Where Next? Gary Zhexi Zhang on “Imagining the dawn of the ‘Chinese century'”

In an article in May’s edition of Frieze, Gary Zhexi Zhang explores ‘Sinofuturism’ , narratives of ‘techno-orientalism’ and the impact of the ‘Chinese century’ on contemporary art

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Where Next?

Over dinner in Shanghai a few years ago, I was debating the question of futurity with a friend. Our heads clouded by baijiu (sorghum wine), I found myself glibly insisting that neoliberalism had wrung out what remained of the utopian imagination, echoing the grim capitalist realism articulated by Mark Fisher, Fredric Jameson and others. Cut to 2017: Fisher is sadly no longer with us and even Francis Fukuyama, the political economist whose ‘end of history’ thesis postulated the infinite horizon of neoliberal capitalism, recently acknowledged: ‘Twenty-five years ago, I didn’t have a sense or a theory about how democracies can go backward […] And I think they clearly can.’

If the era of liberal democracy is crumbling before our eyes, alternate futures seem all the more potent amidst the ugliness of the present. Of course, I hit a dead end that night in Shanghai. Why should the ‘end of history’ mean anything in China? I only had to glance over at the skyline to see that the future never left: it just went elsewhere.

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Celebrating ‘The Chinternet’: Internet Art Practices in China

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This Wednesday I’m delivering a lecture on Internet Art practices in China, examining artists’ distinctly self-conscious celebration of what has often disparagingly been labelled ‘The Chinternet’.  The talk will interrogate the assumption that internet art emerging from China can only belatedly repeat works of Euro-American precedent, arguing that current practices present a dramatic reframing of online censorship, consumerism and the unique aspects of vernacular culture that have emerged within China’s online realm.

While the talk is advertised as being open to all members of Christ Church, interested parties from the public and the wider University community are welcome to attend.

Pauline Yao Lecture: In the Mood for a Museum: Art and Collecting at M+, Hong Kong

This Thursday I have invited Pauline J. Yao to Oxford, where she has generously agreed to deliver a lecture on art and collecting at M+ to students and staff at The Ruskin School of Art (although the lecture is open to all). Pauline is currently in the UK as a Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of Leeds and during her time here she will be delivering a number of important lectures and public talks, including this event at Tate Modern on the 26th April. I’m therefore delighted that she will be joining us in Oxford for what promises to be an exciting opportunity to learn more about Hong Kong’s largest museum of 20th and 21st century art and design, architecture and moving image. Details of the lecture are below, all welcome.

 

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 In the Mood for a Museum: Art and Collecting at M+, Hong Kong

Old Masters’ Studio, Ruskin School of Art

Thursday, 27th April, 2pm

Pauline J. Yao is Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of Leeds and Lead Curator, Visual Art at M+, the new museum for twentieth and twenty-first century visual culture being built in Hong Kong. She has held curatorial positions at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and worked as an independent curator and writer in Beijing for six years, during which time she helped co-found the storefront art space Arrow Factory. A co-curator of the 2009 Shenzhen Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, Yao is a regular contributor to Artforum, e-flux Journal, and Yishu Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art and her writings on contemporary Asian art have appeared in numerous catalogues, online publications and edited volumes. She is the author of In Production Mode: Contemporary Art in China (Timezone 8 Books, 2008) and co-editor of 3 Years: Arrow Factory (Sternberg Press, 2011).

Feminist Activism in China: In Conversation with Li Maizi 女权行动在中国:与李麦子的对话/ Tuesday 7th March

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Next Tuesday (7th March) I’m going to be taking part in a conversation on Feminist Activism in China with Li Maizi 李麦子 (aka Li Tingting 李婷婷) of China’s ‘Feminist Five‘, one of the leading figures in global feminist and LGBTQIA+ networks.

I’m going to be joined on the panel by Harriet Evans, Tricia Kehoe, Monica Merlin and Xu Juan (of the art collective Bald Girls) and we’ll be discussing everything from women’s rights, equality and activism to the role of social media and performance art in raising awareness of gender discrimination. It promises to be a night of lively discussion and debate and anyone wishing to attend can register for free here via eventbrite.

For more information on Li Maizi, including her detention in 2015 and her gender equality advocacy, there is an interview here on China Change. This article by Maura Cunningham also provides some insightful background reading for anyone interested in learning more about the future of feminism in contemporary China.

