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new photography in guangzhou

All month I’ve been meaning to blog this, but attack of laziness and other things to keep me occupied meant it always slipped away. So, mid-last year I mentioned, the book 3030: New Photography in China around the time it was published, and mostly forgot about it. Then PingMag from Tokyo did one of its famous interview/essays on the monograph with some of the photographers from Beijing, Shanghai and of course my favourite town, Guangzhou. While reading it, I was reminded just what entranced me last time I was in the city, when I met a bunch of quite amazing young artists, designers, all-round creative people the were part of something like a Cantonese cultural renaissance of art kids.

I was going to lament the lack of relevance of so much contemporary dance in some of the cities artists in this book come from, and compare that lack to the phenomenally strong and unique contemporary art, photography, performance, design, music, magazines and pretty much everything else coming from the new generations in these places, but … I’m not feeling particularly lucid today.

So back to Canton art kids, and the bunch I met while making apocalypse prd 岭南启示录, some who are in 3030, some who appear in the photos, many who are part of this large and really cool diffuse mass of artists who are making art that is so strikingly relevant to the cities it comes from. I occasionally carry on about Cantonese new art, and so I guess for everyone who tries and fails to imagine what it looks like, this article and all the links to the artists pretty much is it.

However, the basic premise of the “3030″ book is that after the Open Door Policy – the implementation of sort of new policies and an economic liberalization in the very early 90s – China changed so much. Here is this first generation of young people that has grown into maturity under this new program. So their experience of China is very different and clearly unlike their parents they know the country only as a booming economy and fairly international place. Naturally their work is quite different. Being in their mid, late 20s, they are maturing as artists too. But their work has started to be shown only very recently, maybe in the last few years, with a couple of exhibitions and then only in China.

— PingMag – New Photography in China

New Photography In China

What did you know about Chinese photoblogging so far? It surely must be young, fresh, and wild – and it is, as you can see on the cover of the photo book 3030: New Photography In China: there are the legs of a woman in pink in white net stockings and she seems to be spitting something floury white onto the ground. This is the work from Lin Zhi Peng aka 223 who seems to be some kind of a Chinese Terry Richardson, regarding his blog. Other contributers are for instance Cao Fei, Peng&Chen, Birdhead or Alex So. PingMag asked “3030″ editor John Millichap all about the vivid contemporary Chinese photo art scene – and let participators 223 and Wen Ling aka Ziboy have their word, too, afterwards.

Written by Verena

John Millichap, you told me before you have been in China for quite a while now…

For nearly ten years I have worked in Hong Kong as a journalist and got hold of the art scene. Then, after one year in Beijing, I moved to Shanghai two years ago.

How would you describe the art scene in Hong Kong?

It seems to be much smaller and is quite different in character from the massive mainland. Even Hong Kong doesn’t have the richness and the variety of China, it has a very well organized infrastructure, like the gallery network, the museums, etc.

What about Shanghai and Beijing?

Though since 1949 Beijing tends to be the cultural center of China, it feels like for me that Shanghai is far more out looking, far more receptive to new ideas. My impression is of Beijing that people go there to be an artist, but it is less compartmentalized in Shanghai: a lot of the creativity there is harvest to particular industries like fashion or the media and there are lots of young people mixing graphic design, fashion, photography, and painting. People there told me that they want to build up another 100 galleries over the next 8 to 10 years there alone.

How did your book 3030: New Photography In China evolve? You even founded the publishing house “3030 Press” just for that…

We started in early 2006 with various ideas, but a photo book seemed the easiest to execute. At that time, a lot of photographers in Hong Hong were starting to come to Shanghai in particular and I knew a few of them.

“3030″ is also the concept of the book: a selection of 30 photographers under 30. What is distinctive for this younger generation?

The artists themselves changed, their experience of art and their sense of themselves as artists: the new generation seems to be more sophisticated in many ways in their manipulation of images and ideas – simply because they have been more exposed to more ideas, maybe more foreign influences than the previous generation.

How did you find all the artists?

UNITAG, the guys who designed the book, are in touch with the whole creative and quite tight networks in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. They helped me to get introduced to people. Also, Ou Ning and Gu Zheng who contributed two articles to the book are quite well known figures on the scene.

