Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art 5.2&3 is now available

Intellect is pleased to announce that the Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art 5.2&3 is now available! For more information about the issue, click here >>

This is a special issue entitled, 'Chinese art outside the art space'.


Chinese art outside the art space

Authors: Jiang Jiehong 
Page Start: 111

Towards a spatial history of contemporary art in China

Authors: Pauline J. Yao 
Page Start: 117

The development of contemporary art in China over the last four decades is a story that can be narrated along multiple trajectories. Equally, the term ‘contemporary’ can be used to refer to the adoption of particular art forms and styles, or to experimental strategies surrounding the making of art. In both cases, it is art’s intersection with space – spaces for making, for thinking, for sharing and for exhibiting – that has most deeply impacted our understanding of certain art in China as ‘contemporary’. This paper looks at recent developments in Chinese art through the lens of space, taking into account the importance of spatial positioning of art and the exhibitionary form as a key influencer upon artistic practices. It intends not to articulate an exhibition history so much as a spatial history, and seeks to establish new narratives for art history that are culturally and context specific.

Two approaches to socially engaged art with the Hong Kong Filipino community

Authors: Frank Vigneron 
Page Start: 131

The Filipino community of Hong Kong has often suffered from the way the vast majority of its members are perceived: their work as domestic helpers has created conditions for the general Hong Kong public to put them in a subservient position within the local society. Local art practitioners have recently attempted to address this issue by creating art projects aimed at changing the position of Filipino domestic workers in the social culture of the SAR. Zheng Bo created an interactive object in a public space that he himself presents as a public service, while Luke Ching (working for within the Rooftop Institute collective) organized a number of workshops aimed at bringing together the Filipino domestic helpers and the children of the family who employ them. While both approaches are designed to bring people from widely different horizons together to work out and reconcile their differences, they, however, function very differently and fulfil profoundly different missions. These two projects will be analysed and assessed in the context of the ideas of Nicolas Mirzoeff about visual culture and the frequently quoted works of Jacques Rancière in the domain of socially engaged art practices.

From outside to inside: Understanding socially engaged art through curatorial practices

Authors: Sipei Lu 
Page Start: 149

This article focuses on a specific area in the life-cycle of socially engaged art in mainland China – the point at which socially engaged art that takes place outside of art institutions enters into the institutional arena. Through two case studies and using field research, this study scrutinizes the complexities of the relationship between socially engaged art and art institutions, including the dimensions of ethics, aesthetics and curatorial responsibility, and their implications for understanding the process and efficacy of socially engaged art.

(In)visible ink: Outsiders at the Yaji, the ink installations of Bingyi and Tao Aimin

Authors: Luise Guest 
Page Start: 175

The yaji in Imperial China was an ‘elegant gathering’ of scholars who met to play chess, listen to music, and appreciate ink painting and calligraphy. They were generally all-male affairs, often taking place in a walled garden. Recently it has been argued that such forms of semi-private contemplation are appropriate models for exhibiting Chinese contemporary art. This article has two connected parts: the first examines how two women artists, Tao Aimin and Bingyi, ‘outsiders’ to the yaji garden gathering as it was traditionally constructed, subvert (yet also honour) important Chinese traditions. They challenge a gendered historical narrative by means of a reinvigorated and performative ink language, negotiating literal and figurative ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ spaces. Positioned as reconfiguring space in a way that challenges binaries of inside/outside, they interrogate the literati tradition that functioned as an expression of class and gender. Two works in particular exemplify their practice: Bingyi’s Époché, a 2014 performance in which she dropped 500 kilograms of ink/oil ‘missiles’ from a helicopter over the airfield at Shenzhen Bao’an Airport, and Tao Aimin’s 2008 The Secret Language of Women, an installation of bound books printed from rural women’s washboards employing the ancient Nüshu script invented by rural women. The second part of the article critically examines contemporary iterations of the yaji as a model for the exhibition of contemporary art. The term yaji is thus used in two ways in this article: as a metaphor to reflect on the absence of women artists in the reinvented literati ink tradition, and in a critical examination of its real-world manifestations in several recent exhibitions. In this context, the works of Tao Aimin and Bingyi occupy a complicated liminal space: they position themselves at times inside feminist discourse and at other times disavow a connection; they occupy a marginal space within dominant contemporary art world discourses and historically masculine discourses around calligraphy and the yaji, yet ‘inside’ the ink tradition. This article was developed from a paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Centre for Chinese Visual Art, School of Art, Birmingham City University, 13 October 2017.

Village transformed: Jin Le and community development through contemporary art

Authors: Meiqin Wang 
Page Start: 193

Drawing upon field research, this article examines the work of artist Jin Le who strives to engage his fellow villagers from the remote rural village Shijiezi in light of the growing desire among the contemporary Chinese art circles to seek alternative spaces for artistic production and to make art relevant to community development. Increasingly stricken by the gap between metropolises such as Beijing where he was based and the countryside such as Shijiezi where he grew up, Jin left Beijing in 2005 and has since endeavoured to introduce art as a stimuli for changes to his poverty-laden home village in both materialistic and cultural terms. His work includes making site-specific sculpture and installation works to enrich the public space in the village, taking villagers to participate in art-related events in the cities, inviting artists and other professionals to visit and interact with villagers, initiating projects for collaborations between art professionals and villagers, and facilitating the implementation of these collaborations, among others. Jin’s election to be the village head in 2008 by the villagers and their agreement to offer their private homes as ready-made exhibiting spaces so Shijiezi Museum could be found in 2009 testify to a certain level of efficacy of Jin’s socially engaged art practice. Building upon local support, Jin and his collaborator Qin Ga, a Beijing-based artist, launched the ambitious Fly Together: Shijiezi Village Art Practice Project in 2015. This one-year long collaborative project facilitates the collaboration of 25 artists and artist collectives and 25 local residents, resulting in many thought-provoking artworks and pragmatic outcomes as well as long-term collaborative relationships. Arguably, Jin’s effort highlights the potential of employing art for intersubjective communications, the growth of transformative relationships, and grassroots-initiated social changes, even at a small-scale and with limited resources.

