“Detour in Times”: 7 contemporary Chinese artists at Guangdong Times Museum

The museum, which occupies the 19th floor of a residential building, showcases works by seven contemporary Chinese artists.

Cai Hui, He An, Li Xiaofei, Li Liao, Li Zhan, Wei Chengcheng and artist collective Social Sensibility Institute show their works in “Detour in Times”, running until 4 February 2018.


“Detour in Times”, 2017, poster of the exhibition. Image courtesy Times Museum, Guangdong.

In Cai Hui’s Watches (2016), there is an odd sight: dressed in white shirt, tie and black pants, the artist sits on a plastic stool, trying to sell shiny watches to fishermen. An absurd sight amongst his rural surroundings, Cai Hui’s gimmicky, ostentatious wares look out of place; his would-be clientele are decked in slippers and straw hats, dragging along fishing nets in their wake.

Highlighting the seemingly unbreachable disparity between the two economic classes was an overriding theme of the work. The inability of the fishermen to appreciate an object of so-called material luxury, and the ludicrousness of Cai Hui’s presence on shore, were ways through which viewers are led to realise that all of us inhabit different worlds, and experience our realities through varying lens. Cai Hui’s work was inspired by the opening chapters of French writer Alain Robbe-Grillet’s 1955 nouveau roman novel Le Voyeur, where a travelling salesman returns to the island of his birth to sell watches, only to be dogged by the death of a young girl upon that same island.

Cai Hui, 'Watches', 2016, performance and video, 00:10:47. Image courtesy the artist and Times Museum, Guangdong

Cai Hui, ‘Watches’, 2016, performance and video, 10m:47s. Image courtesy the artist and Times Museum, Guangdong.

“Detour in Times” at Times Museum plays host to five of Cai Hui’s works in the first two months of the new year; Watches (2016) is one of the five video installations that continue to examine commercial enterprise and the human, emotional responses that often accompany such activities. The Other Side of The Screen is Your Client (2017) is another thought-provoking work by Cai Hui. Posing as a potential client, Cai Hui places a real estate salesman in the uncomfortable position of recording a video introduction for his fictional “wife”. Under pressure to make a sale through the lens of the video camera, the salesman repeatedly records his pitch; Cai Hui mercilessly catches the nervous fumbling and stumbling on tape along the way.

Revealing the human aspects of the capitalist structures appears to be a focus of “Detour in Times”. Purportedly attempting to revisit the definition and function of “domestic art museums in the public domain”, which, according to the curators of the exhibition, “remains vague”, the self-reflexive tone of the exhibition may have something to do with the fact that the museum was created as a part of a residential development in Guangzhou. Established in 2005, the museum was designed by Rem Koolhaas, and commissioned by the real estate management corporation Times Property. According to the “Report on the Times Museum” compiled by Asia Art Archive in America, Times Property believed that having a museum in their condominium development would help reflect their corporate slogan “to bridge art and life”. The museum programme has since been determined by its advisory board members, who select incoming exhibition proposals for show.

These intersections between corporate agenda, artistic production and residential living may have prompted the beginnings of “Detour in Times”Marked by an investigative and critical overtone, the works of the artists probe the capitalist structures that define the shape of urban living.

Li Liao, 'I Am Justice', 2015, single channel video, color and sound. 00:03:15. Image courtesy the artist and Times Museum, Guangdong

Li Liao, ‘I Am Justice’, 2015, single channel video, color and sound. 03m:15s. Image courtesy the artist and Times Museum, Guangdong.

Cai Hui’s video works are accompanied by the likes of Li Liao‘s I Am Justice (2015). Li Liao’s video opens to a nondescript roadside scene; in a sudden turn of events, Li himself jumps into view, violently assaulting a by-stander. The stark sounds of skin hitting skin, and a view of the assaulted hurriedly scuttling out of sight abruptly bring the short, three-minute video to a swift, almost awkward end. Insisting that the work was not a performance, Li Liao stated:

I have an enemy… After consideration, I decided to beat up with this person and recorded the fighting scene with my camera. In return, I received a notice from the
local police station and paid an indemnity of 750 RMB.

A less bewildering work is Li Xiaofei’s Chongming Island No. 57 (2017), a two-channel video installation that examines our current consumption patterns. Chongming Island reflects on the exponential growth in demand for commercial goods. Known for his Assembly Line project, Li Xiaofei’s practice takes a detached view of the industrial society, often observing his subjects – usually factory workers – in an dispassionate, impassive way. Whilst Assembly Line referenced the beginning of the assembly line and Fordist techniques in modern industrial work, Chongming Island looks at the goods that are being produced and circulated in the current era, the products of the labour that works on the assembly line.

He An, 'Light Breeze, as a Thief', neon tube light box, dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist and Times Museum, Guangdong

He An, ‘Light Breeze, as a Thief’, neon tube light box, dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist and Times Museum, Guangdong.

He An’s colourful, neon lightbox sign strikes a cheerful tone in an exhibition that can, at times, seem sombre and cynical. Decked out in shades of green, yellow and red, Light Breeze, As a Thief (2014) is one of He An’s well-known lightbox works. Made from commercial lightboxes gathered by different means through the streets of Wuhan, these works are a whimsical way of subverting the original, capitalism-oriented objectives of the bright lights and fluorescent colours.

Wei Chencheng, 'Evil Lotus', 2017, cardboard and spray paint, dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist and Times Museum, Guangdong

Wei Chencheng, ‘Evil Lotus’, 2017, cardboard and spray paint, dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist and Times Museum, Guangdong.

Evil Lotus (2017) by Wei Chengcheng is part of a wider installation, accompanied by a video of the same name. Wei’s practice revolves around the clear distinction between life and work. Taking much of his inspiration from Joseph Beuys’s idea that “everyone can be an artist”, Wei often contemplates the line between what is seen as functional work, and the artistic qualities of the actions that constitute the idea of “work” itself. Four of Wei’s works are on display during the exhibition; his performance work, Work, Art, is recreated specially for this exhibition. Inviting a professional dancer to create a dance routine based on the motions used on the production line, Wei Chengcheng reminds us that art is only perceived through the context it is shown in.

Reflexively looking at the web of production that the institution is entrenched in, the Times Museum seems painfully aware of the context that it was born from. Yet, it attempts to explore some of the more sordid details of its birth through art. Noting that the “location, the historical and cultural conditions of the museum […] must be confronted during the process of shaping itself”, the museum appears eager to examine and reflect upon these themes, making for much to think in the world of contemporary Chinese art itself.

Junni Chen


“Detour in Times” is on view from 16 December 2017 to 4 February 2018 at Guangdong Times Museum, Times Rose Garden III, Huangbian North Road, Baiyun North Avenue, Guangzhou.

Related topics: Chinese artists, museum shows, videosinstallationevents in Guangzhou

Related posts:

Subscribe to Art Radar for more exhibitions on contemporary Chinese artists

Comments are closed.