Jun 10
d-No.3 Video Art Exhibition


Apr 15
Passages: China at the Crossroads

A Talk & Video Screening—Curated by Maya Kóvskaya

A passage is sometimes a corridor or thoroughfare that leads from one place to another; at other times, it is a rite or a Rubicon or a moment where one state is exchanged for another. Most of all, it is a journey, a process of being underway and on the road. As the passage of major historical change is being undergone and carried out in everyday life, economics, society, politics and culture in China, Chinese contemporary art has reached a nexus of crossroads. In the early and mid-1990s, easily digestible, foreigner-pleasing formulas from China, such as Political Pop and Cynical Realism, captured the international art community's imagination. By the late 90s, however, growing numbers of Chinese artists, many born in the 70s, were unwilling to bow to foreign fetishes in order to follow the previous generation's path to easy success.

Images of a country attempting to carry out unprecedented and rapid economic "modernization" by political fiat have overtaken the old creative canons, bringing a more diverse generation of new Chinese contemporary art to the international stage. The video art and performance art documenta in Passages: China at the Crossroadsshow various ways in which China is undergoing dramatic changes in almost every facet of life during this era of localized globalization, and so-called "modernization." This new generation of contemporary art in China rejects neat labels and gimcrack gimmicks in favor of the messy, quotidian world.

In Cui Xiuwen’s “Drifting Lantern,” we see a classic symbol of traditional Chinese culture undergoing a tenuous journey through the darkness. The glowing vermillion lantern bobs and sways in the dark, following a pattern that is hard to predict. At times it feels as if the movements of the lantern are both random and governed by an invisible, unknowable force—much like the experiences of ordinary people in the face of these massive changes transforming today’s China, who often feel that they are being taken on a path they cannot see, and know not where it leads. There are moments, however, with the human hands behind these driving forces are revealed and we realize that these huge, global processes that push and pull us are wholly human creations. In the video as well, we catch glimpses of the human bearer of this light—a hand holding the bright orb aloft, a leg tentatively stepping onward in the darkness.

“Missing/Gone Astray,” is a landmark work by Dai Guangyu, a leading figure of the Southwestern public action art and environmental art movements, who is known for his daring political critiques, brilliant performance interventions and inventive use of ink wash. This performance took place on June 4th, 1999, exactly 10 years after the tragic and sanguinary denouement of the student movement in Tiananmen Square. Dai Guangyu and a friend don masks and attire that make them appear de-individualized and uniform. They take to the streets of Chengdu. Their journey through the city is accompanied by ongoing references to Tiananmen and the power arrangement that keeps the anniversary unutterable in public discourse. Motifs of complicity and absence permeate the work. The masked men pass through the city reading the newspapers, which have no news about the anniversary, of course, and engage in bizarre repertoire of familiar everyday postures, which appear absurd because they are taken out of context. Clapping to show approval, raising hands to vote assent, and cringing as if to ward off blows, are all normal behaviors one frequently encounters in life. But the settings for these, such as speeches by leaders, party meetings, and confrontations with violence, are conspicuously removed from the scenarios enacted here, and thus are highlighted by their very absence. And by considering these behaviors outside their normal context, we are forced to recognize the performative function they fulfill—to underscore, support, perpetuate and reinforce existing power arrangements and the status quo order of things. These behaviors speak volumes: “we consent, we approve, we will not fight back.” Power, in the post-totalitarian era is not grounded in true belief so much as the public, collective expression of such complicit conformity, which serves to sustain the system in place and tacitly affirm its “rightness.”

In “Buttocks, 123,” Hei Yue – Jishengli tackles questions of authority from a different angle. Using a humorous, cheeky method to make a serious point, he dons the “split pants” of Chinese childhood, and spanks himself in public, often in front of symbols of tradition and authority or dominant values and notions of propriety. Wearing pants specially designed to reveal his butt, Hei Yue appears before various symbols of power, authority and tradition, and spanks himself repeatedly—Chinese policemen, Buddhist monks, Japanese fishermen in traditional (and more notably, butt-revealing) garb, and more. By spanking himself like this in public, he poses the question, who has the right to discipline and punish—and he answers it in turn by reclaiming the sovereign right for himself alone and rejecting the claims of a higher authority to mete out punishment.

Qing Qing’s “End of the Century Ambiguity” video work also employs a humorous device to make a cutting critique about contemporary masculinity, gender relations and the self-satisfied, complacent culture of consumptive excess and leisure idolized by the Chinese nouveau riche, and enjoyed disproportionately by men. If the sex trade—symbolized by massage and karaoke singing—has long been a rite of passage supplies the lubricant of political and business deal-brokering, taking place in settings in which women can have but one role, the meaning of former Traditional Chinese Medical doctor Qing Qing’s metaphorical send-up of the massage, by substituting and pig for the man, can hardly be misinterpreted.

