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

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.