Apr 13


Personal Introduction

By writing this piece I realize it’s a gathering of information, maybe not brought to you in the most appealing way. But in a way that makes sense to me. This writing is background information on the actual product I make. This is a little educational movie about Street art in Beijing. The idea for this movie arose after I spoke with several street art crews in the Netherlands who didn’t knew anything about street art outside the western world. When I started this research I wanted to know how in China the Street Art is shaped and what kind of Western influences were showing in imagery or technics. But after some exploratory research I had to redefine my question because China is way too big to say something about China as a whole. So I redefined my question to: How in Beijing is Street Art shaped and what kind of western influences are showing in imagery or technics. I will try to answer this question on basis of exemplarily artists in Beijing who use the public space as their medium. By trying to show how they work and see themselves as (street) artist. But before I can delve into this topic I felt it necessary to give some background information about the history and position of contemporary art in today’s China and about the phenomenon of street art as a whole. If you are interested in this information as well, you can find this in the attachments.


Modern Chinese street art is only a couple of decades old but writing on walls isn’t shocking in a country that has a long history of doing it. Since the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) scholars have carved words into rocks and trees, later they brushed verses onto the walls of monasteries and roadside inns. Mao plastered big red character slogans onto walls across China. After Mao’s death dissidents made their own mark with big character posters at a spot in western Beijing that became famous as the Democracy Wall. The origin of the Democracy Wall is found in the Chinese student democratic movement, wall posters came to symbolize the hopes of the young and reformers within China. Street art was a means to an end for the Chinese underground. It was the power to have a public voice. Their complaints were aired via wallpapers. This form of expression has symbolized the voice of a marginal movement in China since the late 1970s. In December 1979 the Wall was shut down by the government, and the active participants went underground. The democratic Wall was the first time people had peacefully fought for their own rights and ideals. China’s nascent graffiti culture budded alongside the rise of consumerism. An innovative and diverse culture is developing across China. The street art world is keeping their eyes on China and has great expectations because the Chinese artists are trained as designers, graphic designers and in the fine arts. China´s Street Art culture is ranked the youngest in the world, while there are numerous artists replicating a broadly New York style of graffiti only a handful have pushed out into visual arenas of their own.


Street Art in Beijing

Today’s streetwise artists know to toe the line of direct confrontation. Although some touch on sensitive issues such as inflation and pollution, they avoid direct censure of the government. Most Chinese street artists draw their inspiration from American hip hop culture, preferring to tag their names in English. The internet has broadened the street into a global neighborhood, and graffiti artists from one city know the work of a fellow spray-painter in a different country. In America graffiti is often associated with poor, disintegrating neighborhoods and is viewed as a tool for the dispossessed to carve out an identity. In China, however, graffiti artists occupy an altogether different space. On the one hand the art is reserved for the emerging middle classes who can afford expensive cans of paint and pricey fines. On the other, graffiti artists are attempting to make Chinese cities – long defined by pervasive politics and, more recently, commercial interests – their own.

In Europe and America graffiti, is intertwined with hip hop culture. But China has its own history. In the 1920s revolutionary slogans and paintings were applied to public spaces to further the communist cause. During the Cultural Revolution the Chinese Communist Party daubed propaganda in red characters on neighborhood walls. And today, in a country that is capitalist in all but name, many interior walls of high-rise apartment blocks are covered in scrawling’s by small businesses advertising their services. One of the most profound crews in Beijing is ABS (Active, Briliant,Segnificant). ABS CREW was founded by four Chinese graffiti artists in 2007 to provide products and services involving graffiti competitions, culture communication, brand cooperation, figure design, exhibitions, and product design. They promote the international communication and cooperation of the graffiti culture and seek for the continuous breakthroughs on the creation of different styles. The crew members work together on certain works of art, but also make individual work ANDC is one of the founders of ABS he saw graffiti for the first time in 2005 when he watched style wars (a documentary from 1983 about the hip-hop culture in New York City). If American graffiti was born in the Ghetto, Chinese graffers hail from the middle classes. As ANDC says In China most people doing graffiti are art students, not gangsters. (http://www.economist.com/blogs/analects/2014/04/chinas-graffiti-artists) Fellow crew member SEVEN says he doesn’t want to make the city more beautiful, he wants to try to say something in his own way. In China we can’t talk about things, says Seven, so I have to find other ways to show I’m angry. (BBC – Culture – Graffiti tests the limits of free expression in China.pdf)  Graffiti at its very core is a form of revolt, so the action is the message. Like Seven, SCAR sees graffiti as a form of defiance. But he also knows where to draw the line. Artists do not tag anywhere near Tiananmen Square and they are careful to avoid government buildings. They are also cautious in their subject matter. Shui Gui is like his fellow crew members a (former) art student. As a graffiti artist he hides behind the tag NOISE. His background and interests are quite stereotypical for a street artist; hip hop, break dancing, street ball, but he considers himself more a writer than an artist. When he is asked how he sees graffiti in China he says: I want to contribute to culture, I know graffiti in China is not at the level of graffiti in the West, so I have to turn it up and keep improving. (http://www.88mocca.org/blog/?p=322)  When I summarize the motivation and the core of the ABS Crew a striking similarity between these artists can be seen; in the way they want their art to convey a message, but also in their search for their own identity. Now it seems their imagery and motivation still strongly fall back on the traditional Western graffiti culture.