In “Beijing Zoological Garden,” Ma Yongfeng also brings animals into his work, albeit in a different way. Here the passage is from a naïve childhood orientation towards nature, in which fantasies of the great and vast natural world are fueled by trips to the zoo, to a knowing adult complicity with the confining, cruel arrangements that place the human being in a hierarchical relationship to nature. Placing the pitiful images of the Beijing Zoo in the classical Chinese round frame, echoing Song Dynasty paintings, the aestheticization of routine suffering is brought to the fore. As we watch the animals attempting some semblance of a “life” in their cramped and miserable cement “habitats,” we learn more about ourselves than we do about these creatures. Nature exists here as rendered by the human imagination, and the poverty of vision and compassion that makes such conditions possible is what is inscribed most visibly in these scenes.

For the past decade Han Bing has engaged in an ongoing public performative intervention—“The Walking the Cabbage Project.” In this series of social intervention performance, video and photography works, Han Bing walks a Chinese cabbage on a leash in public places, inverting an ordinary practice to provoke debate and critical thinking. “Walking the Cabbage” is a playful twist on a serious subject—the way our everyday practices serve to constitute "normalcy" and our identities are often constituted by the act of claiming objects as our possessions. A quintessentially Chinese symbol of sustenance and comfort for poor Chinese turned upside down, Han Bing's cabbage on a leash offers a visual interrogation of contemporary social values. If a full stock of cabbage for the winter was once a symbol of material well-being in China, nowadays the nouveau riche have cast aside modest (monotonous) winters of cabbage in favor of ostentatious gluttony in fancy restaurants where waste signifies status. They flaunt "name brand" pooches, demonstrating how they no longer rely on the lowly cabbage, and can not only fatten themselves to obesity, but also pamper a pedigreed pet. Yet, for the poor and struggling, the realities of cabbage as a subsistence bottom line have not changed—what's changed is the value structure that dictates what—and who—is valuable or worthless in Chinese society. Han Bing's social intervention performance art practice has been conducted in a vast array in public spaces and quotidian social settings ranging from tiny rural villages to cosmopolitan metropolises across the globe; from flourishing downtown bastions of the white-collar consumer elite to the agricultural fields of the salt-of-the-earth rural laborers; from the Great Wall to the Mississippi River; from Miami Beach to the Champs Elysees; from Harajuku to Haight-Ashbury; from Tiananmen to Times Square.

This ongoing journey of Han Bing and his cabbage, mirrors, in many ways, the larger journey of China—from uniform poverty to an explosion of wealth for a few; from rural villages to massive megacities filled with hope and desperation; from the humble cabbage as a bottom line source of sustenance for ordinary people to the pedigreed lapdogs of the new rich—China is on the road and undergoing the difficult passage from one kind of society to another. But, as Han Bing’s work makes clear, this is not an unambiguous, teleological process from benighted backwardness to uplifted progress. Far from it, while the vast majority of people continue to struggle, and the reality is that the current order will not fulfill the dreams of most, it is the meretricious allure of the superficial new value system that keeps people pinning their hopes on a system that often works against their own interests.

We live in fragmented times, times that need an art that offers not only a mirror in which to see the status quo, but also transforms our understandings of ourselves, giving us new ways of seeing who we are and can be. Explorations of the everyday lived connections between the individual and the social, the micro and the macro, and the local and global realities that we all, increasingly face in this rapidly changing world, imbue this new generation of Chinese art with unprecedented global relevance.

©2009, Maya Kovskaya

CUI Xiuwen
Born in the 70s in China's Northeast, multidisciplinary artist Cui Xiuwen rose to fame in the late 90s with her provocative video, Lady's, featuring "ladies of the night" filmed in the liminal space—both public and private—of the Lady's Room in a karaoke hall. Her video and photography has been shown widely at major museums and galleries including, China Under Construction at Deborah Colton Gallery (USA, 2007); Dragon's Evolution exhibition, China Square, New York (USA, 2007); Engagements and Estrangements (Canada, 2006); P.S.1 (USA, 2006); Victoria and Albert Museum, (UK, 2005); Body Temperature (Denmark, 2005); “Untitied: Julia Loktev. Julika. Cui Xiuwen," Tate Modern (UK, 2004); “Alors. la China ? ” Center Pompidou (France, 2003); “Prague Biennale 1” (Czech, 2003); The first Guangzhou Triennial ” (PRC, 2002). Recent solo shows at venues including Marella, Beijing (PRC 2005); Marella (Italy, 2006) DF2 (USA, 2007); Florence Museum (Italy, 2007).

