November 26th, 2017

Why Hong Kong artists and activists are turning to zines in the digital age

By: Manami Okazaki.   Source: SCMP  Date: 25/11/17

The independently published ‘pocket-sized works of art’ are undergoing something of a resurgence worldwide. In Hong Kong, with its rich printing history, youngsters have discovered a whole other avenue of expression.


To the untrained eye, “zines” don’t look like much: pamphlets stapled crudely together, featuring disparate topics and a range of art forms, such as cartoons, illustrations and photography. To collectors, they are pocket-sized works of art, and tools of self-expression.

Zines have been experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Museums, universities and institutions across the United States are championing them, and if any proof of their current popularity were needed, the fact that American rapper Kanye West has produced one – 64 pages of vintage-style photography – should suffice.

Hong Kong, too, with its restive youth, is proving fertile ground.

The word a contraction of “magazines” or “fanzines”, zines were first popularised in the 1920s, by science-fiction fans. From the 1960s to the ’90s, they found favour within punk, feminist, gay and other counterculture scenes. They were typically duplicated using a monochrome photo­copying machine and this low-budget, lo-fi aesthetic became a part of their appeal.

The ’90s wave crashed, with a few iconic titles – such as the feminist Bitch and Bust – morphing into commercial magazines, but a new generation of “zinesters” is being supported by successful festivals such as the L.A. Zine Fest and a burgeoning indie-publishing spirit.

Zines published by Tiny Splendor are typified by an accessible humour. One of the bestselling titles of the popular publisher, which was started by University of California, Santa Cruz printmaking students, is about the numerous ways in which potatoes can be prepared.

Max Stadnik, of Tiny Splendor, in Hong Kong. Picture: Manami Okazaki

Zines are “appealing to a pretty wide audience, so you don’t necessarily need a degree in art to appreciate them”, says Tiny Splendor co-founder and former Hong Kong resident Max Stadnik, who was passing through the city recently. He sees the contemporary popularity of zines as relating to “a fetish for paper and printed ink” deriving from digital fatigue.

“It is affordable art, it isn’t a painting, where it is thousands of dollars,” explains another Tiny Splendor co-founder, Cynthia Navarro, during an interview in her Los Angeles studio. “Getting out of the recession, my generation is still struggling with getting proper jobs.”

As happened during former waves, Stadnik observes, it is typically under-represented groups making today’s zines, the tense political climate in the US adding fuel to the fire. He sees zines and social media as being a “fairly explosive combination, in a really good way”.

Zines are popular within marginalised groups and there have been a number of projects from, and about, the Chinatowns in Philadelphia, LA and Vancouver. Martin Wong’s Save Music in Chinatown, for instance, documents his attempts to support the defunded music programme at Castelar Elementary public school, in LA.

The cover of Gidra’s fifth anniversary issue.

A former editor of ’90s publication Giant Robot, Wong describes his experience with the medium in a zine published by LA’s Chinese American Museum that accompanied the “Roots: Asian American Movements in Los Angeles 1968-80s” exhibition, which ended in August. In the introduction to that zine, exhibition curator Steve Wong states that use of the format is “in the spirit of past self-generated, community-based publications like Gidra [1969-74]”, which emerged from a group of student activists at the University of California, Los Angeles.

An Asian-American newspaper/zine, Gidra often used illustrations to convey messages that focused on race issues, colonial­ism, social justice and anti-Vietnam war sentiment.

In Hong Kong, bookstores such as Kubrick, in Yau Ma Tei, ACO, in Wan Chai, and Book B, in Mong Kok, and events such as “Here is Zine”, held at PMQ, in Central, in December and January, are helping to spread the word. Beatrix Pang Sin-kwok, of Small Tune Press, has co-created a collective, Zine Coop, that hosts regular production workshops.

Zine Coop regularly host zine production workshops. Picture: Wai Yu

“There is no teacher, and we basically learn off each other,” says Pang, who appreciates the democratic nature of zines and aims to produce Hong Kong’s own art-book fair.

Zine Coop’s publications are eclectic and run the gamut from film fanzines to the comical work of “LazyJerk” – aka Ivan Yi Ho-yin – which satirises sex education in Hong Kong.

