Aug 12
Guerrilla Theater
live media intervention


Organized by Come & Go Art Center,

Beijing Modern Dance Company

China Oriental Foundation for Art

Curated by Ma Yongfeng

Artists: Katja Loher, Michael Yuen, Ma Yongfeng, Andreas Sell, Yam Lau

Date: 7pm-11pm,August 15-16

Venue: No.46,Fangjiahutong,Dongcheng District,Beijing


Polish director Jerzy Grotowski reduce the medium such as forms and element in drama, and first introduce the word ‘Poor Theater’ into the culture terms of 1960s. Today, what has been left to do in the theater after theater?

Perhaps the purest theater only exists in ‘Found Situation’, which merges forms into forms, concepts into concepts, things into things, situation into situation, and eventually merges lives into lives.

‘Guerrilla’ emphasizes the process. During the process, time and memory interlaces to look for the next location and control everything to unfold in medium.  

From minimal electronic intervention to animation hypnotism, from space hallucinogen to game theater, to the expansion of an existed situation, 5 new media artists take five different ‘guerilla strategy’

By Ma Yongfeng

Aug 8,2009

Artist Bio

Andreas Sell

Andreas Sell was born in 1977 in Bayreuth/Germany. Currently he´s living in Berlin and Beijing. Before he started studying fine arts, he absolved a four years actor´s training at the Studiobühne Bayreuth and a three years apprenticeship as stonemason/stonesculptor. 2008 he graduated from the School of Art and Design Berlin Weißensee with the major sculpture. In 2006 he received an annual scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to continue his studies in the MFA program in New Forms at Pratt Institute NYC.

By developing subversive action plans he intervened in different exhibition contexts, amongst others in Berlin at the Hamburger Bahnhof, the Old Museum, Bodemuseum, Pergamonmuseum, the Old National Gallery and during the 5th Berlin Biennale at KW Institute for Contemporary Art. 2008 he received the Mart Stam Award for most promising young artists of the School of Art and Design Berlin Weißensee. 2009 he received a postgraduate scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service to continue his artistic work in the People´s Republic China.

Katja Loher

Working in several different mediums and with a number of collaborators from around the world, New York-based, Swiss artist Katja Loher’s explorations of language and visual form come together in an assemblage of present technologies and dramatic sculptures. Translating, in poetic metaphor, the “ambivalent relationships between power, freedom and dependency,” she creates a powerful visual platform that pulls the viewer out of his current perspective and provides a broader perspective with which to address existential questions and present concerns in the world.

A multi-awarded artist, Katja’s video sculptures and installations have appeared at international galleries and institutions. In 2004,Katja Loher was the recipient of the TPC CreaTVty Award from the Swiss TV Production Center. In the last years she received several artist in residences, awards and grants including 6-month artist residencies in Berlin and New York.

Michael Yuen

Michael Yuen's work encompasses a plurality of media. He is known for a body of works making use of light, sound and performance. Over the past years Michael has divided his time equally between Australia and China, and in both environments his works have investigated the city and public space through events and interventions. His work is often temporary and situated outside engaging directly with the city and is frequently associated with interdisciplinary, public space and media practices.

Michael has worked with Zendai Museum of Modern Art (Shanghai), Australian Centre for the Moving Image (Melbourne) jointly with the Hayward Gallery (London), Adelaide International Festival of Arts, SSamzie Space (Seoul), Yuanfen New Media Art (Beijing), received Ruby Litchfield and AsiaLink awards. He has served on the InterArts board for the Australia Council of the Arts (2006/7). Michael divides his time between his native Adelaide and Beijing.

Yam Lau

Yam Lau was born in Hong Kong and is currently based in Toronto, Canada. He received his Master of Fine Arts in painting from the University of Alberta. His creative work explores new expressions and qualities of space, time and image. His most recent works combine video and computer-generated animation to re-create familiar spaces and activities in varied dimensionalities and perspectives. Also, Lau publishes regularly on art and design and is active in the local art community. Certain aspects of his art practice, such as using his car as an on-going mobile project space, are designed to solicit community participation.

Lau has exhibited widely across Canada, United States and Europe. He is a recipient of numerous awards from the arts councils in Canada. Currently Lau is a Professor of painting at York University, Toronto. In addition to his teaching and research, Lau also serves on the board and advisory committee on two public galleries. His work is represented by Leo Kamen Gallery in Toronto and Yuanfen New Media Art Space in Beijing.

Ma Yongfeng  

Ma Yongfeng was born in Shanxi, China in 1971 and is a new media artist currently based in Beijing. He has exhibited widely across Europe, the United States and China – most recently in Chinese Video Now at P.S.1, New York, Becoming Landscape at Platform China, Beijing, and The Cretaceous Period at ArtSway, UK. He was selected for the Production Residency Scheme by ArtSway and Chinese Art Centre in UK from an exceptional shortlist of artists nominated by Chinese curators and professionals in 2007.

Ma came to international attention in 2002 with The Swirl, a video depicting six Koi carp being subjected to a 15 minute wash cycle in an upright washing machine. The piece was exhibited at MOCA at Los Angeles and PS1 in New York. Ma has continued to explore additional alternative realities between order and disorder in many of his video, animation, photography and installations.


