“The New Normal”: examining art’s place in China and the world today at UCCA, Beijing

“The New Normal” at UCCA tackles a range of global and topical issues.

“The New Normal: China, Art, and 2017” will run at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing from 19 March to 9 July 2017.

“The New Normal: China, Art, and 2017”, 19 March - 9 July 2017, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing. Exhibition view with Gao Lei's work. Image courtesy UCCA.

“The New Normal: China, Art, and 2017”, 19 March – 9 July 2017, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing. Exhibition view with Gao Lei’s work. Image courtesy UCCA.

In “The New Normal” the organisers challenge the audience by posing the following questions:
What is the place of art in China today? And what is to be done? In a world where previously held convictions no longer are accepted as the norm, where populism has become a hallmark and environmental disasters are a daily challenge, yet China continues on its trajectory of growth.

The exhibition’s Chinese title “state of exception” is a term which refers to a political situation in which the normal laws and regulations of a society are abruptly suspended, replaced by temporary conditions that in turn form a new reality. In 2015, the Chinese leadership introduced “the new normal”, a way of talking about economic growth rates that, while lower than those of the early 2000s, continue to trump those of most other major economies. China’s response to these increasingly acute dynamics – typified by President Xi Jinping’s address to the World Economic Forum in Davos – might be said to form another “state of exception” in which artists live and work.

Poster of the exhibition “The New Normal: China, Art, and 2017”, 19 March - 9 July 2017, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing. Image courtesy UCCA.

Poster of the exhibition “The New Normal: China, Art, and 2017”, 19 March – 9 July 2017, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing. Image courtesy UCCA.

“The New Normal” at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art includes work by more than 20 artists from China and beyond. In contrast to years past where the artists included in such survey shows were exclusively Chinese, this time some international artists are also featured in the exhibition. This indicates a move towards a more open, inclusive and global Beijing art scene.

During “The New Normal: China, Art, and 2017”, 19 March - 9 July 2017, UCCA Nave is transformed into the “Pavilion of Exception”, a public space and reading room with a collection of books selected by the exhibitions curators, participating artists and collaborating scholars. Image courtesy UCCA.

During “The New Normal: China, Art, and 2017”, 19 March – 9 July 2017, UCCA Nave is transformed into the “Pavilion of Exception”, a public space and reading room with a collection of books selected by the exhibitions curators, participating artists and collaborating scholars. Image courtesy UCCA.

During the press conference, Art Radar posed a question on this point to UCCA Director Philip Tinari, asking: “This is the first time that foreign artists were invited to one of the big group shows that UCCA organises every four years. What brought this change about?” Tinari responded:

If you look at some of the previous group shows we have done on a smaller scale, we get more and more interested in art in a global sense as opposed to on a national sense. As an institution, we feel a sense of responsibility to communicate to the world certain things that are going on in China’s art scene. This time, a lot of the work was accomplished by not calling it a Chinese artist show or young artist show, trying to let the artists and the works speak for themselves, and then very naturally you are able to include things from all kind of positions. […] What does it mean to be a Chinese artist or an international artist? We are implicitly kind of questioning that. If you look even in the seats right here, we have artists based in Paris, artists based in London, in New York, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Dubai, Los Angeles.

[…] It is a non-binary kind of situation at this point. Hopefully through this selection we have illustrated that in a more implicit rather than explicit way. So, we are also not saying this is an international show. Because in the end it is a show of artists and a show of art works. And this is how a lot of exhibitions are actually made around the world today. [This is what] C. T. Hsia [aka Xia Zhiqing] the great scholar of Chinese literature in the modern period, called “the obsession with China”, the idea that everything returns to a kind of national narrative. [It] is a really hard pattern to break and one that you may somehow have to chip away at in some ways.

The show includes works in a variety of media and highlights many of the issues and concerns that our global society faces today. Art Radar looks at some of the highlights of the exhibition.

Chen Chenchen, 'The Mercy of Not Killing', 2017, (detail view), site-specific installation, mixed media, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

Chen Chenchen, ‘The Mercy of Not Killing’, 2017, (detail view), site-specific installation, mixed media, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

1. The Mercy of Not Killing (2017) — Chen Chenchen

The Mercy of Not Killing (2017) is a site-specific video installation conceived by contemporary Chinese artist Chen Chenchen (b. 1987). Inspired by classical movie survival scenes, it turns the audience into spectators that watch a group of construction workers hanging off a 34-metre-tall tower. While standing on an elevated platform, the audience looks down on footage of workers taken by a drone. Protective chains, which mimic interlinked arms, surround the platform. The audience can decide to virtually “step on the fingers” of the workers and thereby seal their fate or realise that we are all interconnected, as the links of the chain prompt us.