A totally different story and motivation can be found in the artist Zhang Dali. Zhang Dali, also known as 18k and AK-47, is a Chinese artist (trained at the Central Academy of Art and Design) who works in a variety of media. A provocative mix of graffiti, photography, and sculpture, his art highlights the rapid social change that has swept and unsettled China. Zhang Dali has been considered one of the pioneers of Chinese street art. “I stopped spray-painting the Beijing streets in 2006”says Zhang Dali, China’s best known graffiti artist. “Graffiti is the fashion in China these days and has lost its meaning as protest.” (http://www.vice.com/read/zhang-dali-brings-chinese-street-art-to-new-york) Zhang Dali first discovered street art in Italy where he lived for several years after he fled China in July of 1989, after participating in the Tiananmen Square protests (nowadays most commonly known under the name ’89 Democracy Movement). In 1995 he returned to Beijing to live there. Then there where great changings going on and Zhang Dali anticipated on those changings by bringing his arts to the streets. As he puts it: “I wanted my art to enter into the public space. They were demolishing the old Beijing and I was angry about the destruction of old buildings and neighborhoods. Taking my art to the streets was a way to express my opposition.” (http://www.vice.com/read/zhang-dali-brings-chinese-street-art-to-new-york)  Zhang Dali had three tags he worked with a bald man representing himself as well as an abstract person, AK-47 that expresses violence and 18K that symbolized wealth.  These tags were put on walls that were about to be bulldozed. The political implications of the images and their interaction with the cityscape meant that the cops came looking for Zhang Dali many times. Early in his career he was considered a criminal for doing contemporary art; at this point he was classified as one for pointing out the crimes of others. He also began to make documentary photographs of the graffiti works called dialogue and demolition. Dali’s works have been concerned with the vast social and cultural changes that occurred since the initiation of economic reforms in 1980s. His intention was to include documentation about the issues that his work evoked through a dialogue with his audience. Zhang argues: “I believe that humans are the product of their environment. I am concerned about the changes in our living environment that have been imposed by money and power” (http://www.chinaphotoeducation.com/Carol_China/Zhang_Dali.html) He aims to call attention both to the changing character of Chinese society made emblematic in the destruction of long standing neighborhoods and communities, as well as to the increasing alienation linked with rapid modernization and rampant materialism. Zhang feels that the street art was just one period in his career, he still makes very political engaged work but uses different mediums to tell his message. Since 2003 (and still going) he portraits immigrant workers in life size resin sculptures of various postures, the title of this work is Chinese Offspring and is a documentary of social history of a culture in radical development and flux.

Another example of an artist who uses the streets as a platform or medium for his art work is Ma Yongfen. Ma Yongfeng started Forget Art an independent organization of ongoing projects that play with institutions and events (such as exhibitions, art fairs and street performances) and become social interventions in daily life. His work deals with the social realities that surround him in China. The art work Sensibility is under control Beijing (2012) is a large spray painted stenciled graffiti in recycled cardboard that reads sensibility is under control. He tagged this sentence on several walls in Beijing. The signs are meant to be a reflection of the working environment and the strict procedure the workers abide by. The stenciled messages seem to act as a reinterpretation of Mao’s propaganda from industrial and revolutionary times that would be painted on factory walls for workers to see. Yongfengs graffiti raises questions and creates creative thinking about the environment the employees are in. Each sentence explores an aspect of life inside the working environment: the need to adapt to a strict control system, the human desire to evade and dream, the pressure of efficiency and the humor to be able to deal with all this. The walls of Sensibility under Control Beijing hosted a new subtle form of propaganda, the artistic propaganda for independent and creative thinking. Most of his work was painted over but Yongfeng stated that this made the message even stronger. By making this artwork Yongfeng puts himself at risk because the artists who dare to speak their minds against the government are in danger of being prosecuted.