What were the criteria for the book selection?

There were several limitations: I produced the book independently with no sponsors, so because of the costs the number of pages were limited. Nevertheless we tried to include a broader selection of people geographically as possible from Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing. If you look at general trends, I think there are regional differences: the media seems to have more influence for artists in places like Guangzhou or Shanghai. There the artists’ works tend to be more documentary style which may reflect their day jobs in the media, working for magazines. Whereas in Beijing people might take their position as artists more serious and their works might reflect their ideas of themselves as artists.

Also we wanted to catch an idea of the different influences that affect the works: we have the high art people, the media folks and artists who do weblogs as well. These are bloggers that have quite amateur sites as they haven’t been involved in too many exhibitions yet, but they are very popular in China.

Check out the artists’ blogs via the 3030 Press website, more at photoblogchina.com or in the detailed listing of Ou Ning’s blog.

Unlike much of the art from China you get to see overseas, “3030″ shows Chinese pop culture and doesn’t spend so much time on known art that deals with Mao or the Cultural Revolution…

That’s why we picked Lin Zhi Peng’s work as cover for the “3030″ selection: it is an aggressive kind of a Punk image that gives you absolutely no clue that this is about Chinese photography – as there are no revolutionary images, neither dragon nor calligraphy, and not even a Chinese face.

We wanted something that didn’t trade on any of the preconceptions about Chinese art. As for contemporary art from China to be successful in the West, it has to press certain buttons and, in a way, has to trade on the kind of clichés like the Cultural Revolution and Mao. It’s a particular generation and a particular kind of art which Western audiences, or Western collectors, find quite accessible. That’s why there tends to be a lot of political pop, or, to use another term, cynical realism.

However, the basic premise of the “3030″ book is that after the Open Door Policy – the implementation of sort of new policies and an economic liberalization in the very early 90s – China changed so much. Here is this first generation of young people that has grown into maturity under this new program. So their experience of China is very different and clearly unlike their parents they know the country only as a booming economy and fairly international place. Naturally their work is quite different. Being in their mid, late 20s, they are maturing as artists too. But their work has started to be shown only very recently, maybe in the last few years, with a couple of exhibitions and then only in China.

Will you show us some more work from China with “3030 Press” then?

Our next book will be about Chinese graphic design, and there will be a follow-up of the “3030″ photography selection. Also we are planing another photo book called “17″: once more a collaborative project with photographers portraying young Chinese between 17 and 19 years old, trying to capture the changing generation.

Thank you John Millichap for your interesting photo book selection!

Next PingMag asked two participants of the book, namely Lin Zhi Peng aka 223 and Wen Ling aka Ziboy about their perception of the Chinese art scene:

223 works currently as chief editor of a lifestyle/culture/fashion magazine in Guangzhou. Ziboy moved from Beijing to the States recently. He is the founder of photoblogchina.com, a directory listing of Chinese photoblogs. As one of his recent projects he collected a Chinese photoblog exhibition via Flickr.

Ziboy, what are your favourite photoblogs at the moment?

Ziboy: Michael Zhang
Hunkabutta
Rion

And 223: what is it about your “Nature-Graphy Society”?

223: Me and my friend Alex So, also a young photographer from Guangzhou city, founded it in 2004. With “Nature-Graphy” we focused on any natural image style, like for example snap shots, and used to organize some exhibitions, snap shot activities and photography screen shows in coffee shops. But recently we were too busy for further events.

How do you see China today – for young people making art?

223: If you like it, do it.

Ziboy: Better and better. In particular, the Chinese art market is booming and more and more young artists can live by art. The society is also more acceptable to the new arts community.

And how do you think did the situation change in the last couple of years?

223: There were more and more exhibitions and creative activities in the last two years alone. For example, the GET IT LOUDER exhibition or iMART, a creative market where young people sell their handmade works and design.

Ziboy: Previously, China’s art market was limited and only a few top-notch artists could depend on it. But still, young people involved in the arts often feel no protection in their life.

Is particularly young Chinese art popular in the media?

223: Some magazines focus on young people’s lifestyle but most of the mainstream media like to report on mainstream art.

Apart from online websites – are there enough platforms, like exhibitions and galleries where you can see it?