DAI Guangyu
Trailblazing leader of the Sichuanese performance art movement since the '85 New Art Wave, multidisciplinary artist Dai Guangyu (1955—) is internationally acclaimed for his contemporary reinventions of Chinese traditional ink wash and his pathbreaking contributions to China's public art, performance art and environmental art movements. Major exhibitions include “Made in China", Louisiana Museum (Denmark, 2007); China Under Construction at Deborah Colton Gallery (USA, 2007); "Inward Gazes - Performance Art in China - Exhibition by Invitation", Macau Art Museum, (Macau, 2005); "In Honour of '85", Duolun Modern Art Museum, Shanghai, (PRC, 2005); "The Wall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese Art", China Millennium Monument Art Museum, Beijing (PRC, 2005); Dashanzi International Art Festival (PRC, 2004, 2005); "First Chinese Art Triennial", Guangzhou Art Museum (PRC, 2002);"China!", Museum of Modern Art, Bonn (Germany, 1996); the watershed "China Avant-Garde Art Exhibition", Chinese National Art Museum, (PRC, 1989); "Itinerary Exhibition of Modern Chinese Art", Bonn, Bremen, Frankfurt (Germany, 1987). Recent solo exhibitions include shows at Red Star Gallery at 798 Factory (PRC, 2007) and 10 Chancery Lane (Hong Kong, 2008).

HAN Bing
Han Bing (1974- ) grew up in an impoverished village in rural China. After studying painting in college, he undertook Advanced Studies at the Chinese Central Academy of Art. Exploring the struggles and desires of ordinary people in China's "theater of modernization," he employs photography, video, multimedia installation and performance, and his works invert quotidian practice, reinvent everyday objects and ask us to rethink the order of things. Han Bing's work has been shown worldwide at10th Annual Open International Performance Art Festival (PRC, 2009); MoNA Museum of New Art, Detroit (USA, 2009); New Art Gallery in Walsalle (UK, 2009); Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery in Vancouver (Canada, 2009); theCentre Pompidou (France, 2008); Asia Triennial Manchester (UK, 2008); Rencontres d'Arles Photography Festival (France, 2007); Columbia Museum of Art (USA, 2007); Fotographie Museum of Amsterdam (2005, Netherlands); DashanziInternational Art Festival DIAF (PRC, 2005, 2006; Pingyao Photography Festival (PRC, 2002); noteworthy group shows include China Under Construction: Contemporary Art from the People's Republic at Deborah Colton Gallery (USA, 2007); Dragon's Evolution: Chinese Contemporary Photography at the NYC China Square Art Center (USA, 2007), Beyond Experience: New China exhibition at Arario Beijing (PRC, 2006), LOVE Expo, Barcelona-Pekin-Paris, and Proyecto Generos at Espace Cultural Ample (Spain, 2006-2007), and many more. Solo shows include a joint solo show with Orimoto Tatsumi, Quotidian Iconic—Quotidian Holy Mother, Jing Art Gallery (PRC, 2006); Age of Big Construction, at Beijing New Art Projects (PRC, 2007), Love in the Age of Big Construction at UC Berkeley (USA, 2006), The Other Shore of Desire at UCLA (USA, 2006); Everyday Desire in the Theater of Chinese Modernization at Beursschouwburg Art Center (Belgium, 2007); and The Fatalistic Language of Things at the Columbia Art Museum (USA, 2007) and a solo show at Espace Cultural Ample (Spain, 2008).

HEI Yue ·JI Shengli
Born in Qinghai Province, Hei Yue·Ji Shengli graduated from Qinghai Pedagogic College and moved to Beijing in 1991. When he adopted the name "Black Moon" (Hei Yue), back in the heyday of the Yuanmingyuan artist colony, he could hardly have known the intimate connections in English between the verb "to moon" and the performance art that would bring him fame, using his buttocks. "123 Buttocks" is the title of Hei Yue’s ongoing performance art and video, photography and painting series, acclaimed in the US and China, as well as Japan. His work has been featured across Asia at the Macao Museum of Art, Dashanzi International Art Festival in China, the Nippon Performance Art Festival in Japan, the Korean International Performance Art Festival, the Taiwan International Performance Art Festival; in Hungary at the International Media Festival, and at the Estonian Documentary Film Festival, and at the Ethan Cohen Gallery in New York. This year his solo exhibition at the Rain Gallery at 798 unveiled his new series of oil paintings.