The use of stencils as in the work of Ma Yongfeng isn’t that common in the street art culture in China. In the West the most famous street artists use the stencil technique, but in China this technique is very remote and still evolving. Russell Howze, the writer of Stencil Nation and the webmaster of Stencil Archive, notices that there are stencil artists getting up in China. He made contact with the artist Robbbb who wishes that the English-speaking world could find out more about stencils in China. Robbbb studied at the China Central Academy of Drama and Fine Arts and after his trip to Europe in 2010 he began to make stencil art. He loved this art so much, that when he returned to Beijing he started to make his own stencil-art.  About his own work he says:  I hope to provide you with a unique sense of thinking. (http://allcitystreetart.com/2012/05/31/robbbb-beijing-china/)  ROBBBB creates pieces of art to make people think and to create social exchange. He says “when people are affected by and begin to think as a result of looking at one of my works… that’s the start of an exchange… that’s what gives meaning to my work.”(http://www.visualnews.com/2012/05/05/robbbb-beijing-street-artist/) Robbbb explains that the Mu-ban (the Chinese word for stencil) is embedded in Chinese folklore and history. Paper-cutting is originated in China and has a rich tradition surrounding New Year’s Eve. Were images such as birds, flowers, fish and mythical legends are cut out of paper to decorate the house for good fortune. In China he saw the first stencil art in the 798 Art Zone where these stencils were made by foreign visitors. About his own work he says: my street art works mainly reflect the social phenomena and social problems of today’s China. (Stencilarchive.org/node/1322) Robbbb sees street art in China in an early and crooked stage and hopes it will spread and develop. The final example is the artist DALeast. He is one of the most prolific street artists today, as well as an accomplished painter, sculptor and digital artist. DALeast is one of the biggest names in the international street art scene. He has graffitied around the world spraying huge animals onto buildings in London, New York, Cape Town and Melbourne. He has also participated in many group exhibitions over the years in these countries. DALeast prefers to provoke personal introspection over making grand political statements in his art, although he says he enjoys the political act of marking public buildings.  He began doing graffiti with a crew of street artists in 2007. The crew worked together for four years but were arrested and after that disbanded. His use of animals, he says, reflects the human condition. Animals are like society, but are kind of attached to humans. Some people in China are doing street art against the government, especially the beginners. I don’t have political information in my art, because I think the political in art is just art. (DALeast_ The street artist breaking out of China – Features – Art – The Independent) DALeast finds his inspiration in the way the material revolves and the spiritual reveals itself. He has the ability to create an illusion with the certain combination of lines. The overall artistic effect of utilizing a dark base while simultaneously highlighting in fragmented, brighter lines is to make the images appear to leap off the wall or the canvas. He says he is concerned by the number of beginners in China who are doing graffiti to copy western trends. In Brooklyn, people did graffiti in the 1970s because they were suffering in society; they felt like they were in the bottom. In China Street art is more like a fashion. His trademark style of metallic, monochromatic, sculptural figures can now be experienced all over the world. His practice remains strongly influenced by Eastern philosophy and by the spirit and energy embedded in the natural world. DALeast attempts to confront the viewer on a conceptual level, forming a unique pictorial synthesis of half-mechanized, half-organic world.


If I want to answer my first question: How in Beijing is Street Art shaped and what kind of western influences are showing in imagery or technics. I have to point out a difference between the artists who really stick to street art and artist who use the street as a medium that is for a specific project the right canvas for their art work. When I look at the first group there are a number of points that catch the eye.  These groups of artists are still very young (under the age of 30) and share a similarity in how they first came in to contact with street art. By visiting the West or/and by surfing the web for images and examples of street art from the West.  These artists all feel the need to show their work in a broader sense. I read a lot of blogs and platforms of these artists who were clearly translated from Chinese into English by Google Translate because they want to be recognized by the rest of the street art world. In imagery and style they are much related to the Western street art, all tough they want to give their own spin to it. The imagery feels familiar to me, but the intention and the message are clearly of their own. And I think because this art form is still very young it will evolve and become more and more of their own including the imagery. I read on several platforms who focus on the street art scene worldwide, that they have great expectations of the Chinese street art because most off the practitioners have a background in art or design and strong work ethic to improve themselves. The second group of artists, who use the streets temporarily for a specific art work, have in common that they want to bring awareness to the streets.  They have been participants of the Democratic Movement and still have a very great sense of responsibility for what is going on in China on a more political level. This is way they choose the streets as a medium to call attention for the case they feel needs this attention. The artists I have highlighted in this writing are the big names of the Beijing street art scene. For one thing because they already have a name for themselves within the (street) art world, on the other hand because they fanatical create promotion for themselves through blogs and a website. And because I personally believe they deserve the attention.



