Tuesday, December 23, 2008




A history of art follows a history of an exclusionary audience. Art reception was historically catered to only those patrons who could afford it. It is no surprise that many people today liken an art museum to that of a church. In many cases, the museum's purpose was to legitimize a certain version of history that spoke to the cultural values of the elite. Today, museums and non-profit institutions attempt to shed this former reputation and try to appeal to a mass audience, with a goal first and foremost to educate. But if this is truly the goal, then we must ask what methods of presentation would be most effective in our increasingly technological world.

The Internet is a medium that has the potential for a truly mass audience.  We propose a new exhibition format that can utilize the existing channels of information on the Internet, but collectively add to it to produce the critical message that Internet information lacks. There is a plethora of information on the Internet about contemporary art, yet often the information is spread thinly in many places. There is also a need for curatorial direction on the Internet, where in many cases the information only amounts to blog post or images, without significant discussion to the meaning of works or their relative importance in a cultural dialogue. An online exhibition would be able to transcend the exclusionary confines of the gallery or museum space and meet the visitor on their own terms. It would be able to provide a database of existing information about the artist and work, as well as attempt to engage these works more critically and as a group. It also has the ability to garner audience participation and feedback, which is something that the spectatorship of the gallery space lacks. We propose the online exhibition as the new way to engage an art audience and see its potential for fostering the kind of dialogue that the modern museum attempts but fails.


Any attempt to examine the critical implications of contemporary Chinese art today takes at its starting point the modernization that is changing the cultural landscape at an unprecedented pace. But while China's curatorial theme du jour expresses China's entry into a period of modernity, it does not take in to account the unique instance where a culture simultaneously experiences the beginnings of post-modernity. At the same time that a faith in science, technology, and progress is shaping the direction of China's future, a generation of artists are already lamenting the psychological and sociological effects of such a dilemma. China is still very much a developing nation, yet the level of critical engagement with this era of development follows more in the pattern of post-industrial societies. At the forefront of artistic discourse in China today are conflicts with the increasing virtualization in every aspect of society, of the effects of mass media and consumerism, and the anxieties of development and an almost post-apocalyptic sensibility. As Shanghai prepares its 2010 World Expo "Better City, Better Life", the artists in "Primal Scream" call into question the very definition of what a "better" city would be. The term "Primal Scream" derives from a form of psychological therapy that is thought to treat emotional problems by encouraging patients to relive traumatic experiencing through screaming or other acts of aggression. In a world where cultural forces are attacking the notion of autonomous selfhood, these artists are trying to assert their existence. Whether with a sense of desperation or of irony, "Primal Scream" asks what direction China is heading and where the individual is to stand facing such a predicament. 

Artists: Zhang Peili, Yang Fudong, Shen Shaomin, Hong Hao, Zhai Liang, Birdhead, Cao Fei, Yi Zhou, Xu Zhen, Yang Yongliang


1. Zhang Peili, Undefined Pleasure, 1996, video

The abundance of information and convenience of mass communication in a post-modern world has satiated human's thirst for knowledge. However, do people in modern society always know for certain the accurate meaning of the content presented? Zhang Peili's artworks toys with the idea of uncertainty through the manipulation of time and the repetition of a single motion. Is the scratching in Uncertain Pleasure meant to be a way of relieving uneasiness and anxiety or is it meant to offer the person a tiny sensation of pleasure?  

2. Yang Fudong, East of Que Village, 2007, video installation

Yang Fudong’s six-channel video installation, East of Que Village, focuses on the lives of several stray dogs scrounging for food and fighting for survival in desolate rural China. The artist uses the dogs (which he adopted from various places for the film) to present a bleak depiction of contemporary China and the feelings of loneliness and isolation he associates with his childhood. The piece questions the purpose of existence—if any—in Chinese society. Using a poetic reference to symbolize a larger cultural sentiment, the film installation speaks to the fragmentation of modern experience. The film is beautifully shot, yet with six screens there is an overload of visual information. Contrasting with the cinematic quality of the footage is the pessimistic message of cultural progress. There seems to be no hope in a sense of community. These dogs are all out for themselves, and that proves to be a very alienating kind of existence.