223: Of course. Apart from GET IT LOUDER, there are more and more concept shops in Chinese main cities that do exhibitions and shows for young people.

Ziboy: For artists having more and more galleries is generally a good thing. But now there have been too many art galleries in Beijing, a few new ones every month. I hope that there will be more art museums whose purpose is not solely commercial.

One last thing: is there a street art scene / a graffiti culture in your city?

223: Yes. I would say that Guangzhou has the first graffiti society in China and it all started from there.

Ziboy: The government is very strict and doesn’t allow graffiti. There are only a few locations in Beijing that have some.

Thank you two as well, 223 and Ziboy, for giving us a glimpse into the young Chinese art scene!

when in doubt … cliché and generalise

Two almost opposite examinations of art or culture came from Ou Ning’s blog today, the first a textless photographic documentary, 乡土凋零, observing a village barren of people, the end of the world, even an empty outdoor opera stage, home to motorbikes and a table of distant, seated figures.

The second, from New York Times Magazine on contemporary art in China. I used to lament the execrable editorial retardedness that could induce every newspaper and magazine to endlessly refer to Mao or the Cultural Revolution in every title of every article about China. In an effort to see hip and up with the times it’s now often a reference to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon just leaves me thinking they’d be better off and advance Euro-Sino-Freundschaft more if they just shut up.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Agenda is an atrocious article full of name-dropping and disconnected sprawling from one topic to the next, almost a shopping list of every foreigner who has even glanced at Chinese contemporary art in the last two decades. As a magazine filler story, which in English language media is largely what writing about art is concerned with, this is not such a surprise.

What is hideous and smacks of the very ‘orientalist’ racism the author charges certain nameless collectors with (though Uli Sigg’s name appears immediately afterwards in a deliberately obscure conjunction of two sentences) is such remarks as “I’m not convinced that we Westerners really understand what’s going on there.” That the writer is also a former curator of the Venice Biennale, Francesco Bonami is disturbing, as he plays on one hand with some odious “inscrutable China” generalisations and on the other with sympathetic, cultural insider, and defender of Chinese contemporary art.

The last paragraph though, is full of bizarre and non-sensical tangled mess of metaphors, undefined allusions, and outright cultural colonialism, an illiterate scrawl of meaninglessness. This is lazy journalism at its worst, and certainly does no favours for the artists it profiles. It highlights a certain impoverishment in traditional journalism, despite the massive resources underpinning a paper such as NYT. Contra this, a blog like Heaven Tree, writing frequently on Chinese culture, history, art is emblematic of the phenomenal quality of individuals writing out of passion.

Saving itself from some of the roadkill is the slideshow and accompanying notes on several prominent artists including Ou Ning and Cao Fei from Guangzhou now based in Beijing, Xu Zhen from Shanghai, and Yangjiang’s Zheng Guogu. Skip the article and go right to the slideshow.

3030 new photography in china

A new book of contemporary art photographers from China:

3030: New Photography in China

This fully illustrated survey of 30 of China’s most exciting photographers under 30 reveals a decisive shift in the country’s artistic topography. From internationally acclaimed artists to web bloggers, their images reveal a restless and fluxionary world that is shaped as much by tradition as it is by growing affluence, pop culture, advertising and fashion – among other products of the country’s Open Policy of the 1980s. Moreover, with the advent of digital technology and the internet it is also a generation whose ability to make and publish their pictures is unprecedented. A collection of essays by leading scholars and curators from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou introduce the artists and their work.

The Photographers

Alex So 苏焊光, Li Si En 李思恩, Zao 早, Ji Wei Yu 季炜煜, Liang Yue 梁玥, Lin Zhi Peng 林志鹏, Song Tao 宋涛, Cai Wei Dong 蔡卫东, Cao Fei 曹斐, Jin Shan 金闪, Peng Yang Jun 彭杨军, Ziboy 温凌, Liu Ren 刘韧, Moon Chen 陈皎皎, Zong Ning 宗宁, Wang Yi Fei 王一飞, Chen Wei 陈维, Zhou Hongbin 周宏斌, Chi Peng 遟鵬, Xu Cheng 徐程, Liu Bo 刘波, Guo Hang 郭航, Xu Zi Yu 徐梓峪, Liu Ding 刘鼎, Huang Kui 黄奎, Yao Yi Chun 姚亦淳, Yiki Liu 刘一青, Yang Chang Hong 杨长虹, Zheng Zhi Yuan 郑知渊

The Essayists

Gu Zheng 顾铮 is professor of photography at Fudan University in Shanghai and is one of China’s leading scholars of contemporary photography. He has written articles for numerous journals and exhibition catalogues in China and was a chief curator and curatorial committee member of the 2005 Guangzhou Photo Biennial.