Collective member Leung Yiu-hong’s I Need to be Physically Healthy Because My Mind is Weak (2013; Small Tune Press) is hand-bound using beautifully textured paper. The photography within, taken during a time of mental duress, focuses on details most of us take for granted; the quality of light in the afternoon, the strangers we pass on the street.

Leung Yiu-hong’s I Need to be Physically Healthy Because My Mind is Weak.

“If you are an artist, you are supposed to think you have an independent spirit, you publish it yourself – because in Hong Kong you can still do that,” says Leung, speaking in his shared studio, behind olive-green slatted shutters at the Kai Tak campus of Baptist University’s Academy of Visual Arts, where he is a part-time lecturer. “You create opportunities for yourself.”

Although Hongkongers “don’t treasure books” on the whole, the process of making I Need to be Physically Healthy led Leung to fully appreciate the printed medium, he says, and start his own series, Mumble Zine.

British punk fanzines from the 1970s.

Hong Kong has a rich printing history, lithograph and letterpress techniques having been in use in the city for more than 100 years.

“When the Communists took over [China], a lot of Shanghai printers fled to Hong Kong,” says Maurice Kwan Wai-leung, chief executive of Regal Printing, one of the few domestic print companies still in operation. “In the 1950s, because of the influx of money and technical know-how from these Shanghai printers, the printing industry in Hong Kong all of a sudden started to bloom.

“Then, in the 1960s, the Japanese came here with new tech­nology – mainly Toppan Printing and Dai Nippon Printing. They pushed the printing industry to new heights in the 1970s.”

This legacy is still apparent in some of Hong Kong’s industrial neighbourhoods. While companies such as Regal serve international publishing houses and museums, Hongkongers can utilise this underused infrastructure to create printed matter at low cost, with fast turnaround times.

One of the major instigators of the current art zine trend is Print Studio Ink’chacha. The walls of its Kwun Tong office are plastered with candy-coloured page samples, and littering the room are fluorescent ink drums for use with the studio’s Risograph machine. The Japanese photocopier/printer is used by hospitals and schools to produce monochrome leaflets but Ink’chacha believes it is the first to use the “Riso” to provide a local service tailored for artists.

Breakdown, a zine by Kylie Chan.

The trend inspired a wave of illustrators, many of whom exhibit and sell their zines at Odd One Out, a gallery in Wan Chai that focuses on printmaking and artist representation.

“Zines are a Western mindset, brought in by people who have been studying overseas,” says Odd One Out owner Phemie Chong Pik-kwan. “They see things differently.”

Chong began selling zines – specifically those of artist Kylie Chan Kai – in 2012. Her print runs range from 10 to 250 copies.

“[The zine] is an intimate vehicle for me to communicate through,” says Odd One Out artist Yiyu Lam. “I am interested in visual narrative work. I get the narrative to work through the ‘pagination’ of the book, and the body movement of the characters.” Pagination controls the story sequence by creating cliff­hangers and surprises as you flip the pages, he explains.

“I love to explore [Cantonese cultural] themes, not only to share with the Western world, but also to remind people in Hong Kong how important these cultures are to us,” says illustrator Charlene Man Sin-hang, creator of one of Odd One Out’s bestselling zines, Villain Hitting, a pastel-coloured look at the folk practice whereby enemies are cursed with the invocation of magic.

An artwork in Villain Hitting, a zine by Charlene Man.

Hong Kong activists have also embraced the zine.

The HK FARMers’ Almanac, 2014-2015 was initiated by non-profit art space Spring Workshop in conjunction with urban farming collective HK Farm. The project looks at issues concerning farming, land use, personal agricultural projects and local food production.

The use of printed media is almost like injecting our soul into a physical form
Léonard Lin

HK Farm co-founder Michael Leung Tze-kwong says his interest in farming stems from traceability and food-safety issues, which “in this part of the world are much more frequent – and extreme”.

“We met a lot of independent units doing art and farming in Hong Kong,” says programme coordinator Mandy Chan Hei-man, of the year-long project’s genesis. “I remember Michael saying that they see building a rooftop farm as an installation, and that is why we use it as a platform to communicate with people.

“At the end of the one-year residency with HK Farm, we planned an exhibition, but we thought, maybe instead, we would publish a collection of zines.”

