions and heated debates on all things art related, and will feature keynote addresses by Yukio Lippit and Burglind Jungmann.

As the organisers note: “The main aim of the Association is to encourage and promote all academic and scholarly activities related to Asian art and archaeology in European countries. More specifically, the Association will seek to establish and maintain a platform for the fruitful exchange of ideas, create a forum for dialogue among scholars of Asian art history and archaeology, and provide a setting for the presentation and discussion of new and recent research. Its main activities will include: the organisation of regular biennial conferences, thematic conferences, workshops, symposia, study events, and lectures. The Association will also actively seek out different ways to support young scholars, promote publications and exhibitions, and disseminate information and resources – of all kinds and in all forms and media – related to Asian art and archaeology.” Continue reading