Ou Ning 欧宁 is an artist, author and champion of contemporary art in China. He has participated in and curated numerous exhibitions, including Get It Louder in 2005 as well as having written extensively in both Chinese and English on China’s evolving art scene.

Zhang Li 张黎 graduated from the Art History Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in 1992. Since then he has worked on numerous exhibition projects in Beijing and Shanghai, including the Beijing Tokyo Art Project at Dashanzi Art District (798) in 2002. He is currently setting up a centre for photography in Beijing.

Shi HanTao 施翰涛 is manager of the EpSITE photo gallery in Shanghai. He curated the new photography exhibition Selfhood in 2005 and was co-curator of Absent Minded at the Lianzhou Photo Biennale 2005.

— 3030 Press

金星 jin xing and shanghai dance festival

Something I’ve been meaning to write about for a bit, but I am lazy and prefer sleeping, is the 舞上海 Shanghai Dance Festival, that has just finished, but I heard excellent raves about a certain Nederlans company via text messages who turned out to be the excellent and worth raving about Emio Greco | PC, who I think have made quite a few people think contemporary dance was actually worth looking at. Anyway, the festival is over, and the instigator of it, 金星 Jin Xing, famous across China because she used to be a male in the army, former Guangdong Modern Dance Company chick, and now artistic director of Jin Xing Dance Theatre in Shanghai had an article on her, the festival, family life and making dance, and why people have said about her, “大概脑子坏掉了” in China News. It took me about half an hour to read, so don’t hold your breath for a sub-normal translation to emerge here.

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shanghai does contemporary art

Contemporary art in China is really mostly a scene in Beijing around 798 Factory, despite other cities having something going on, but for some reason when people ask me about it, there’s this pervasive meme that Shanghai has a scene that rocks out. I dunno where that came from, because even in the dance scene it’s a distant third behind Guangzhou and Beijing. But there is stuff, mostly the dealer gallery or architecture-as-sculpture museum, and even something like Dashanzi in Moganshan Road, though it’s mostly about the buildings and spaces rather than the art.

The Doulun is a government-funded institution that opened in December 2003 on an officially designated “cultural street” in Shanghai’s northern Hongkou District. The museum is in the shadow of new high-rises, but its six-story vertical box of a building looks startlingly modern on Doulun Road. A favorite haunt of Chinese literary luminaries in the 1930s, it’s now a picturesque pedestrian street, lined with old houses converted into restaurants, galleries, bookstores and antique shops. Next to the museum is the Hong-De Tang Church, a 1928 brick and concrete structure said to be the only Christian church in Shanghai built like a traditional Chinese temple.

The museum has brought edgy art to the historic area, said Gu Zhenqing, chief curator and deputy director. The program is about half international, half Chinese, encompassing a lively mix and quick turnover of exhibitions, performances, experimental films and new music.

— Los Angeles Times

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大声展 get it louder

大声展 get it louder opens in Shenzhen at the end of next month before moving to Shanghai and Beijing. Over 80 artists and designers are involved including some of the finest from Guangzhou.

GET IT LOUDER: A visual noise made by young talented designers and artists around the globe. The exhibition is conceived as a platform for showcasing their creativity and personal thoughts, in order to explore their sources of inspirations in their daily lives. It also tends to examine graphic art/design as lifestyles, living attitudes, and as an integral part of urban culture.

The exhibition will focus on young creators with Chinese background working in different places around the world. At the same time, to give the exhibition an international scope, Get It Louder also invited some talented creators from countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Germany, Sweden, and USA to join. Rather than focusing on a particular format or medium, the exhibition will bring in fresh and innovative art works in such a diverse range of creative fields as print, web, moving images, photography, video, fashion, and more.

