The Guangdong Times Museum surveys the work of seminal Chinese artist collective Big Tail Elephants.

Running until 7 October 2016 at the Guangdong Times Museum, “Operation PRD – Big Tail Elephants: One Hour, No Room, Five Shows” is the first comprehensive retrospective exhibition of the artists’ collective, 25 years since their inception in the city of Guangzhou.

Lin Yilin, "Shark Proof Web", 1997, C-print light box, 385 x 290 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Guangdong Times Museum.

Lin Yilin, ‘Shark Proof Web’, 1997, C-print light box, 385 x 290 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Guangdong Times Museum.

The Big Tail Elephants (1991-1998) is an unprecedented artists’ collective emerging from the heart of the Pearl River Delta region in Guangzhou, China. Consisting of four members – Chen Shaoxiong (b. 1962), Liang Juhui (b. 1959-2006), Lin Yilin (b. 1964) and Xu Tan (b. 1957) – the group was active mainly during the 1990s in the staging of artistic interventions and experimental projects across multiple non-conventional venues throughout the city.

From local bars to corporate buildings, the collective defied existing parameters of exhibition-making by presenting projects in temporary spaces that reinforced notions of ephemerality, conceptualism and process, ultimately earning the title of “urban guerrillas” from curator Hou Hanru. As one of the first artists’ collectives from Southern China working in time-based media art, Big Tail Elephants helped to revive the artistic community of the Pearl River Delta region amid China’s economic growth and socio-political changes.

Members of Big Tail Elephants gather in the studio of artist Liang Juhui. (From Left: Chen Shaoxiong, Lin Yilin, Xu Tan, Liang Juhui). Image Permission from Liang Juhui Memorial Hall and Yu Guoqing.

Members of Big Tail Elephants gather in the studio of artist Liang Juhui. (From Left: Chen Shaoxiong, Lin Yilin, Xu Tan, Liang Juhui). Image Permission from Liang Juhui Memorial Hall and Yu Guoqing.

“Operation PRD – Big Tail Elephants: One Hour, No Room, Five Shows”, organised by the Guangdong Times Museum and curated by Hou Hanru, is the first survey exhibition of the artists’ group, 25 years on from their inception in the city of Guangzhou. While the collective has received significant exposure overseas through its participation in international exhibitions such as the 4th Guangzhou Biennale (2002), the 50th Venice Biennale (2003) and the 2nd Guangzhou Triennial (2005), this retrospective offers the opportunity to bring the artists back to their cultural roots and the context that they originated from.

Showcasing 20 selected works by the group including installations, performances and photography, “Operation PRD” presents itself as an archival demonstration of the group’s artistic experiments and lived experiences during China’s modernisation by revisiting five exhibitions that defined their collective practices during their active years.

Lin Yilin, 'Cages on the Ceiling', 1994, installation (iron cages, frames, slide projection), dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist and Guangdong Times Museum.

Lin Yilin, ‘Cages on the Ceiling’, 1994, installation (iron cages, frames, slide projection), dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist and Guangdong Times Museum.

Chen Shaoxiong, 'Five Hours', 1993, a set of 4 C-print light boxes, 150 x 98 cm, 120 x 80 cm, 80 x 120 cm, 150 x 100 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Guangdong Times Museum.

Chen Shaoxiong, ‘Five Hours’, 1993, a set of 4 C-print light boxes, 150 x 98 cm, 120 x 80 cm, 80 x 120 cm, 150 x 100 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Guangdong Times Museum.

25 years since the origin of the group, its surviving members continue to pursue their individual practices: Lin Yilin works in performance and installations; Chen Shaoxiong delves into ink drawings, video, and photography; and Xu Tan focuses on socially engaged projects, often involving video, installations and performance. When reflecting on the particularities of the Group for each individual member, Xu Tan’s remarks in the MoMA essay offer an insightful perspective:

I think Big Tail Elephants has a unique trait, one that I believe is found valuable everywhere in the world. In this group, every artist’s individual creation is encouraged and supported, and you can feel the liveliness of creativity; it is a place of freedom, such that our collaboration generates a force—a lasting potential. The openness of our working structure is the source of our confidence in the future.

Tianmo Zhang

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Related Topics: Chinese artists, groups and movements, new media, surveys, museum shows, events in China

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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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