Chaffee G., Political protest and street art: popular tools for democratization in Hispanic countries, Santa Barbara, ABC Clio (1993)

Ganz N., Graffiti World, London, Thames & Hudson (2009)

Schacter, Rafael, The world atlas of street art and graffiti, London,Aurum press Limited,(2013)

BBC – Culture – Graffiti tests the limits of free expression in China.pdf (2012)

C Sebag Montefiore,BBC – Culture, Graffiti tests the limits of free expression in China,(2013)

DALeast_ The street artist breaking out of China – Features – Art – The Independent. Pdf (2013)





http://andrewsolomon.com/articles/their-irony-humor-and-art-can-save-china/ (2014)









www.idaprojects.org_IDAA_brocures_CONTEMPORARY CHINESE ART IN THE WEST.pdf









 Background 1: The rise of Contemporary Chinese Art 

For me it’s necessary to have some background information of contemporary art in China to have an impression of the scene and atmosphere in which the Street Art is evolving. Chinese society is always hierarchical, even the most informal group has a pyramid structure. The leader of the Chinese Avant-Garde is Li Xianting, called Lao Li. He is a writer and curator, his main role is to guide artists gently into their own powerful history. It was in 1979 that the Stars group initiated and Li Xianting was a big promoter of this form of art and was an active participant of the group. The Stars Group was among the first collectives or organized artists’ groups to present the beginnings of a Chinese avant-garde following the Cultural Revolution. Hoping to undermine the Socialist Realism of years past, they employed banned Western styles in their art and unlawfully staged their inaugural exhibition in a public park. After officials banned the exhibition, artist-members took to the streets to champion artistic freedom. It was part of the Democracy Wall movement, which brought together social, cultural and political impetus for change. They could not show their work, so in 1979 they hung their paintings on the fence outside the National Gallery. When they encountered police resistance, they demonstrated for individual rights. When the June 4 massacre took place, artists and idealists realized that their influence was being ignored.

The rise in popularity of Chinese art since the 1990s has been phenomenal. Although Chinese artists had been experimenting with contemporary art previously, it was only after the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, when many artists immigrated and began to practice abroad that contemporary Chinese art came to the attention of the West. Their work reflected the greater freedom of expression available and often the artists chose to use their distance to reflect on circumstances in China. China´s modern art scene has grown and evolved quickly in the last decades and contemporary artists have secured themselves a place in international art. The market for Chinese art has expanded rapidly in the past decade. Beijing’s art gallery districts have seen unprecedented growth. But the path between local and international has proven difficult to navigate. For Zoe Butt (Executive director and curator of San Art) the problem lies not in the lack of international exhibitions for Chinese artists, but the lack of cultural exchange and engagement. Chinese artists are taking too many cues from Western art rather than acting independently.


Background 2: Street Art

Street Art is possibly the most common popular art form in existence today. There are many different motivations, styles and approaches within this artistic arena as there are practitioners themselves. The street art scene is a social network with unwritten rules, hierarchies, alternative identities, friendship and the impetus to prove oneself in the scene. Stylistic and formal innovation is an artist’s primary goal. Street artists abide by a set of unwritten rules and ethical codes. The most critical of these rules in that ´going over´ or crossing out another writer´s work is disrespectful and should be avoid unless initiating a writing battle. Street artists replicate and subvert the signs and symbols of urban environments, sometimes with an overtly political agenda. While contemporary street art is undeniably more accepted as an art form, it owes much to the original culture of graffiti writing, which paved the way for creation of unsanctioned art in the city. And while the origin of this art form can be found in several influences, it is most significantly connected to the ubiquitous consumer culture. And the street artists reclaim the public space for a more diverse public. Street art aids in the creation of city spaces by occupying a physical location in the cityscape and by engaging people in the experience of art. Faile (New York based artist duo) are representative of street art as a whole. Working from comic books, signage, novel cover-art, newspapers and photographs, Faile visually reproduce the fragmented reality of our experiences in the city. To communicate with societies at large.