Besides exhibitions in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, Get It Louder will have internationally-renowned designers as our guest speakers presenting their latest work at the venues. It will also feature a sound art performance on the opening day in each city. Get It Louder is the first art/design exhibition and event of its kind held in mainland China.

— get it louder

Rear Light – Beijing Dance at the Joyce

The 北京現代舞團 Beijing Modern Dance Company have been performing Read Light at the Joyce Theatre in New York. The Times interviewed artistic director Willy Tsao, who is currently also head of CCDC in Hong Kong, and The Guangdong Modern Dance Company. All three companies are performing at the Kennedy Centre in October. Willy talks about the short history of contemporary dance in China, including Yang Meiqi who was responsible for starting it all, Jin Xing, now director of the Shanghai company and the upcoming contemporary dance festival in Guangzhou.

Any recent visitor to China who has run into the night life in Shanghai and Beijing or seen the pop art in official museums that portrays Maoists and punk rockers side by side will understand that artists who do not want a return to the past may also be unhappy with China’s rediscovery of materialist values.

An allegorical transposition of the original tale about an alienated rock star in the 1982 movie version of “The Wall,” “Rear Light” is at a far remove from a realistic dance about peasants in the fields that was included in the 1991 United States debut of the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, the seedbed of Chinese contemporary dance.

— New York Times

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seth’s interactions

Late last year, former China reporter Seth Faison, who had been in the country on and off since the early 1980s published South of the Clouds: Exploring the Hidden Realms of China. Faison spoke with Bloomberg journalist and fellow Shanghai journalist, Alec McCabe about his time there and relationship with choreographer 金星 Jin Xing.

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shanghai art arse licking

The Guardian has been running a Special Report on China for the last couple of weeks, which should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in what’s going on in China, along with the Globe and Mail’s similar in-depth report, China Rising. The latest piece in The Guardian looks at the current state of the contemporary art scene in Shanghai in Is Chinese art kicking butt … or kissing it? and how much it is driven by the loose wallets of foreign art-whores hoovering up the next big thing.

For whatever reason, by focussing exclusively on Shanghai’s big dealer galleries, the article fails entirely to acknowledge the thriving scene across the country, conflating the antics of a small stretch of the Bund with the wider scene. No mention was made at all of 798 Factories at Dashanzi in Beijing, or of the contemporary art scenes in Chengdu, Wuhan or Guangzhou. Still, it’s a good read to see how the New York no-wave art scene of the last couple of decades has been replicated half a world away.

Davide Quadrio has been one of the chief actors in the drama that has seen artistic activity in Shanghai transmute over the past decade “from an era of guerrillas to the era of a regular army”, as artist Qiu Zhijie has put it. He recalls how, from a low-profile underground, with artists showing avant-garde work mainly to each other in their studios, a more public scene took shape. In 1996, Lorenz Hebling, a Swiss art dealer, set up the first private commercial gallery focused purely on contemporary Chinese work. A turning point came in 1999, when Quadrio’s outfit, Bizart, put on an exhibition called Art For Sale. It was Shanghai’s first large-scale show of avant-garde art outside the nascent commercial gallery circuit. “It was closed down after two days for pornography,” says Quadrio, “but it was illegal anyway – we had squatted a mall.” Despite its short life and a furious denunciation in the press, it was a huge success, ambitious in scale and intent, a call to arms for Shanghai artists.

Quadrio was now determined to set up a permanent, not-for-profit exhibition space. It wasn’t as easy as it might sound. A cultural organisation in the city has no legal status unless affiliated to the government, thus coming under the power of the Shanghai Cultural Bureau. Such control, from a conservative, bureaucratic and extremely circumspect body, was never going to be viable for Quadrio. The way round it was to create a wholly owned Chinese company, becoming a “commercial enterprise in the eyes of the Chinese authorities”. The numerous events and exhibitions he has held since then fly, mostly, below the radar of officialdom. It is one of many subtle accommodations Quadrio has come to with the authorities. “You play with the limits, and the government lets you play,” he says. Money, rather than censorship, he stresses, is the biggest headache: Quadrio hires out his curatorial and technical skills to help pay for the programme, and works with foreign funders and foundations, including Arts Council England.