MA Yongfeng
Hailing from Shanxi, China, Ma Yongfeng (1971—) is known for his video and medium-large format photography works. Investigating "scientific" typologies, taxonomies and conceptions on "Nature" and the "natural world," his work reflects his preoccupations with the social construction of knowledge and aesthetic systems. China Under Construction at Deborah Colton Gallery (USA, 2007); Fractured Visions: Chinese Video Art, Center for Asian Studies, University of South Carolina, USA; ), Dragon's Evolution, at China Square in New York (USA, 2007); The Thirteen: Chinese Video Now, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center at MOMA, New York & Platform China Contemporary Art Institute, Beijing (USA, PRC, 2006); VideoZone3: The 3rd International Video-Art Biennial in Israel, The Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv (Israel, 2006); China Action 1-2, Centre chorégraphique national de Tours (France, 2005); Videonale 10 , Kunstmuseum Bonn (Germany, 2005); How Can You Resist? Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (USA, 2004). Solo exhibitions include, Becoming Landscape, Platform China Contemporary Art Institute, Beijing (PRC, 2006) and The Cretaceous Period, Artsway, Hampshire (UK, 2007).

Qing Qing
Beijing-born Qing Qing gained international recognition for her diorama installations and hemp fiber "artificial artifacts." Her unique visual language engages a symbolic universe that plays lightly on the ugly ironies of the contemporary world. Group exhibitions include, China Under Construction, Deborah Colton Gallery, (USA, 2007); Beyond Experience: The New China, Arario Beijing (PRC, 2006); Floating – New Generation of Art in China, Seoul (Korea, 2007); Documentation of Chinese Avant-Garde Art in 90s, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, (Japan, 2001). Solo exhibitions include shows at Gallery Wort und Bild, Vienna (Austria, 1997); AAL-Gallery Karl Strobe, Vienna (Austria, 1999); Red Gate Gallery, Beijing (PRC, 1999); Chinese Contemporary, London (UK, 2000) Red Gate Gallery, Beijing (PRC, 2002);Today Art Museum, Beijing, (PRC, 2002); 798 Dashanzi Art District, Beijing (PRC, 2004); Tokyo Gallery (Japan, 2005); Ullen's Center Dayaolu Space, 798 Dashanzi Art District, Beijing, (PRC, 2005).

Curator Bio

Maya Kóvskaya is a Beijing-based art critic and curator with over a decade in China. She has curated numerous exhibitions including Love in the Age of Big Construction (PRC and USA, 2006), Quotidian Iconic (co-curated, PRC, 2006), The Other Shore of Desire (USA, 2006) Estrangements and Engagements (Canada, 2006), Misalignments (USA, 2006), Other Modernities (USA, 2006), The Fatalistic Language of Things (USA, 2007), and The Fragmented Gaze (USA, 2007), China Under Construction (USA, 2007) and others. Her writing has appeared in numerous art catalogues, academic volumes, and magazines, including Contemporary, Yishu: Journal Chinese Contemporary Art, Flash Art, Art Post, Art iT, Eyemazing: International Contemporary Photography Magazine and positions: east asia cultures critique. She is currently writing a book on Chinese contemporary art.

Works Screened by:
CUI Xiuwen
DAI Guangyu
HAN Bing
Ji Shengli
MA Yongfeng
Qing Qing
Feb 21
Feb 15

Storm Model
5min  color  sound  2005
Single channel video installation, projected
One DVD player, one projector

In Storm Model (2005), Ma Yongfeng inverts his strategy to address a related set of issues. The 5-minute video impersonally records the destruction of a model village by "forces of nature." While the turgid water tossing the helpless fish about in The Swirl is obviously part of a humanly made design and a mechanized expression of routinized abuse, the water depicted in Storm Model is supposed to be torrential rainfall and flooding-a simulated retribution to humanity for its iniquities, perhaps, like the biblical floods meant to cleanse the earth. Here, however, here there is no Noah, no ark, and there are no animals to fulfill promises of regeneration. There is only destruction as simulated "nature" reclaims the earth, sending us back to our origins.

Maya Kóvskaya

In preparing this video work Ma Yongfeng spent several weeks working on a large model of a Chinese mountain village that is struck by a severe storm, complete with torrential rains, floods, and combining sound, and light effects.After the video was produced, Ma Yongfeng proceeded to destroy the installation. This work sets out to challenge the relationship between digital video, installation, and the common practice of model building,particularly by natural history museums. These man-made constructions represent mock-up residues of the real world, where people and animals are transported into the simulacra of the origin of species.

Thomas J. Berghuis  

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