Longing for Paradise



Extra Credit- Annelysse Eggold

What is the real significance of Chinese contemporary art in Chinese society and in the global world today?  This is a question that necessitates a comprehensive understanding of the historical evolution of China and its art, the recent swift modernization of China and its continually evolving and changing cultural, political and economic conditions.  China is undergoing a prolific period of material development, consumption and urbanization, with its peoples engulfed and transformed by the torrential forces of these changes.  Artists are attempting to integrate these changes both into their personal lives as artists and into their art, while reflecting on their stances and lives within this changing milieu.  Urbanization, often poorly planned and executed, is mutating the preexisting landscape and way of life while providing exciting and often surrealistic landscapes of fabricated paradises for artistic endeavors, with buildings appearing and disappearing as if in a fast-forwarded movie.  Here there is the potential for a deconstructionist relationship to the reality of one’s environment, a kind of mockery of stability and centeredness as noted in the video work Let’s Puff and Light as Fuck, Blind Sweet, and Kan Juan and Objects.  What is seemingly illustrated in all these works is “an intense schizophrenia…a search for a balance between space for independent existence and public expression.”  Artistic creativity often focuses on the intense opposing forces of constructing a paradise for the individual and the ethical duty to engage social reality…a Faustian dialectic between material enrichment and spiritual harmony.

A particularly insightful vision and opinion on global issues is Huang Yong Ping’s Bat Project, which displays a replica of the American spy plane caught by Chinese authorities in 2001.  Ping reinterprets the implication of the diplomatic incident as a challenge to America’s hegemony and a test of the public tolerance of political taboos.  Despite being censured three times due to diplomatic pressures despite public support.  Here, the test between reality, utopia, dominant ideology and independent worldviews, public space and individual freedom are being brought to global attention.   Similarly, GU Dexin’s works, which negotiate the boundary between vital pleasure and the fatal erosion of life, animated by hybrid creatures that incorporate eroticism, political critique and humanist values is apparent as a manifesto of individual freedom. Facing an increasingly materialistic culture in a frenzy of urbanization with an overwhelming dominance of new technology the younger generation is rethinking a new set of values.

The critical moment in Chinese contemporary art was the 2000 Shanghai Biennale, curated by Toshio Tsumizu and the author, which was the first important contemporary art exhibition organized by a state-run institution in china. It was a successful attempt to introduce to China, in a professional manner, the most representative artists working within the country and on the international scene at the turn of the millennium. It legitimized contemporary art in both Chinese institutional circles, which had been profoundly hostile to the avant-gardes, and in a society, which was far from being familiar with contemporary art.   The prior raison d’etre of contemporary artists, the anti-official stance, is now mostly eroded and contemporary art’s social, political, and intellectual implications are gradually become globalized and a new source of pride and possession by the social elite…not unlike much of the contemporary art in the west became over time.


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