主办:聚敞现代艺术中心 北京现代舞团 华亚艺术基金会


艺术家:Katja Loher, Michael Yuen, 马永峰, Andreas Sell, 刘任钧





或许最纯粹的剧场只存在于“现成的情境”(Found Situation)中,就是让形式淹没在形式中,让观念淹没在观念中,让事物淹没在事物之中,让情境淹没在情境之中,最后让生活淹没在生活中。




Andreas Sell

Andreas Sell 于1977年生于德国的Bayreuth, 于2008年毕业于柏林的Weißensee艺术和设计学院的雕塑专业。 在2006年他受到了德国学术交流服务机构(DAAD)的年度奖学金,以此他在纽约Pratt学院的新形式系继续他的硕士学习。

他在不同的展览上混入参观人群,进行有策略的表演,来对展览原来的含义进行了干扰。在2008年他被授予柏林Weißensee艺术设计学院Mart Stam奖项的最有前途的年青艺术家。在2009年,他得到了柏林学术交流服务机构的硕士奖学金并前往中国继续他的艺术工作。

Katja Loher

Katja Loher 作品使用不同的媒介,并且和相当多的纽约,瑞士艺术家合作过。 Katja Loher将她对语言和视觉形式的探索,以一种对当前的科技和戏剧化的雕塑装配表现出来。 用诗意隐喻角度来翻译这句著名的‘对于权利,自由和独立之间的内心自相矛盾的关系’,她创造了一个有力的视觉平台  把观众拉出了一般流行的解释,以针对存在的问题和当前的世界关注的角度,提供了一个更广阔的视角来诠释。

作为一个得到多次奖项的艺术家,Katja的录像,雕塑和装置一直在国际上的画廊和机构里出现。 2004年,Katja是瑞士电视制片中心的TPC CreatVty奖的获得者。在过去的几年里,她先后得到了多次的艺术家驻留的机会,奖项和基金,其中包括在北京和纽约的6个月的驻留交流项目。

Michael Yuen

Michael Yuen的作品围绕着媒体的多重性展开。 他以一系列以对光,声,和表演的使用而出名。在过去的几年里, Michael一直工作在澳大利亚和中国。在这两地,他的作品通过考察事件和干预来研究城市和公共空间。Michael的作品通常是暂时的, 并且在城市里的户外完成。 作品通常跨越多学科,公共空间和媒体实践。

Michael曾经合作于上海证大现代艺术馆,澳大利亚移动影像中心联合伦敦黑瓦德画廊,阿德莱德国际艺术节,韩国首尔Ssamzie空间, 北京缘分新媒体艺术,得到了路比里其菲尔德和亚洲连接的奖项。 他在2006到2007年其间在澳大利亚文化协会供职。 Michael在他的家乡阿德莱德和北京两地工作。

Yam Lau  刘任钧

刘任钧出生在香港,现居住在加拿大多伦多城市。 他得到了阿尔伯塔大学的美术硕士学位。 刘任钧的作品探索全新的时间、空间以及影像表达方式与特性。 把视频 和计算机生产的特效(CGI) 综合起来重新表现我们现实生活中的实际场景,但现实该实际场景的同时利用别致的,虚拟世界的眼光。除此之外,他也为艺术类杂志撰写文稿,并在艺术交流组织上非常活跃。刘任钧在艺术上面的一些实践,比如用他自己的私人轿车作为移动小型创作项目空间等,给社区和群众带来了一个交流和参与的机会。
刘任钧很广泛的在加拿大,美国,欧洲各个地方展览他的作品,被加拿大艺术界获许了众多奖项。现在Yam是多伦多约克大学的绘画教授。除教学之外,他还为两个画廊做委员会咨询,他的艺术作品仅授权给多伦多Leo Kamen画廊和北京缘分新媒体艺术空间。

Ma Yong Feng 马永峰

马永峰出生于1977年,中国山西,是基于北京的新媒体艺术家。 他的作品被广泛地在欧洲,美国和中展出。最近的展览有“中国现在录像”(P.S.1 纽约),“生成景观”(站台中国,北京)以及“白垩纪”(ArtSway,英国)。2007年他被短期提名在中国策展人和教授选出的艺术家中,之后被选参与ArtSway和英国华人艺术中心所合作的制作驻留项目。

从2002年作品“旋涡”起,马永峰开始得到国际关注。 录像“旋涡”描述了6条锦鲤在直立的单缸洗衣机内经历15分钟的环洗。这个作品曾经展于洛杉矶的当代艺术博物馆(MOCA)和纽约的P.S.1。 马永峰在作品中继续探索在秩序和混乱之间的多种不同的现实,这在他的录像,动画,摄影和装置作品中都有展现。
Aug 1







廊桥当代艺术中心 成都



Jul 26

      当我们在认识当代中国艺术家制作的抽象作品时,西方20世纪抽象艺术发展的经验就会很自然的成为一个参照。尤其是当我们意识到,格林伯格(Clement Greenberg)所主张的那条进步论的和追求纯粹的形式主义路线多年前就已近终点时,便难免产生一种错过末班车的懊悔。这不仅是因为当代中国的抽象已不可能共时性的成为国际现代主义的一分子,而且新开出的班车系列名号也几经更改——偶发、装配、波普、行为、观念、影像……好吧,既然现代抽象的逻辑已然完结,那么,我们该如何对当代中国的抽象作品抱以“理解之同情”呢?这是一个难题,当然,我曾以为,如果“说”得好,这也是一个不错的辩护命题。但是,在走访艺术家的过程中,我却意识到,问题不是那么简单,现实也没有想象的那么悲观。