Whether exhibited in marginal spaces, or as modifications to billboards and other sides of visual consumption, street art functions as a reminder of free thought, free expression and individuality in networks of conformity.  On some level most street artists produce work as a way to participate in the creation of an alternative visual culture. Street art is strongly associated with its location and the element of a surprise encounter with the works of art.

That’s why the experience of an encounter with street art via photographs posted online is incomplete. But this does not render its significance, because it’s the most valuable foundation on which the movement thrives and evolves. Street artists who live in remote places away from major cosmopolitan cities rely on the internet to make themselves known. In a way, the internet is not only a source of information about street art, but is also swiftly becoming the primary vehicle for an encounter with the work.

Mar 27
2014.03.24 Mon, by   Iona Whittaker  Translated by: 宋京
On “Suspending”: Ma Yongfeng

“Suspending”: Ma Yongfeng solo exhibition

Jiali Gallery (4 Beijixiang hutong, Dongcheng District, Beijing) Mar 15 – Apr 26, 2014

The new exhibition at Jiali Gallery presents photographs by Ma Yongfeng. Almost without exception, these monochrome gelatin prints feature a focal image immersed in a black pool of background; context and situation have been removed—or denied.

The assembled images do not grasp one’s attention, but manage steadily to secure it. “Fragment” is an overused word implying accident and detachment; this is, rather, a deliberate and economical selection with a poetic ambience. At times, the images are very direct—for example the anomalous close-up of female genitals, and at others more vague, as is true for a view of bamboo stalks. On its own, a photograph showing just the side of the head of a Buddha statue, a view into a cavern grown over with coral or the line of a stream down a rocky slope might be incidental; but together, these little views (not altogether without a sense of nostalgia) succeed in drawing the eye in.

The result is a noiseless exhibition which encourages slow inspection within the sheltered space of the gallery. As such, it is somewhat out of turn with the sort of practices Ma Yongfeng is known for as a prominent member of the “Forget Art” collective, who pursue open creative activities outside the fixed site of an institution or gallery, and using ordinary, daily materials or actions. “Suspending”, then, could apply as much to these photographs’ relationship to Ma’s other work as to the feel of the show—for which this title is apt.

Ma Yongfeng, “The Secret of All Life”, gelatin silver print, 25.5 x 17.5cm, 2013
众妙#04 黑白银盐照片

“Suspending”, Ma Yongfeng solo exhibition at Jiali Gallery, exhibition view

Ma Yongfeng, #3 from the series “Attached to Nothing”, gelatin silver print, 9.7 x 8.8 cm, 2013
无所住 黑白银盐照片2013年

Jul 15

by Ben Davis

"The Thirteen: Chinese Video Now," Feb. 26-May 1, 2006, at P.S.1 MoMA, 22-25 Jackson Ave, Long Island City, N.Y. 11101


By now, the word has spread everywhere in the art world: China is the future. Everyone is in a frenzy, with all the major galleries jockeying to get a Chinese artist in the rotation. At the Museum of Modern Art in New York, insiders say that the order has come from the top down that all departments should reorient themselves to add a focus on Chinese contemporary art.


This certainly represents, in part, an authentic interest in a thriving Chinese scene, fruit of the transformation of a rural and tradition-bound society into an urban and capitalist one, squarely focused on the future. But the indomitable air that Chinese art has right now is obviously driven by blind speculation as well. The current show of Chinese video art at MoMA satellite P.S.1, featuring work by 8gg, Cui Xiuwen, Dong Wensheng, Cao Fei, Hu Jieming, Huang Ziaopeng, Li Songhua, Liang Yue, Lu Chungsheng, Ma Yongfeng, Meng Jin, Xu Tan and Xu Zhen, co-curated by David Thorp and Sun Ning, shows both sides of this uneasy situation.

The phenomenon can be summed up by exploring the title of the exhibition itself, "The Thirteen." On the one hand, it’s clearly meant to evoke a kind of supernatural aura, and, in fact, the show is anchored by two longer videos, both with real mystery to them. The 28-minute Drifting Lantern (2005) by Cui Xiuwen (b. 1970) is the first thing one sees as one enters the darkened galleries, with an entire wall dedicated to its projection. It focuses on a single image: a glowing, pumpkin-shaped orange lantern. Accompanied by a lush soundtrack of erhu, flute and voice, and isolated on a black background, the glowing form bobs forward and backwards, in and out of the screen like a playful spirit.