MOOC “Discovering Socially Engaged Art in Contemporary China”

1Last week saw the launch of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Socially Engaged Art in Contemporary China, created by Zheng Bo at the City University of Hong Kong. I have written about Zheng’s work before, specifically ‘A Wall: Art and the online public sphere in China’ a showcase of socially engaged art which he first created back in 2014. Commissioned by The Space in collaboration with British Council China and Cass Sculpture Foundation, the project offered a reimagining of China’s Democracy Wall for the digital age. Zheng has significantly updated and expanded that original digital archive, which can now be found online at  seachina.net. In this post I would like to look briefly at both projects, assessing the impact of these digital learning tools and archives for the study of contemporary art.

The MOOC is a six week online course that runs from the 6th February to the 19th March, users anywhere in the world can access the course by registering online here. As Zheng outlines in the introduction to the course:

“This 6-week free online course serves as an introduction to Chinese socially engaged art. We produced it over the past eight months. We traveled to multiple cities (Wuhan, Chengdu, Chongqing, Beijing …) and worked with a number of artists/ collectives (Xiong Wenyun, Xu Bing, Wang Jiuliang …). This course covers 16 socially engaged projects and a number of theoretical issues. It also contains excerpts of 12 artist interviews, and six 360-degree videos of the actual sites where the projects took place. The artworks address a wide range of social issues, ranging from ecology to equality.”

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Xiong Wenyun’s ‘Moving Rainbow’ (1998-2001)

Each week’s lesson contains a selection of digital media which are designed to introduce key themes and social issues. These are grounded in specific case studies which do much to bring these issues to life while also highlighting the diversity of socially engaged practices within China. Week one, for example, contains a case study of Xiong Wenyun’s ‘Moving Rainbow’ (1998-2001) complete with a ten minute video of the project and a five minute interview with the artist. Xu Bing’s ‘Forest Project’ is also profiled, as is Wang Jiuliang’s ‘Beijing Besieged by Waste’ (2008-2010), which includes two videos accompanied by a 360 degree view of a landfill site. After these individual case studies have been reviewed, there is an 8 minute video in which Zheng discusses some of the common themes and issues which unite these socially engaged practices as well as looking at the evolution of artists’ responses to their changing social environment over the last twenty years. The lesson concludes with a discussion which asks participants to contemplate which of the profiled projects they find the most engaging and challenging. Continue reading

#SocialHumanities Datahack: Self-(Re)presentations on Social Media

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As one of the convenors of the TORCH network on the #SocialHumanities, I’m pleased to announce that tomorrow on the 14th January we will be holding our second major event: a Datahack on Self-(Re)presentations on Social Media. The event will be held at the Oxford Launchpad in the Saïd Business School and is being organised by Yin Yin Lu and Kathryn Eccles of the Oxford Internet Institute.

Details of the event including tomorrow’s programme are as follows:

How do people represent themselves on social media, and how are they represented by others? Which qualities and virtues are emphasized (or ignored)? How polarised are these (re)presentations?

The TORCH #SocialHumanities network will explore answers to these questions at our day-long datahack on 14 January, by examining content from YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Wikipedia, Reddit, and other social media platforms. We welcome participants from all disciplines, including the humanities and both social and computational sciences.

In the morning we will have four expert-led workshops, where specific approaches to social media data analysis will be taught, followed by lunch and the datahack proper. During lunch, participants will split into interdisciplinary teams (of two to four people) and decide upon which dataset to explore and which research question to answer. Datasets and questions will be provided, but you are more than welcome to bring your own (we’re both BYOD and BYOQ)!

At the end of the day each group will present their findings; the team with the most interesting and creative analysis will be awarded a prize. Afterwards, we’ll celebrate our achievements and continue the discussion over drinks.

We welcome participants from any and all backgrounds. If you have no programming skills and/or have not analysed social media data before, don’t worry—there will be plenty of opportunities for you to contribute, and data experts will be on hand to help.

If you have any questions please email us at socialhumanities@torch.ox.ac.uk. There is limited space so we recommend that you RSVP as early as possible!