    当格林伯格把现代主义简化为一条形式不断走向纯粹和极致的艺术道路时,不但现代主义被简化了,抽象艺术事实上也被简化了。抽象虽然有它追求纯粹的一面,但在整个20世纪,抽象艺术也是与象征性和功能性的问题结合在一起的。表现与象征其实总是与抽象形影相随,康定斯基和美国的抽象表现主义都能说明这一点;而抽象的功能性的价值,则要求我们从一种更广泛的角度来看待抽象艺术,也就是说,抽象的意义不只在于绘画形式内部的简化与变迁,我们还应该在一个更大的文明系统中看待抽象,这时候我们就会发现,一些抽象大师,尤其是像塔特林、蒙德里安、杜斯伯格、马克斯•比尔等人,他们所探索的抽象其实都是在为某种理想的现代文明景观勾画蓝图,其核心价值指向民主、平等和技术理性。而且,抽象在经历了包豪斯以总体艺术(建筑)为最终旨归的综合试验之后,其触角在20世纪中叶的确延伸到了所有的视觉领域,举凡绘画、雕塑、建筑、产品、平面、服装、摄影乃至电影,无不受其影响。正如赫伯特•里德(Herbert Read)所说,抽象对于设计的意义犹如数学之于现代科技。因此,可以毫不夸张地说,抽象代表了一个时代,它奠定了现代主义乌托邦的基调。

    不过,按照丹托(Arthur Danto)的说法,随着波普的出现,抽象艺术的宏大叙事在20世纪60年代走向终结。的确,现代主义的抽象话语,尤其是格林伯格,过于相信理性和秩序,过于看重集体主义和进化论的原则,从而最终走向了统一性和理论上的集权。这种统一性和集权当然能够使抽象艺术家在所谓的大趋势中找到了一种安全感和归属感,但对于艺术来说,这却是一种危险的游戏。因为,如果艺术发展的或然性和个体的创造性被消弭,那么艺术史就只能剩下整齐划一的驱壳了。所以,抽象的宏大叙事最终也没能逃离现代艺术的宿命——“否定,否定之否定”。当代艺术在后现代走向了多元文化,走向了多样性。但是,多元的后现代是一个地球人都赞成多元化的时代。抽象艺术在现代主义阶段的宏大话语实践所打下的统一性的基础并没有消失。那些宏伟的现代主义建筑、那些钢铁构架的大型工程项目、那些整齐划一的城市、街道和阴影,无不回荡着抽象的精神(当然,不见得都是艺术)。而正是这种精神会集全球化的浪潮,对一些探索抽象艺术的中国艺术家产生了巨大的影响。比如江大海,他在中央美院学习工作时开始关注形式语言的探索,80年代末出国后更是注意到抽象是一种国际语言,遂专注于对抽象艺术精神的研究和探索;青年画家刘文涛也有类似的经历,他本科期间就深受抽象艺术的吸引,在美国念研究生时又研究了色域绘画、后绘画性抽象和极少主义的原作,并被美国那些宏伟的、几何形态的现代建筑所吸引。所以,像江大海和刘文涛这样的艺术家,他们对抽象的理解从一定意义上讲当然可以说是全球化的结果。


    从这个意义上讲,此“抽象”非彼“抽象”,这种抽象不是一个流派,不是一种统一的倾向,它只是汇集了一些个体的追求,这些追求之间有一致性和关联性,它是一种状态、一种气质,试图远离泛政治化或消费图像过剩的浮躁和喧嚣,回到单纯的精神性和体验。反应在作品中,就以一种抽象的或类似于“抽象”的形态。有的艺术家的确是在明显的追求几何形态、空间、层次、色彩或肌理,比如梁铨、刘文涛、胡勤武、张雪瑞,但更多的艺术家是把它当作一种当前的状态,就像王川所言,“抽象不抽象根本不重要,就像是名字一样,没有名字你也存在。” 也就是说,在更适合的名称还没出现之前,“抽象”对于许多艺术家来讲只是一个无可奈何的标签。



    显然,在全球化的时代,当代艺术家“抽象”思考的基点并不一定都是出于文化本位意识。加之时过境迁,当代艺术的各种实验,尤其是对观念、行为和过程的强调,必然导致一种观念叠加的、混杂的抽象概念。因而,抽象变得多元,它可以是对传统文化精神的现代性思考,可以是一种国际化的、内在的精神探索,也可以是一种观念的延展与记录。比如刘文涛,他是为数不多的有意识的想让自己的作品脱离墙面,试图在展览空间中延续其抽象语言的艺术家之一。我们可以看到,他许多作品的托架和结构都颇费心思,有的作品像用绘画包裹的抽象雕塑,浮雕的感觉非常明显。不过,比起那些看起来让人眼晕的线条来,刘文涛更在意作品的结构在空间中的意义和延展。从外在的艺术语言看,刘文涛作品的形态语言非常“西化”,与传统的绘画形式几乎没有任何关系。但他的作品精准而又繁复,很容易让人联想起中国这个“世界工厂”里的那些工作繁重、重复而又辛劳的工人。因此,我认为,虽然其作品没有显在的传统符号,但他的制作又的确是中国的,与当代的精神表述具有内在的关联。再如张雪瑞,她的作品一眼望去让人想起战后欧洲的具体艺术(Concrete art),有些色谱渐变的感觉,可事实上与这些都无关系。在精准的几何的框架中,她耐心的重复着的一种细腻的“晕染”效果,想让我们体会一种微妙的感觉,其过程也很容易让人联想起传统的女红针黹。