Odd One Out, a gallery in Wan Chai that publishes zines. Picture: Manami Okazaki

An edition in the 10-strong series documents a “guerilla farm” that sprang up outside the Legislative Council building during the 2014 Occupy Central protests, underscoring the notion that agriculture is one of the issues marginalised by the government and society. Leung explains that the Occupy farm, being on the ground, fostered public interaction in a way urban rooftop gardens cannot.

Sets of all 10 zines were placed in 100 planter boxes and – as well as appearing at art exhibitions such as the Triennale di Milano 2016, in Italy, and the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale 2015, in Japan – were sent to carefully selected recipients, ranging from cultural institutes to well-known rooftop-farming companies, such as Brooklyn Grange, in New York, giving the project “mileage, not just in terms of distance”, says Leung, “but in the kind of institutions or spaces that printed matter can infiltrate”.

In the age of online activism, the use of printed matter might seem anachronistic but, as translator Léonard Lin Yiu-chow, who collaborated on The HK FARMers’ Almanac project, explains: “The hashtag way of information delivery is fast but tends to filter away in nanoseconds. The use of printed media is almost like injecting our soul into a physical form, to convey the message in a more compelling way, instead of just downloading information.”

Artist Yiyu Lam with a selection of his zines at Odd One Out. Picture: Manami Okazaki

Among the other zines highlighting social issues Leung has worked on is Pang Jai, a 500-copy, 40-page booklet to support fabric-market sellers in Sham Shui Po who are under threat from urban renewal and development. Pang Jai envisions the fabric market existing in a new location.

[The zine] is an intimate vehicle for me to communicate through
Yiyu Lam

“We distributed it to district councillors, the government, and we even took it into Legco as part of a meeting,” Leung says. “During that meeting, Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, one of the Legco members, actually picked up the zine, and it was really symbolic.

“He held it in the air, waved it, and said, ‘These guys are doing the government’s job!’ If it were digital, he would have said, ‘Hey guys, go to …’ – and it wouldn’t really have worked.”

Kidney Chung Chun-yin, a member and curator of the Asia Subculture Association community group, says many of his projects show “another side of Hong Kong”, such as grievances over the “work slave” situation of long hours with little wages, the elderly in society and generational problems.

Phemie Chong, of Odd One Out. Picture: Manami Okazaki

Artist Takuro Cheung’s zine, System Failure, is a gritty manga (comic) that tackles youth suicide and its connection to the education system, reflecting on school experiences that left him feeling “helpless and devastated”.

Stadnik sees the recent interest in zines locally as a “great thing”, because when he was living in Hong Kong – the American was a Chinese fine arts student at Chinese University in 2008 – “it seemed like a lot of people really looked down on artists. It seemed like there was a stigma”.

Zines might be an accessible tool of expression and a creative outlet for artists, but they also extend, in their own small way, Hong Kong’s print legacy. Their renewed popularity shows that, for some, there is nothing as satisfying as flipping through paper pages.

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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

“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

September 27th, 2017

China Blocks WhatsApp, Broadening Online Censorship

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”

Continue reading

September 8th, 2017



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

August 9th, 2017

Michael Xufu Huang: Rising Art World Curator From Beijing

By: Alex Hawgood     Source: New York Times   Date: 9/8/2017


Michael Xufu Huang

Age 23

Hometown Beijing

Now Lives A recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Huang is relocating to a one-bedroom apartment in Gramercy Park in September.

Claim to Fame He is a founder of M Woods, a contemporary art museum in Beijing that focuses on internet-minded works from artists like He Xiangyu and Olafur Eliasson. With his penchant for bright suits and a flair for publicity, he could be considered something of a next-generation Jeffrey Deitch of China. “Everyone in Beijing is really hungry for culture,” he said. “We really see a lot of young people who are very engaged with us and learning about art and making it a part of their life.”

Big Break Last year, M Woods’s debut exhibition, “Andy Warhol: Contact,” received immediate international recognition. The wide-ranging retrospective of Warhol’s lesser-known film, photography and interactive installations shed new light on the pop icon’s reputation outside the United States. “A lot of people in China know him as a brand,” Mr. Huang said. “The show explains how he became who he is.” Four months after the show opened, Mr. Huang became a member of the board of trustees for the New Museum. Continue reading

August 3rd, 2017

How ‘Ga’ Expresses the Growing Pains of Chinese Youth

By: Feng Biyi       Source: Sixth Tone      Date: 31/7/2017

A year ago, the Chinese character ga cut a rather lonely figure. Unlike most other commonly used characters that paired up promiscuously with others to form words with multiple meanings, ga only had one possible partner: gan. Taken together, the words gan’ga form a term we can all relate to: “awkward.”

