“Harmonious Society” unites more than 30 contemporary Chinese artists over 6 venues in Manchester.

The exhibition, organised by the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) in Manchester, brings together over 30 renowned Chinese artists, responding to Asia Triennial’s theme “Conflict and Compassion”.

Wang Yuyang, 'Breathing Books', 2014. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Wang Yuyang, ‘Breathing Books’, 2014. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Harmonious Society” was launched on 27 September and runs until 23 November 2014. Organised by the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA), it is spread across six venues in Manchester. Lead curator Jiang Jiehong’s ambitious project is laid out much in the same guise as a biennial or triennial exhibition and responds to the overall theme of the Asia Triennial Manchester 2014 (ATM), “Conflict and Compassion”.

Jin Feng, 'Chinese Plates', 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Jin Feng, ‘Chinese Plates’, 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

The exhibition re-examines the ‘conflicts’ and ‘harmony’ of Greater China, as well as that of Asia and the world. It contextualises these amidst the unprecedented political reform, economic development and rapid urbanisation that Mainland China has seen in the past three decades. 

The curatorial vision identifies a ‘harmonious society’ (和谐社会 hexie shehui) that presents no conflict and extends its cultural and philosophical connotations to be perceived in a global context (天下 tianxia).

Luxury Logico 'Solar, Manchester', 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Luxury Logico ‘Solar, Manchester’, 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Yuan Gong, 'Losing Control', 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Yuan Gong, ‘Losing Control’, 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

As Jiang explains:

‘Harmonious Society’ is almost an ‘automatic’ response to the current ATM focusing on ‘conflict and compassion’. […] When translated in Chinese, as ‘nothing happened under heaven’ (天下無事 tianxia wushi), it then has its philosophical extension and the potential to be rooted in traditional Chinese culture. Beyond nationality, all the works and artists are connected under ‘tianxia‘ together to embrace the ‘harmony’.

Zhao Yao, 'Wonderlands', 2014. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Zhao Yao, ‘Wonderlands’, 2014. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Curating the city

The exhibition first originated exclusively for the CFCCA, but eventually developed into six venues during the curatorial process. The uniqueness of this project lies in the production of several new site-specific works for the show. Jiang said that the works were

required to respond not only to the notion of ‘Harmonious Society’, but also the institutional and non-institutional spaces and their historical, cultural and religious connotations. It is the challenge of ‘curating the city’.

Yang Zhenzhong, 'Long Live the Great Union', 2013. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Yang Zhenzhong, ‘Long Live the Great Union’, 2013. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Jiang further explains that the title of the exhibition is derived from a political slogan, but that it is in no way directed to a simplistic reading of the show as politically critical. He warns against the interpretation of Chinese art as directly related to politics, as championed by some individual artists and curators.

We believe, politics can be discussed in art (not just Chinese art, but also British, American and European art), but it is never the core of contemporary art, whilst contemporary art can really do very little about political struggles, such as the recent Hong Kong crisis. Evidenced in our show, Chinese art is much more than this, with its own creative energy and a sense of humour.

TOF Group, 'The Ideal Field for the Perfect Battle', 2014. Image courtesy CFCCA.

TOF Group, ‘The Ideal Field for the Perfect Battle’, 2014. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Li Wei, 'A Decorative Thing', 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Li Wei, ‘A Decorative Thing’, 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Artists in harmony

The artists, across the six venues (PDF download), include:

At the CFCCA:

Zhang Hui and Dan'er, 'Mobile Sculpture', 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Zhang Hui, ‘Mobile Sculpture’, 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

At the National Football Museum:

At the Manchester Cathedral:

Wang Sishun, 'Harmonious Society', 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Wang Sishun, ‘Harmonious Society’, 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

At Artwork:

Leung Chi Wo, 'Untitled (Love for Sale)', 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Leung Chi Wo, ‘Untitled (Love for Sale)’, 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

At the John Rylands Library:

Annie Lai Kuen Wan, 'Lost in Biliterate and Trilingual', 2014. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Annie Lai Kuen Wan, ‘Lost in Biliterate and Trilingual’, 2014. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes. Image courtesy CFCCA.

At the Museum of Science and Industry:

Chang Huei-ming, 'The Last Rose', 2010. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Chang Huei-ming, ‘The Last Rose’, 2010. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Yao Jui-chung, ‘Long Long Live’, 2013. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Yao Jui-chung, ‘Long Long Live’, 2013. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Discussing China, Taiwan and Hong Kong

Although curatorial endeavours that bring together such diverse artistic practices from contemporary China could be controversial, the response to the exhibition so far has been very positive. The curator tells Art Radar:

The responses that I hear are all quite positive, or maybe colleagues are just being polite and sympathetic to me.

Lee Kit, 'I don't owe you anything', 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Lee Kit, ‘I don’t owe you anything’, 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Jiang has curated an exhibition that is, as he says, “specially tailored for Manchester”. There have been other major surveys of Chinese contemporary art in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States, but “Harmonious Society” distinguishes itself by its six venues and more than sixty percent new works.

Samson Young, 'Muted Situations', 2014. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Samson Young, ‘Muted Situations’, 2014. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Jiang explains that:

Unlike other large survey shows, it is neither introductory, nor representative of some decades of Chinese contemporary art. Instead, it encourages cutting-edge practice, in-depth discussions and latest artistic responses on the most current issues. It is not a project to represent Chinese art, but to discuss China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

There have been good shows of Chinese contemporary art in the West, but very few. Many of those are just a selection of ‘good examples’, and some are worse, such as, for example, Chinese art exhibitions outside the Arsenale at last Venice Biennale (2013) and the ‘official’ Chinese Pavilion itself, which in my view, are crimes.

Zheng Guogu, 'Brain Lines', 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Zheng Guogu, ‘Brain Lines’, 2014. Photo: Tristan Poyser. Image courtesy CFCCA.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Chinese artists, Hong Kong artists, Taiwanese artists, museum shows, triennials, triennales, curatorial practice, events in Manchester, picture feasts

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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