Jul 21



人们也许不愿意听到这句话从释迦牟尼的口中说出,因为这打破了人们的某种宗教观念;却很高兴能听到这句话从何云昌口中说出,因为这句话满足了人们保持某种艺术观念的需要。那时的何云昌也许还没有明确自己的道路,他的“不合作方式”,也只是在英文翻译中才成为充满力量的“Fuck off”。而六年后,当“石头英国漫游记”结束时,人们问他,为什么拿着一块石头绕着英国走了一圈,他回答说:“就是为了把它放回原来的地方”(注2)。这句回答,比起任何对采访的回绝,或者缄默,都更能够让作者对它自己的作品保持沉默。“Fuck off”终于以另一种方式回归了。

这句对“解释”的冒犯,揭示了一个常常被忽视的基础,即所谓艺术“观念”,只有在作为分析的“途经”时,才具有启发性和操作性;可是,对评论工具的使用方式本身,却往往被误当做评论的目的。写作,这个甚至可以“对自身意义的不存在发表评论” (来自乔治.巴塔耶)的表达方式,促使人们不断用文学的分析法领悟作者,领悟荒谬,领悟“自我”,领悟四海皆准的真理。然而,在这个“分析精神”变得自然而然的过程中,作品自身的能量和内容已经被掩埋在地下,并且踏平了。

在“天山外”(2002)的时候,何云昌与强烈的爆炸对峙,还只是在感受身体对另一侧的能量的承受;在“铸”(2004)的时候,他把自己封闭起来,没有预留任何传递的出口,他的创作不再以沟通和被接受为目的,而成为自身的修行和体验;在“石头英国漫游记”(2006)的时候,他不再用封闭,而是用行走来体验自我——作者体验了些什么,我们也许永远不得而知,只知道“中间有一段时间情绪很烦躁” (注3)。可以肯定的一点是:在何云昌的作品中,行为传递给艺术家自身的体验和经历,比任何对作品的诠释或者想象,都重要得多,这种传递的方向是行为内部的,处在作者自身封闭的能量循环中,无法通过行为以外的,对观念和意图的诠释来接收。就像身体的痛苦,是无法分享的。


而在马永峰本次展出的作品中,“这东西”是金鱼(作品“漩涡”)。在“漩涡”中,作者制造了一个不需要理由的,自主的机械运动,并让鲜活的生命运动受其破坏。作者与金鱼的关系,不再是共处于一个排外的封闭体系,而是处于一个庞大的,自动的背景当中(洗衣机)。在作品中,生命被机械残忍地排斥,而机械代表了人造的必然性(或者“一种机械化的,被驯服的自然秩序” ——注5)。于是,通过这个作品,生命被人造的必然性所排斥——于是,生命与人类建立了互相排斥的关系——于是,人类被赋予了异端的色彩(这里,也可以认为是生命被赋予了异端的色彩,但这样的论述将令人毛骨悚然)。作者通过与金鱼(生命)建立的破坏性联系,发现了自身排斥生命的部分,也就是死亡的部分,如同在半夜长时间地照镜子,便能感觉到自己身上有异于自己的存在……在这个作品中,作者与观众的关系,就像是作者与自身异端的关系。作者在破坏自己与观众的联系——所以作品也在带给观众感官和心理的不适——迫不及待地要摆脱,却永远摆脱不了。




注4:拉康,《讲座 第八本》,Seuil出版社1980年版,406页
注5:Maya Kovskaya,“将自然放在它所属之处”,翻译自赵欢提供的该文的电子文稿。

A Discussion on Transmissions

Xu Sheng

“Black screen” signifies the interruption or failure of image transmission, but not its end. This exhibition is not to put an end on the transmission, but can discuss the various possibilities of transmissions, with black screen in the beginning, or in the end.
In 2000, Mr He Yunchang declared for the “Fuck off” as the following: “My concerns in recent years are about powerless groups and will of life. I seek enduring and fearless confrontation with reality and a poetic expression for this.”[1]This serious expression can even present a imaginary scene of humour: A person interviews Sakyamuni musing under the tree of Buddha and asks “Why are you sitting here?” -- Sakyamuni gives answer with the sentence cited above.

People may not like to hear this answer from Sakyamuni, because it can break a certain conception of religion. People may like to hear this from He Yunchang, because it satisfies their attention to protect some of their notion on art. At that time, maybe He Yunchang wasn’t determined enough of his path, his “Fuck off” was only a translation from a powerless Chinese expression “way of no cooperation”. And six years later, when the “The Rock Touring around Great Britain” was finished, he was asked “why” and his answer was “just to put the stone where it used to be.”[2] This answer has been more silent that any refuse or silence before the public. “Fuck off” has finally returned.

This offence against “explanation” shows a basic which is usually ignored: the so called “notion” of art, can only be heuristic and operational when it is used as the “Way” of analyse. The usage of all the tools of critique, is usually regarded as the goal of critique. Writing, this expression that even “comment on the absence of meaning on itself” (from the idea of George.Bataille), pushes critiques to approach the artist, approach the absurdity, the “ego” and all the truth. However, in this process where “critique spirit” becomes natural, the energy and matter carried by the work have been buried into earth and stepped on.