But thanks to the ever-changing slang used on the Chinese internet, in the past year ga has been liberated from such linguistically enforced monogamy. Indeed, it has transformed into an independent adjective in its own right, hooking up with vast numbers of Chinese verbs. Got a friend who dances awkwardly? That’s gawu. Know anyone who gets nervous at karaoke? That’s gachang, or “awkward singing.” And we’ve all been stuck in our fair share of galiao, “awkward chats.”

Ga is the latest nugget of internet slang to worm its way into the lexicons of Chinese young people, both online and offline. The term sparked the public’s renewed love affair with social awkwardness, something that has come to be known as ga wenhua: “awkward culture.” Some commentators went so far as to argue that ga is 2017’s most important example of Chinese internet slang thus far — even more important than sang, another term that has spawned a remarkably popular culture of apathy and self-loathing among young Chinese. Continue reading

July 19th, 2017

“Let’s Go, Mantis Shrimp”: The Most Trending Chinese Internet Slang of 2017 – Summer Edition

By: Charles Liu     Source: That’s Beijing        Date: 19/7/2017


A diet of video games and old movies have influenced the most popular online trends, as seen by a list of the hottest Chinese internet slang from the first half of this year expected to bewilder anyone not up-to-date on some very obscure references.
As compiled by Headline News, the online slang terms originate from such varied sources as online video game banter, a Yu-Gi-Oh card game and even a 25-year-old Stephen Chow movie – subtle signs that Chinese youth are a little behind the times when it comes to pop culture.
Want to talk like a Chinese teenager? Here’s the list:

1. Fisty (“拳拳 quánquán”)


This phrase is used to describe “cuteness” through violence and requires a short explanation of basic Mandarin. Continue reading

July 14th, 2017

Chinese Citizens Evade Internet Censors to Remember Liu Xiaobo

By: JAVIER C. HERNÁNDEZ.    Source: New York Times    Date: 14/7/2017


BEIJING — The death on Thursday of China’s most prominent political prisoner, Liu Xiaobo, set off a frenzied effort by government censors to block discussion of his legacy online.

Candle emoticons and the phrase “R.I.P.” were banned on Weibo, a popular Chinese microblogging site. On many sites, searches of Mr. Liu’s name turned up zero results.

Still, Mr. Liu’s admirers found creative ways around the controls, using code words, videos and photographs to show solidarity and to criticize the government’s treatment of China’s only Nobel Peace laureate. Here’s a look at the reaction

Some admirers saw a thunderstorm on Thursday as a sign.
When a thunderstorm erupted over Beijing shortly after Mr. Liu’s death, internet users embraced the imagery.

“It must be to mark the exit of a hero,” one Weibo user wrote. “The heavens are also moved.”

“Heaven is watching,” wrote a WeChat user, suggesting that China was being judged by a higher power for its treatment of Mr. Liu. The activist, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, had been sentenced to 11 years for his efforts to promote democracy.

Activists have accused the government of depriving Mr. Liu of proper medical care after a cancer diagnosis. Some critics warned that the treatment of Mr. Liu has marred China’s international reputation and tarnished the legacy of President Xi Jinping, who has taken a hard line against dissidents. Continue reading

June 22nd, 2017

In China, universities teach how to go viral online

By:  Albee Zhang      Source:   Taipei Times     Date: 21/6/2017




A 21-year-old student walked around her campus in China using invaluable skills she learned in class: Holding a selfie stick aloft, she livestreamed her random thoughts and blew kisses at her phone.
Jiang Mengna is majoring in “modelling and etiquette” at Yiwu Industrial & Commercial College near Shanghai, aspiring to join the growing ranks of young Chinese cashing in on internet stardom.
Hordes of Chinese millennials are speaking directly to the country’s 700 million smartphone users, streaming their lives to lucrative effect, fronting brands and launching businesses.
They are known as wanghong (網紅) — literally hot on the web — and they now represent an industry worth billions and so big it even has its own university curriculum. Continue reading