Occasionally, however, fragments of other images break the blackness, allowing the viewer to become aware that the lantern, in fact, is suspended on a chain, carried by a woman who holds it with a ceremonial steadiness as she advances through streets and plazas. The restless, animated movement of the lantern turns out to be the jerky motion of the camera itself as it follows her path. Moving in and out of the illusion, now isolating the lantern and letting artifice take over, now pulling back to show its context, Cui’s piece is perfect as exploration of the potentials proper to video.

Also granted its own gallery is the 29-minuteThe History of Chemistry (2004) by Lu Chunsheng (b. 1968), located exactly half-way through the exhibition from Floating Lantern(furthering the impression that it serves as a second pillar of the show). Shot in spare black-and-white, History’s wordless, sci-fi infused narrative is seemingly structured around an evolution through different forms of power: We follow a group of sailors (water-born transit) who explore a barren, overgrown wasteland, where they are spooked first by a train (steam-power), seemingly running automatically across deserted tracks, and then by a lawnmower (gas/electric-power), mysteriously driven in circles. At last, they draw near an immense, fortress-like industrial complex -- which, perhaps, represents the future, as suggested by the prophetic final image of the group’s captain standing frozen, hammer raised in the air.

Three pieces by Cao Fei (b. 1978), scattered throughout the exhibition, show a consistent concern for moments in which fantasy collides with humdrum everyday life. In Milkman (2005), Cao captures the pathos of the titular protagonist’s daily routine, seeing him at one point lolling in bed, tormented by the come-ons of a late night sex chat show. Public Space(2002) features a middle-aged man playing the fool in the street, while the crowd-pleasingCosplayers (2004) depicts various young people clad as cartoon heroes and heroines, staging mock battles in the street before finally trudging back to their dreary normal lives. Though somewhat slight, taken together these works outline a coherent vision.

Returning to the show’s name, however: If it is intended to evoke a kind of mystical aura, it also unintentionally indicates that Chinese art is here being thought of numerically, in bulk. As with many efforts at curating video, there is a real problem with cramming too much of it together: Cui’s meditative Lantern is interrupted by the sound of heavy breathing, clacking ping-pong balls and shouting from crowded suites of videos on either side; Lu’s stark, near-silent History is stationed adjacent to Hu Jieming’s clamorous From Architectural Immanence (2005), a 6-minute loop featuring fragmentary blasts of music that supposedly correspond to the shapes of the different types of buildings pictured.

What’s more, if this is supposed to be the future, much of the work has the familiar feeling of the recent past. Take the works by young, ultra-hot Chinese artist Xu Zhen (b. 1977), whose interest in provocation and the body recalls 70s artists like Bruce Nauman and William Wegman. We’ll come back (2002), displayed on a TV set on the floor, focuses on the crotches of two young people using their flies as an ashtray and a purse, respectively, while Shouting (1998) features the artist screaming into a crowd from behind a camera and capturing their reactions. (Xu’s Rainbow, a 1998 video of a naked back being whipped, each cut in the film corresponding to a lashing sound, so that it becomes more scarred even as the actual attacks are edited out, is more interesting). Similarly, the collective 8gg’s manipulated footage of Chinese newscasters, making them look robotic, is a gimmick that’s been worked from many angles already by other artists.

Many more videos have the feeling of concept-first "gestures" familiar from trendy Western art, here often with relation to China’s rapid development: Xu Tan’s Xin Tian Di (2005), showing images of a landmark Communist neighborhood overrun with Starbucks coffee shops and Vidal Sassoon salons, counterpoised to a soundtrack of Communist anthems; Ma Yongfeng’s The Swirl (2002), a static, 15-minute shot of Chinese goldfish being tortured in an industrial washing machine; and Li Songhua’sKeynote Speech (2005), which greets visitors before they enter the galleries with the image of a small Chinese boy reading the bombastic text of a speech on China’s glorious economic future.

The pitfall of a top-down emphasis on China-ness -- akin to the fashionable interest in getting tattoos of random Chinese characters -- is that it comes at the expense of the actual rhythms of artistic singularities. Tellingly, P.S.1 accompanies the show with a text extolling video as perfect for China, because it is "a relatively cheap medium that produces rapid results," a formal proposition that echoes Wallstreet’s notion of the country as haven of cheap goods and get-rich-quick investment.