In “Beyond TianShan”, He Yuanchang stood against a violent explosion to recept the energy from the other side. In “Casting”, he closed himself without any exit for transmission. His creation was then not for communication and reception, but for self torture and cultivation. In “The Rock Touring around Great Britain”, he didn’t close himself any more, but experienced himself through walking. We may never know what he has experienced, only that he “felt boring and irritable in the middle” [3]. What’s certain is that in the works of He Yunchang, the experience transmitted from the action to the artist, is much more important than any interpretation or imagination out of the work. The transmission is directed towards the inner of the action, in a closed energy circle inside the artist. It can’t be received through the explanation of notion or interpretation of the work. It’s not for sharing, just like the pain of the body.

“It’s only by the instinct of destruction that we comes really in contact with some object whatever it is” [4]. In some works of He Yunchang, the “object” is himself. The relation between he and himself is coexistence in a close realm. The contact between the realm and the outer world has been perished and exists no more. Even the border is not admitted. Beside him, the only alien is himself. The audience is not in the opinion at all.

In Ma Yongfeng’s work for this exhibition, the “object” is goldfish (“The Swirl”). In this work, the artist has created a no-reason, automatic and mechanical exercise, inside which the exercise of life has been destroyed. The relation between the artist and goldfish is no longer in a close realm, but in a huge automatic background (the washing machine). In this work, the life is cruelly denied by the mechanism, while the mechanism represents the artificial (man made) inevitability (or “an order of mechanized, domesticated nature.” – [5] ). Then, through this work, the life is denied by the artificial inevitability – thus, the human being becomes heretic in front of the life. Through the connection by destruction between the artist and goldfish (life), the artist found the denying-life-part (alien) on himself, that’s the part of death. Just like when looking into the mirror in the middle night, the alien part on oneself can be felt… In this work, the relation between the artist and the audience is like the relation between the artist and the alien on himself. The artist destroys the relation between him and the audience – that’s the reason that audience feels uncomfortable before the work – he wants to escape from this relationship, but he can’t.

In the image series “The Assembly Hall” by Shao Yinong & Mu Chen in this exhibition, the relationship of “looking and being looked” exists between the stage and the auditorium. The auditorium is also being watched by the audience of this work. Probably due to the “mirror theory”, the audience can feel like on the stage. In this circle of look, the artist tries to keep every sign of the work neutral, and try to make them automatically find connection with the audience. In the process of creation, the relationship between the artist and the work has usually been denied, but denying the relation is a kind of relation, which is totally different from the destruction of relation. The artist then becomes and identifies himself with an audience who can only look at the work.。In the search for the common memories, the artist intends to turn himself into a container of all memories. This can only be intent, as the memory of every individual can’t be transmitted. However, this intent of going beyond the limit of transmission, does it only come from personal experience, or can it come from creation or musement? In the creation of “Between sky and earth”, this topic is also interesting.

This limit of transmission has been ignored in the work of Wang Qingsong, because lot of his work concentrates only on the common and huge image in the memories, for example Coca-Cola and Mcdonald. By using real people and big material in the creation of scenes, the artist has created a real, magnified space totally under his control, which is also the case in “Competition” and “Dream of Migrants” in this exhibition. Recording a temporal space by photography after creating it, the artist seems to pay more attention to his own will of creation and control than to his audience. The space itself can’t be transmitted, at least for human beings today, but it can be transmitted after turning into image, or, in his work, into the sign of language, as Wang Qingsong regards his creation as talking [6]. This sign need transmission, which is secured by the recieption of audience. The audience assures the existence of the space -- in their opinions.

Talking about space, the space has been tore apart in Wu Chengdian’s work in this exhibition (“Nest” and “Water Cube”). The space is not to be created or transmitted, but to be dealt with by the artist. In these two works, the image seems to be only a medium for the explanation of the artist’s notion. However, if the electronical version of the image is presented on the computer’s screen, and displayed by full screen, the visual effect on the screen will suggest that the computer is in a “system is busy” situation. And this is the transmission of the work while presented by a computer. In this moment, we can only chose to turn black the screen, and restart it. And this discussion has found a best excuse to conclude itself.

[1] Cited from Andrew Brewerton, “The Ability to Exist – He Yunchang Art Works”, Vanessa Art Link, P. 162.
[2] Cited from Jiang Ming, “The Ability to Exist – He Yunchang Art Works”, Vanessa Art Link, P. 35
[3] Cite from the conversation between He Yunchang and Jiang Ming, “The Ability to Exist – He Yunchang Art Works”, Vanessa Art Link, P. 122
[4] Jacques Lacan, translation from “Ce n’est que par l’instinct de destruction que nous venons vraiment au contact de quelque objet que ce soit”, “Le Seminaire, Livre VIII: Le Transfert”, Seuil, Champ freudien, 1980, P. 406.
[5] Maya Kovskaya, Putting Nature in its Place: Ma Yongfeng's Video Art and Photography, electronical version provided by Zhao Huan.
[6] “Sanguine Splendour, A talk between Li Xianting and Wang Qingsong”, Chinablue, 2007, P.17.
Jul 19
Maya Kóvskaya, PhD

Theorist David Harvey argues that the condition of post-modernity can be best understood in terms of its expression in the dramatic reorganization of spatio-temporal relations and fragmentation. "Space-time compression," refers to the process by which distances are functionally shorted by the temporal accelerations of social and economic processes made possible by new technologies, particularly those of information and communication. As a result of this condition, increasingly, we live in turbulent, rapidly changing, often bewildering world, where old roles and ways of being no longer function to provide stability and old unifying myths no longer condense our complex realities in convincing ways. In these fragmented times, now more than ever, we need an art that offers not only a mirror in which to see the perplexing and polyvalent status quo, but also transforms our understandings of ourselves, giving us new ways to visualize who we are and can be. Explorations of the lived quotidian connections between the social and the individual, the macro and the micro, and the global and the local, are the sorts of inquiries that characterize the most important contemporary art in today’s China.