Amy Lien and Enzo Camacho, 'LEAK LIGHT DEATH TIME HEAT', 2017, installation view. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

Amy Lien and Enzo Camacho, ‘LEAK LIGHT DEATH TIME HEAT’, 2017, installation view. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

2. LEAK LIGHT DEATH TIME HEAT (2017) — Amy Lien and Enzo Camacho

The artist duo Amy Lien (b. 1987, USA) and Enzo Camacho (b. 1985, Philippines) present LEAK LIGHT DEATH TIME HEAT, which draws attention to two recent phenomena in the Philippines. First, the odd hours that Manila’s sprawling and pervasive call centres must keep, to service their international clientele. Flashing lights in a myriad of colours light up the space. They are a reminder that because of the working hours of these call centres, some parts of the city never sleep. Another now regular occurrence are spurious arrests and killings of drug offenders, which the new ruler has avowed to wipe out at any cost. Images of these killings become projection screens for the strobe lights of commerce.

Liang Ban, 'A Poet Who Never Saw the Ocean Wrote a Novel about the Ocean', 2017, sound installation, dimensions variable, 21 min. Image courtesy UCCA.

Liang Ban, ‘A Poet Who Never Saw the Ocean Wrote a Novel about the Ocean’, 2017, sound installation, dimensions variable, 21 min. Image courtesy UCCA.

3. A Poet Who Never Saw the Ocean Wrote a Novel about the Ocean (2017) — Liang Ban

Liang Ban (b. 1985 Guangxi province) deals with the global issue of the mass migration of refugees brought about by war, politics and greed. For his sound installation A Poet Who Never Saw the Ocean Wrote a Novel about the Ocean, he asked several of his friends to record the sound of waves at beaches across Europe and the Balkans where a large numbers of refugees has landed since 2015. At the time of the recording, the voices of refugees that had landed there were no longer audible, leaving only the sound of the waves. The artist proposes that like a novel, the waves provide a constant narrative on which tragic events are superimposed.

Yao Chingmei, 'Solar Spectrum: The Royal Ballet of the Night 1', 2016, video, 8min:10sec. Image courtesy UCCA.

Yao Chingmei, ‘Solar Spectrum: The Royal Ballet of the Night 1’, 2016, video, 8min:10sec. Image courtesy UCCA.

4. Black Friday (2016) — Sophia Al-Maria

Qatari-American artist Sophia Al-Maria’s (b. 1983) stated interest is to describe 21st century life in the Gulf Arab nations through art, writing and filmmaking. Black Friday (2016) deals with the ubiquitous mall phenomenon in that part of the world, a result of the rapid urban and economic development and the rise in capitalism in the past decades. The four-channel video installation prompts viewers to reflect on the shopping centre, which could symbolise a secular temple for the contemporary world.

“The New Normal: China, Art, and 2017”, 19 March - 9 July 2017, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing. Image courtesy UCCA.

“The New Normal: China, Art, and 2017”, 19 March – 9 July 2017, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing. Image courtesy UCCA.

5. Jungle (2017) — Li Qi

Li Qi (b. 1984) experienced first-hand the decline in the manufacturing industry during a residency in a factory. A local company had found what it thought was a creative solution to both draw on the agrarian background of its remaining workforce and to use their unused land. Workers were asked to plant vegetables on the factory grounds, which also meant a steady supply of food for everyone. However, this additional task was not well received by the workers. This tension between management and labour is highlighted in the video Jungle (2017), where footage of labourers working and farming is set against gun fight scenes – parodies of scenes from 1990s Hong Kong movies.

Max Hooper Schneider, 'Accidental Menagerie', 2015, mixed media, acrylic trays, polymer resin, aluminium structure, custom hardware, 304.8 x 274.3 x 38.1 cm. Image courtesy UCCA.

Max Hooper Schneider, ‘Accidental Menagerie’, 2015, mixed media, acrylic trays, polymer resin, aluminium structure, custom hardware, 304.8 x 274.3 x 38.1 cm. Image courtesy UCCA.

“The New Normal” continues UCCA’s tradition of mounting a large-scale group exhibition once every four years. The goal of these shows is to show works by artists and artist groups that investigate exceptional intersections and connections to analyse the present condition. “The New Normal” is organised by UCCA curators Guo Xi, Yang Zi, Alvin Li and Wenfei Wang working with UCCA Director Philip Tinari.

Nooshfar Afnan

1666

Related Topics: Chinese, video, installation, museum shows, Beijing events

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