Socially engaged art and the affects of Chinese rural community: A case study of ‘Someone Nearby’

Authors: Yanhua Zhou 
Page Start: 215

This article examines Yangdeng Cooperatives, a socially engaged art project in the rural area of Guizhou Province, Southwest of China (2012–present) with a special focus on an artwork named ‘Someone Nearby’ (2016). The work is created by a young artist Zhang Chao, also a member of Yangdeng Cooperatives. Zhang uses his Wechat, a digital chatting App popular in mainland China, to set up a dialogical system between the artist and the local residents in Yangdeng Township in order to explore local residents’ daily life in detail. By using contemporary affect theory, with a special focus on Lauren Berlant’s (2011) discussions of ‘cruel optimism’, I investigate how a socially engaged art project in the rural area of China reveals local residents’ daily life dilemma. Moreover, I attempt to explore how this dilemma is operated by the affective apparatus of Yangdeng society, which is driven by the cruel optimism related to people’s attachments to their good-life fantasy under the precarious condition of China’s urbanization. I argue that ‘cruel optimism’ is the everyday affects of the local residents which is used to deal with the ordinary crisis that they are encountering every day, and Zhang Chao’s work examines the ‘cruel optimism’, the product of the affective apparatus of Yangdeng society, through its social engagements.

Faces from the detention camps – revisiting Art In the Camps (1988–91)

Authors: Leung Ho Yin 
Page Start: 233

‘Refugee’ and ‘socially engaged’ are two of the very popular terms being discussed in the recent art world. This article aims to discuss the two keywords relating to the notion of ‘art outside art space’ by using a very early example in Hong Kong, Art In the Camps (AIC) (1989–91). A decade before pedagogy became a popular form to engage with people, a group of artists in Hong Kong organized a project that took place right inside the detention camp for Vietnamese refugees. This project demonstrates two layers of significance: first, it reveals a very early attempt to engage with refugees through different artistic strategies in the late 1980s; second, it shows how art could function beyond art space (in this case, art is put in the detention camp). This article will look at AIC with Foucault’s spatial theory of ‘heterotopias’. Although Foucault did not discuss the dimension of race/ethnic problems, this article would still like to borrow his understanding on the problems of classification of space through the metaphor of a mirror to interpret AIC as an early example of socially engaged art in Hong Kong. The article will be developed into two parts. First, the media representation of Vietnamese refugee in Hong Kong through newspapers published at that time. This part will also touch on how the Detention Camps, in which the British government settled Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong, were illustrated as a space of deviation and crisis. Following images that represent the detention camps as pseudo-prisons, the second part will zoom-in at what AIC actually did inside the detention camps.

Inside out: The remaking of home as an institution of critique

Authors: Jiangtao Gu 
Page Start: 251

As the issue’s call for papers has rightly discerned, contemporary Chinese art utilized spaces outside of the art institution as the site of production and exhibition since its early developments. From the first Star Group exhibition in 1979 to Song Dong’s site-specific work in the 1990s, avant-garde Chinese artists have experimented with spaces that are parasitic or antithetic to the official spaces of the nation-state. Such practices might have successfully deconstructed the art institution and its symbolic orders in an earlier moment, they are nonetheless prone to the processes of institutionalization and canonization. This is especially true when museums, galleries and academics, together with market players, have claimed such spaces and artists as the place and subject of a new order known as ‘institutional critique’. Departing from this straightforward mode of institutional critique, this article identifies home as a critical space in contemporary Chinese art practices since the late 1990s and early 2000s. The production, exhibition and critique of art in China today. Joining what is known as the ‘third wave’ of institutional critique, this article reclaims what might constitute a new subject of cultural criticism precisely when state-sponsored art institutions are defunded and demolished by neo-liberal governments around the globe. Turning inside out, it reworks the dichotomy of interiority and exteriority as they are articulated by the bourgeois class to return art to that of the marginalized and disfranchised.

Independent spaces to the street: Participatory art in Shanghai

Authors: Julie Chun 
Page Start: 269

The culture of accelerated museum building and promotion of contemporary art in Shanghai has created a spill-over effect in the upsurge of independent art spaces and self-organized artistic projects on the streets. Yet, participatory art in China that directly engages the viewers has its own prescriptions for ‘publicness’ that does not readily conform to western concepts of site-specificity or the public sphere. By foregrounding cross-disciplinary methods and years of primary field work, this research is a dedicated and vigilant observation of how a new generation of artists are incorporating the community as an integral aspect of their practice to expand the discourse of contemporary art in Shanghai. This article sets the context by providing a brief art historical evaluation of art outside museums and institutions as they emerged in the West and in China. Then, three contemporary case studies in Shanghai are examined to contend that artistic producers who recognise the shifting identities and needs of the public are interrogating the value and potentiality of socially engaging art to expand the cultural literacy for members of its community. 

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