Much ado has been made in recent years about trendy auction house darlings such as Big Head oil paintings that range from the "Cynical Realism" and "Political Pop" of the 1990s and the tacky cartoonish images of drooling cutesy girls and exaggerated, stylized icons that facilitate commercial branding strategies for galleries and artists alike. Critics in China have also often made their names by coining catchy labels for so-called art movements or trends, such as Cartoon Generation, Gaudy Art, Hurt Art, as well as those named above. Indeed, the Chinese contemporary art forms most familiar to Westerners are the genres such as that often consciously manipulate foreigners' desire for a "sexy" Chinese art that hints at disaffectation, using the same tired Cultural Revolution imagery, pretty exoticized "Oriental Girls," and slick, stylized figures, stock symbols and "big heads" ad nauseam. Yet this sort of iconography fails to offer critical optics for understanding the human condition, at best reflecting vulgar contemporary realities rather than critiquing and questioning them.

Offering an alternative to the easy labels and empty categories, the most relevant and interesting art in China today scrutinizes the complex, fragmented and multifaceted nature of contemporary China as the nation and its people undergo profound transformation. The art works presented in the exhibition Fade to Black (黑屏) reject simple 1+1 visual slogans and easy formulas. They were selected not only for their visual and aesthetic appeal, but also for their breadth and scope. Long after yesterday's fads have given way to tomorrow's trends, it will be the rich and varied works that speak to the fragmentation and disorientating predicaments of our time will have lasting value and relevance. Works that have the power to illuminate facets of the human condition, giving us visual and conceptual tools for understanding not just China as a nation, but also for interrogating the place of us human beings ourselves in this world of rapid and destabilizing transmutation, are the works that will ultimately last and matter.

Through works by He Yunchang, Ma Yongfeng, Shao Yinong & Mu Chen, Wu Chengdian, and Wang Qingsong, Fade to Black rejecting neat labels, pat answers and gimcrack gimmicks in favor of complexity, richness and diversity in this era of transnational flows of people, culture and capital, localized globalization, and so-called "modernization.”

He Yunchang

One major form of fragmentation from which we are suffering is the rupture of our relationship to nature. He Yunchang's (Ah Chang) performance art work and performance photography, take meditations on self-making through our engagement with the nature or humanly made constructions to extremes. While many have interpreted his works to be exercises in corporeal endurance, the more powerful aspect of his work involves his joyful acts of will in the world. Combining aspects of Quixotic struggle to "fight the unbeatable foe," he grapples with our nature and the limits of our powers, and expresses a joie de vive and life-embracing ethos in the process of attempting the impossible. Noteworthy performances include his attempts to move mountains, by literally hitching himself to the earth and pulling in the direction of its rotation for a specified time, his famous phone call to tomorrow, or attempt to out-drink a hundred people in a row.

Particularly salient are his signature pieces Beyond Tianshan (Beyond Mountains and Sky), "Dialogue with Water" and "Golden Sunshine." In the “Beyond Tianshan,” he quixotically tries to push a huge concrete structure that is in the process of exploding. In “Dialogue” he is hung upside down from a crane over the river in Yunnan. His shoulders have been sliced open and he is bleeding. He holds a knife made of ice and for twenty-some minutes he communicates with the water, seemingly imposing his will on nature by "cutting the river in half." Of course the irony and beauty is that, as the river reclaims the melting knife, we see the futility of this attempt and the resilient power of the natural world in the face of our attempts to subjugate it to our will. There is a kind of reverence for that power in this work that calls upon our humility.

In Golden Sunshine, once again hung from a crane, this time painted yellow, Ah Chang brought light to a place where it was needed—a prison wall. After painting the wall the color of sunshine, he used a mirror to deflect rays of light, as he followed the path of the sun, onto the places on the prison wall where the sun did not shine. The love in this gesture reminds us that there are ways in which our presence in the world can fundamentally alter the environment around us and make use of nature's resources without violence or exploitation.

In a recent major performance piece, A Stone’s Journey, He Yunchang engaged in a remarkable journey around the coastline of English with a stone in hand. The endurance he performed in this piece was more subtle than some of his exercises in enduring pain or confinement, and this return to a dialogue with nature, marks an important continuity in his language and expressive forms.

Ma Yongfeng

Ma Yongfeng’s work engages the condition of postmodernity by interrogating the signs we use to represent who we are to ourselves as well as our simulacra of nature. Exploring how the artifacts representing the "natural" world can tell us more about ourselves than about that putative “nature,” Ma Yongfeng's works examine our relationship to and discourses about nature. He deftly shows how the artifacts representing the "natural" world can teach us about ourselves—perhaps more so even than about nature. With his meticulous photographic and video reconstructions of a variety of scientific models—such as cells, fossils, habitats, storms and the like—he shows how our relationships to "nature" and the "natural" world play a role in constituting how we understand ourselves and our society. His video Beijing Zoological Garden uses the round-frame of traditional Chinese Song Dynasty "bird and flower" palace paintings, to both aestheticize and criticize the suffering of animals kept in captivity for human entertainment. The zoo is a site of dislocation for its inhabitants and extreme power inequality between the keepers and their animal charges. These disturbing and hypnotic pieces expose routinized, aestheticized violence and suffering, the casual objectification and wanton abuse of other lives, and reveal a sense of estranged agency, as well as hinting at the futility of resistance in our contemporary society.