The classic dangers of speculative frenzy are the overvaluing of mediocre assets, the flourishing of half-baked schemes and the creation of redundancy, as capital indiscriminately builds up "hot" industries. "The Thirteen" shows that, whatever its strengths are, the Chinese art scene is not immune to all this -- though, given the hype, I suppose that this is a progressive lesson in its own right.

BEN DAVIS is associate editor of Artnet Magazine.

May 12

by An Xiao on May 7,2013

China Residencies maintains a growing directory of residency offerings available to foreigners.

China Residencies maintains a growing directory of residency offerings available to foreigners.

SAN FRANCISCO — As interest in China grows, so does interest in its art scene. And while I’ve met countless artists in the US who have wanted to travel to China, the barriers to access remain high, due to language, culture, and cost.

A New China Residency Initiative

Last year, I wrote about residencies in China that are worth considering, but there are dozens more. China Residencies, a new nonprofit started by longtime China-based artists/art lovers Crystal Ruth Bell and Kira Simon-Kennedy, aims to help Western artists navigate the wide range of opportunities.

“We think there are between 30 and 50 programs active right now,” wrote Simon-Kennedy in an email to Hyperallergic. Bell, who directed the residency program at Red Gate Gallery, saw that many of these residencies received little coverage outside of China.

“Crystal started meeting with residency admins in 2010 to talk about the unique challenges of existing in China: residencies relied almost entirely on word-of-mouth to attract applicants, and sometimes had a difficult time filling spots with qualified artists. The lack of visibility also limited the amount of funding visiting artists and programs could receive,” she said.

Bell and Simon-Kennedy are currently raising money on Indiegogo to fund the project, which includes a research trip throughout China to understand the wide variety of residency opportunities. Their directorycurrently lists 22 residencies, most of which are in Beijing, and they plan to add additional resources such as residency reviews and practical resources for China travelers. They’ll also be sharing their knowledge with existing projects like ResArtis and Residency Unlimited, who are supporting their work.

UNCUT TALKS: SoundCloud meets public radio meets China's art scene

UNCUT TALKS: SoundCloud meets public radio meets China’s art scene

UNCUT TALKS: A New Audio Magazine from China

Can’t travel to China just yet? Never fear. Around this same time, I was contacted by Beijing artist Ma Yongfeng about a new audio magazine he’s been producing with Hyperallergic contributor Alessandro Rolandi and arts writer Edward Sanderson. Consisting of unedited audio discussions uploaded to Soundcloud,UNCUT TALKS, as Ma writes on his blog, is a platform that “collects, and makes available for everyone to listen to, hours of conversations among interesting people in China and around the world on some of the most challenging and provocative topics of our time.”

So far, the magazine includes some 30 interviews, with a wide variety of individuals from China’s art scene, conducted in both Chinese and English. Although translations are not yet available for the Chinese audio, the channel is a great way to bring some of the aesthetics and intimacy of audio recordings to an art world community that can seem dense and complex to outsiders.

I’m excited about both projects and look forward to seeing how they move forward. Art fosters unique forms of dialogue that only seem more and more important given China’s increase presence on the world stage.

“China is a very complicated place, and at times when the government of the People’s Republic clashes with other nations on countless topics, we think helping foster more dialogue on the citizen level through artistic exchange will lead to a greater mutual understanding,” Simon-Kennedy explained.

Apr 21

Change of art

Social media has become a powerful tool of expression supported by the masses, writes Victoria Burrows

Social media art offers a wide canvas and an unlimited palette. Illustrations: Craig Stephens
If you saw any of the hundreds of manipulated cartoons, film posters and photographs of chief executive hopeful Henry Tang Ying-yen being shared online during last year's election, you were part of a brave new world of art that is challenging social norms, political control and the definition of art itself. Or so say proponents of social media art - art that uses sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Tumblr as its medium of creation and dissemination.

During last year's election, Tang, who illegally added an underground expansion to his luxury home, was made fun of in numerous cartoons and satirical works, including one online poster where Tang's face grins from a Harry Potter movie spoof below the caption "Kowloon Basement and the Chamber of Secrets".

Amusing, but is it art? Yes, say artists and art critics, for two reasons.

First, as Hong Kong gallery owner and critic John Batten says: "Andy Warhol demonstrated that anything could be art - the use of the internet is just an extension of that idea."