PROGRAMME

09.30-10.00: Registration

10.00-10.30: Introduction and overview of the day

10.30-12.30: Workshops led by Mike Thelwall (SentiStrength), Taha Yasseri (topic modelling), Jason Nurse (identity manifestation), Peter Fairfax (Brandwatch)

12.30-13.30: Team formation and working lunch

13.30-17.00: Data analysis (tea and coffee provided at 15.00)

17.00-18.00: Presentation of findings and group discussion

18.00-19.00: Prizes and drinks reception

The Uses of the Future: Contemporary Art in the Digital Domain

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Earlier this year I was asked to contribute an essay for a publication commemorating 30 years of the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA). The Centre was formed in 1986 as the Chinese View Arts Association, a festival platform of art, music and dance whose purpose was to create an improved understanding of Chinese culture for UK audiences. Now in its third decade, the centre has become a well respected contemporary art gallery that regularly hosts exhibitions of emerging and established artists from Greater China, the UK and beyond, in addition to a lively and innovative programme of residencies, engagement projects, festivals and events.  As the only non-profit organisation in Europe to specialise in Chinese contemporary art and visual culture, the publication marks the important contribution the Centre has made to the evolution of Chinese contemporary art practice over the last 30 years.

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The publication has been divided into five subsections, which tackle issues ranging from ‘Contextual Changes in China and Beyond’, ‘How Have Exhibitions of Chinese Contemporary Art Evolved?’, ‘Definitions of Chineseness’, ‘Talent Development’ and ‘The Future’ with each section including a series of essays and conversations that explore the work of the organization and its surrounding contexts. My essay features in the final section on ‘The Future’ and addresses how artists in China and beyond are responding to the changes wrought by the so-called ‘digital turn’, looking specifically at the impact of social media, the creative appropriation of pixelation and programming code and the role of internet art, online exhibitions and digital archives in the shaping of new spaces for art and its display in the twenty-first century. I have included a pdf of the essay, entitled ‘The Uses of the Future: Contemporary Art in the Digital Domain‘ in the publications section of this blog, which you can find here.

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‘Chairman Mao goes to Anyuan’ (after Liu Chunhua, 1967), Giclee on Canvas/ 95 x 77cm, by Gordon Cheung (2016), featured in the essay by En Liang Khong on ‘The In-Betweeners: Identity, Politics, Hybridity and the Art of ‘Chineseness’

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‘A Contemporary Art Centre, Taipei, a proposal’ by Jun Yang (2008) featured in the essay by Biljana Ciric on ‘Exhibiting Rituals- Potential and Traps: Exhibitions on China in China and Outside China’

With contributions from artists, writers and curators in the field including artists such as Xu Bing, Liu Ding and Gordon Cheung, and curators Hou Hanru, Biljana Ciric, Marko Daniel and many others, the publication has much to offer students, scholars and specialists of East Asian Art as well as those with a more general interest in contemporary art and visual culture. For anyone looking to purchase a copy, the book will be available to buy from Amazon from December onwards.

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A detail from Xu Bing’s bellyband design for ‘Book from the Ground’

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Stills from Susan Pui San Lok, including ‘Notes on Return’ (2003), ‘After Words’ (2005), and ‘Vistas'(2005), single channel digital videos and digital video triptych. 

Oxford Seminar on Visual Culture in Modern and Contemporary China

This year the University of Oxford China Centre will be hosting a seminar series that focuses on visual culture in modern and contemporary China. Convened by Prof. Margaret Hillenbrand, the seminars will bring together a diverse range of scholars to discuss topics including visual culture in Maoist China, the films of Jia Zhangke, Photography and Privacy in China and Contemporary Chinese Performance (to name but a few). The full list of speakers and topics is listed below and the seminars are open to the public. I will be presenting some new research next May in a talk entitled ‘Modelling Marx: Technologies of Engagement and Automation in Contemporary Art’.

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Art and China after 1989: New Perspectives

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This Friday I will be presenting a talk at a symposium organised by the Guggenheim Museum NY, and the NYU Department of Media, Culture, and Communication. Unfortunately I won’t be able to deliver the talk in person but Dr. Wenny Teo, of the Courtauld Institute of Art, has kindly agreed to read the paper on my behalf. The symposium is part of a larger programme of events which will coincide with a major exhibition of contemporary art from China which is slated to open next Autumn at the Guggenheim.

The symposium features an impressive lineup of emerging scholars, curators and museum professionals and tackles issues ranging from public art in the 1990s to consumer culture in Shanghai, institutional critique to contemporary Chinese art history in a global age. My talk will focus on a series of photographic works by the artist Liu Gang 刘刚 (b. 1983) entitled ‘Paper Dreams.’ I have a chapter devoted to these works in my book manuscript, but in this talk I will be focusing specifically on their portrayal of new consumer identities and increasingly globalised patterns of consumption, examining how these developments are amplifying the exchange of visual aesthetics across national and cultural boundaries.

I have included the full symposium programme below, apparently the event is currently sold out, although it may be possible to gain entrance on the day.


 

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