By highlighting the difficulty, or even futility of resistance to processes that seem to control our lives, Ma Yongfeng’s video work, The Swirl, critiques society by indirection. Examining the apparent power of exogenous "forces" or seemingly "autonomous processes" to move us and our lives to rhythms beyond our will, he presents a disturbing scene in order to provoke us to think about the order of things, and the limits of our powers within it. The Swirl has generated controversy over its use of six live goldfish, Chinese symbols of fertility and prosperity, which are subjected to a brutal 15-minute wash cycle in an upright washing machine. The work has prompted much discussion (mainly outside of China) about the ethical implications of the callous abuse of animals in the name of art. And perhaps, inciting such controversy was part of the artist's agenda, asking us to rethink our relationships to the natural world.

In Ma Yongfeng's photography series, Origin of the Species, he photographed the fake "natural habitats" created for birds, monkeys and other animals at the zoo. These with sad spaces are either empty or house only the skeletons of their former inhabitants. The painted waterfalls on concrete (painted for whom, we might ask, but the visitors at the zoo themselves) and dry sticks that serve as branches so the birds can perch, the artist has removed all traces of the animals themselves. This artistic fiat that has emptied the cages, foregrounds the invisible hands that have built these miserable spaces, these shabby simulacra of habitats—they are our hands. These spaces were built for us, as part of the collective narratives we tell ourselves about who we are and our place in the world. By removing the animals, our true motives are presented without euphemism. Without the animals to animate these spaces with their gay colors and lively movements, the meagerness of our own representations and simulacra of nature is laid bare, and the skeletons of monkeys swinging on a tree, leave us with a chilling feeling. They could just as easily be us.

Shao Minong & Mu Chen

A way of life is irretrievably passing, as the conditions of postmodernity bring with bewildering changes. Long before people have a chance to react to these changes, to catch up, to make sense of the nature of the new world being formed around them, that world has changed once again. And so, collective memories, old ways of life, sets of roles and socially constructed identities begin to fade. Professions, identities and social roles are shaken from the solid foundations. Social and geographic mobility, along with changing economic fortunes, break down the traditional structure of family life and erode old forms of association and collective membership.

Using a wide selection of family photos, old and new, such as snapshots from home, typical studio portraits, Shao Yinong and Mu Chen create a richly nuanced, intertextual visual narrative about the vicissitudes of the family in contemporary China as it undergoes great social change. In the Red Childhood works, they offer poignant portraits of school children, their faces and attire rendered in overly bright colors. In Childhood Impressions (2001), naked, innocent children are photoshopped onto backgrounds of iconic edifices that symbolize various moments in China’s history.

In their Family Register (2000), we see the diversity and fragmentation of postmodernity, as well as the impact of space-time compression on the everyday lives and identities of lives of ordinary family members. Using the form of a traditional scroll to present the genealogy of the Shao family, the work documents over 100 members of the Shao family, set against the backdrop of the larger historical changes in Chinese society, from the Cultural Revolution to Reform and Opening, and onward to the dawn of the new millennium. These images, also powerfully explore how memory is constituted through practices that endow certain artifacts of a family’s past with condensed, sedimented meaning. Images become compact visual points of entry into complex lives and relationships, and these images both draw us in to certain narratives as well as lead us away from others, that is, the serve the function of both revealing and concealing simultaneously. In these and many of their other images, the juxtaposition of the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, functions to show how the passage of time leaves its marks on the lives of ordinary people. Unlike the static images, that freeze a single moment in time and elevate that image to the status of representation of some aspect of that a human life, real, actual lives are always in flux, under way and in transit.

In a different way, their Assembly Hall series documents a similar set of changes at a time when these once central spaces have lost their original power and significance, victims of the changing times. By photographing these iconic meeting places where so much history has taken place—from the grandiose, stirring spaces resounding with the propaganda of various eras and campaigns, to sites of brutal and humiliating struggle sessions—long after the fact, we see in stark relief how out of sync with the tenor of our times these spaces and their activities now seem, making them icons of the historical dislocations and ruptures that characterize this postmodern era.

Wang Qingsong

Wang Qingsong examines the condition of postmodernity in his dramatic and restaging of significant cultural phenomena, and his time-lapse video of urbanization in progress. The conceptual genealogy in Wang Qingsong’s work is evident from his first modest explorations that used simple Photoshop techniques to surround various personae he play with icons of capitalist consumer culture. In his early works, Coke cans formed the bars of a prison, the McDonald's logo a brand on his chest while he mediated. This consistent grounding in the visual vernacular of local Chinese realities as they undergo sometimes bizarre permutations permeates his work through the present. He mediates on a Chinese cabbage, Western products—Marlboro cigarettes, CDs, cell phones, Kodak film—are grasped in his multiple arms like a consumerist Bodhisattva on a globalized shopping spree, with dollars alongside RMB and the Chinese flag fluttering above.