Second, when it comes to social media art, according to one definition hashed out during an artists' roundtable discussion on the Facebook page of New York City-based blogazine Hyperallergic, the artwork in question is not one satirically altered movie poster, but the collective activity of multiple, at times anonymous, artists. Often they are just members of the public not practising or trained in art, all working on the same meme - in this case, Henry Tang's illegal basement. One can hardly dispute that it is a wonderfully witty and creative outpouring.

At the heart of the issue is the slight but important distinction between art on social media, and social media art. An artist painting a picture, photographing it and putting it up on Facebook, or making a video, uploading it to YouTube, and tweeting the link is not social media art. The medium needs to be integrated into the work.

Take the meme of the Pepper Spray Cop that spread through the internet last year. A row of seated protesters at the University of California were showered with pepper spray by a policeman, Lieutenant John Pike. The image of Pike, spray can in hand, was posted on social news website Reddit. The next day, two Photoshopped images appeared online, one with another meme, the image of actor Leonardo DiCaprio walking jauntily, known as Strutting Leo, Photoshopped over Pike.

The second image saw Pike superimposed into the 1819 painting Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull.

An incident in which a policeman attacked seated protesters withpepper spray prompted a flood of Photoshopped images that went online, symbolising the essence of socialmedia art.

As news of the pepper spray incident circulated on television, in newspapers and on online news sites, the meme spread. Soon, hundreds of Photoshopped images were shared, including Pike superimposed into Picasso's famous anti-war painting Guernica and on to an image of the United States Constitution.

The social media artwork here is not an original, authentic image, or the individual images created based on this original, but the diverse, creative collection of works.

"A social media artwork can have collective authorship," says American artist An Xiao Mina, one of the artists involved in trying to define social media art during the Hyperallergic roundtable discussion. "This is different from having an anonymous author or no author. Although the Pepper Spray Cop meme can be identified to a couple of posts that launched the meme, the original authors haven't been identified. The merits of this activity as an art form are debatable, but it's no question to me that the collective activity was more interesting than any individual image or video."

In social media art, the web is not only involved in the sourcing and marketing of the art, but also its expression. An Xiao and the other artists in the Hyperallergic group identified three other characteristics: that the art involves the audience in some fashion as it is inherently a social medium; that the art is accessible beyond a "typical" art world audience while still being conceptually rich; and that, ultimately, the art is all about the artist's intent, and it should be judged accordingly.

Judging social media art, which is inherently plural and shifting, is tricky. While An Xiao says that critiquing a social media art piece involves the same process as other art forms - understanding the artist's intent, and assessing how successfully the artist has achieved this - Joanie San Chirico, another of the Hyperallergic roundtable artists, points out that the audience's influence can alter a piece.

"The artist's intent has to be fluid and may even transform before the completion of the work." Also, when there are multiple, anonymous artists, involved, intent can differ, and be unknown. As mainland artist Ma Yongfeng says: "Everyone can be an artist in today's world; this means you don't need anyone to endorse you as qualified as a social media artist. As everybody can be a social engine, so the artist's identity is not important now. What's critical is that you can provide new energy for this over-institutionalised society. People use this tool to create, protest and demonstrate … maybe one day they [can] really change something."

Henry Tang's illegal basement extension led to controversy all over the city and on the internet.

Critics point to the banality of social media art. Paddy Johnson, art editor at online The L Magazine, states: "Much social media art, while refreshingly clear in intent - statements written by artists working with social media are actually a joy to read - often lacks the creative juice that defines truly great art." There is, however, no doubt social media art can be powerful. When social media art takes place in the field of social or political commentary, it is at its most exciting. Mainland artist Ai Weiwei continues to provoke authorities with his art, which includes the use of social media, such as his political take on South Korean musician Psy's Gangnam Style song and video, which went globally viral. Of course, using popular media for propaganda is nothing new. "The Philippines and texting was a much earlier exponent - earlier than Ai - of political messaging using social-type media," Batten says. "It's similar to the dropping from a plane of propaganda material over enemy territory during wartime. The mainland sent similar messages by balloon over Taiwan during the Cultural Revolution. Same idea, different media."

The idea may be nothing new, but the media seems to be working. The posters and cartoons ridiculing Tang allowed the public to voice their discontent and disseminate it, further swaying public opinion. Tang, once thought to be the favoured contender in the chief executive race, could only sit back and watch as his candidacy unravelled

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