More than simply bemoaning Western cultural imperialism, Wang Qingsong’s optic deconstructs China's complicity in the fraught construction of its superficial new "face." In Follow Me (2003), which broke records at Sotheby's last year, Wang Qingsong poses as a typical English teacher inculcating his students with nationalist Chinglish embodied in the phrase on his blackboard: "Let China walks towards the world! Let the world learns about China!" Disguising himself in the trappings of a variety of prevalent social roles—consumer, beggar, press attaché, pedicab driver hauling a fat white man, wounded soldier crawling through barbed wire to storm a hill crowned with a huge McDonald's sign—he signifies the active agency of Chinese in assimilating outside culture, instead of treating China as a passive victim.

His latest works—elegant, elaborate, staged productions, are a darker take on contemporary cultural realities with greater complexity and ambiguity. In Dream of Migrant (2005), Wang Qingsong's face is hidden behind the camera, but the rich array of local actors present his vision of the ramshackle life of China's millions of migrants. In The Glory of Hope (2007), his meditation on China's national "face," embodied in its hosting of the 2008 Olympic Games, does not require us to see the artist's face at all: we see him from the back, hobbled on crutches alongside his family, mired together in mud trying to catch a glimpse of the sun (rising or setting it's hard to tell) on the horizon. In the foreground, the Olympic Rings are etched in the mud, oozing with dank water.

In Wang Qingsong’s recent foray into video art, he captures the pith of China’s overnight transformation in Skyscraper (2008). Morning dawns on a sub-urban, sub-rural area in China, and we watch blue sky grow marred by billowing smoke, coiling in puffs from the smokestacks of low, ramshackle pingfang dwellings. The massive cloud that converges in the firmament above is a hulking harbinger of China’s impending change. Over the course of the next five minutes or so, we watch the landscape transformed as the scaffolding for a gargantuan skyscraper erupts from the earth and thrusts its way towards the heavens—instantiating the logic of postmodern space-time compression in the process. A building of massive proportions appears before our eyes as if overnight, followed by jubilant fireworks, illuminating the darkness to the tune of Silent Night, sung in a syrupy Mandarin. In this work, Wang Qingsong offers this singular edifice as an icon of the larger process of urban construction and the fireworks frame the piece as a celebrated feat of nation-building, in which the dominant paradigm of modernity qua urbanism is unquestioned and feted with much fanfare as a meaningful sign that China’s time has arrived.

Wu Chengdian

Since the onset of Reform and Opening, China’s struggle to construct a viable modernity has been intimately bound up with the dual processes of industrialization and urbanization. The city is a site of desire, and a space in which the vastness of its scope offers an anonymous stage upon which people can remake their identities. At the same time, the postmodern city is also a site of dislocation and alienation. The same conditions that make it possible to disappear into the enormous grid and engage in flexible strategies of self-making, also make it difficult to find one’s bearings, and to know one’s place in the ever-shifting world that is constantly undergoing profound shocks and transformation. Old routines, roles and rules are all thrown into question, and while this is liberating for some, it is also terrifying and fraught with the possibility of failure as well. Even as the city, as an idea is invested with the semantic weight of the desires that its sojourners and inhabitants bring to it, it is also an unyielding, unforgiving behemoth that sprawls beyond the control of any individual. Thus the city and its signifiers are fraught with multiple meanings. Among the most prevalent signifiers of urban modernity, massive “modern” buildings play an extraordinary role in the signification of the city and all that, for which the city has come to stand.

Wu Chengdian’s recent photography works address these conditions of postmodernity in a number of ways. The most salient way his work engages this discourse and this discourse, likewise, informs his creative language is in his use of urban structures in works that span a variety of media.

In one recent series, Wu Chengdian selected a number of iconic structures in Beijing, which represent the idea of the New Beijing. The concept of the New Beijing came into currency after China was awarded the privilege of hosting the 2008 Olympics. In honor of that privilege, China invested untold sums of capital and expended vast human resources in the service of constructing a hypermodern cityscape to give the nation the ultimate “face” when Beijing became the focal point of the international attention during the Olympic Games in 2008. Buildings such as the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium, the Aquatic Cube, came to symbolize the officially championed aspirations of the nation—to be affluent, powerful, impressive and seen as cutting edge by the rest of the world. Wu Chengdian’s photography cleverly deconstructs these symbolic structures by refusing to grant them a totalizing presence that transcends discrete perspective. Instead of the sort of portraits that are used to accentuate and affirm the importance of an iconic structure or edifice, he composes a whole image out of hundreds upon hundreds of fragments. Each photograph that joins the larger tableau represents a finite perspective on the structure. This technique serves to cut these gargantuan structures down to size, by deconstructing their status in contemporary Chinese society. Wu Chengdian does the same with images taken from IKEA, which has come to signify the dream of bourgeois domesticity in China.

In his site-specific installation work for Fade to Black, Wu Chengdian explores the theme of alienation within the city, the commodification of sex and desire, as well as the superficial values of the current era. Using life-sized plastic blow-up dolly sex toys, he stages scenes of estrangement and alienation. The image of a blow-up sex doll curled in a ragged hole in the wall, back facing the world outside, leaves a poignant reminder of the human damage that the city and urban modernity can inflict.


Chinese contemporary art has reached a turning point, bringing this diverse generation of Chinese contemporary art to the international stage and acclaim. As rapid urbanization and globalization propel China into a state of postmodern flux, the experiences of the new era are more fragmented and diverse than ever before and the most relevant and progressive art coming out of China reflects and comments upon the diverse and fragmented conditions of postmodernity in ways that illuminate the human condition for us all.
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