3. Shen Shaomin, Bonsai, 2007, sculptural installation

Shen Shaomin presents a simple yet explicit critique of man's attempt to dominate nature. Both elegant and disturbing, Bonzai comments on China's hasty urban development while also suggesting a more ecological approach to intervening with the natural world. Delicate bonzai trees in traditional Chinese porcelain are harnessed by crude contraptions consisting of vices, screws, and wires. These rigs resembling torture devices, force the branches to twist and contort in unusual ways as they grow. Recent natural disasters have once again reminded us that nature is a force to be reckoned with. As urban centers continue to grow all across the world, it is important for us to remember our relationship with the earth. Man is only part of larger systems, and the part can never control the whole. Shen Shaomin shows us the it is possible to facilitate the growth of the environment without damaging it.


4. Hong Hao, Mr. Hong Please Come In, 1998, photograph with text

Developed cities and modernized societies pride itself in its material accumulation and capitalistic endeavors. Hong Hao presents here the Chinese version of the "American Dream". This one shot captures the new Chinese generation's notion of the "perfect life", attaining success and thriving in newly acquired material status. It resonate the Europeans' colonial ambitions. Yet, what lies beneath and where does one go after attaining this success? The dog here poses like a trophy and the artist's figure poses with pride, but there seems to be no intimate relation between the man and the dog. In a society of abundance, has material comfort replaced the intimacy of relationships?


5. Zhai Liang, Is Death An Entertainment? 2007, oil on canvas

Zhai Liang's Is Death an Entertainment? looks at the notion of spectatorship in contemporary society. In the image, a group of people gathers around a pedestal in an ambiguous setting that resembles an art gallery. While the audience stares, blood streams from the pedestal. The piece could call in to question how we view violence and images of suffering in a blasé way on a daily basis. Image of war come into our living rooms each night, flashing so fast that it does not even give us time to emotionally react. Our emotional senses have dulled by living in such an image savvy world. If every photograph is to depersonalize its subject, then how are we to react?


6. Birdhead, Suitcase-1, 2005, suitcase with circa 30 unique photographs, framed

The modern man and woman live in an environment of constant information and data bombardment. There are an abundance of activities in our surroundings yet limited time for us to intake each activity. Birdhead's piece here seems to offer a poetic solution to this modern dilemma. Why don't we categorize all the information being fed to us and file it into a suitcase?


7. Zhao Bandi, Bandi Fashion Show, 2007, video

Zhao Bandi is obsessed with pandas. Zhao graduated from the oil panting department at the Central Academy of Fine Arts but quickly transitioned to installation and performance work, adopting the panda as icon and content. Zhao Bandi gained media attention after protesting Jack Black’s Hollywood Blockbuster “Kung Foo Panda”, suing Dreamworks and Paramount Pictures for their depiction of the panda in the movie. More recently, he has created a panda themed fashion show, where a varied group of migrant workers, prostitutes, fashion fans, and beggars all walk the catwalk in Panda-inspired attire. The diverse group was meant to represent 33 different social classes within China. The result is a complete mockery of both the fashion and the art industry, but that is exactly the point. Zhao Bandi takes a seemingly arbitrary symbol of China, the panda, and uses it incessantly in an exaggerated manner. He can then apply this exaggeration to the fashion and art industries and show the absurdity of the current mannerist stage of consumerism that China and the rest of the world are a part of. In each costume, the model’s respective identity is articulated by subtle references in their outfit. In this way, Zhao Bandi speaks to the way we understand ourselves in our contemporary society, as necessary to externalize our personality through the language of consumer culture.


8. Cao Fei, iMirror, 2007, video

In her 2007 documentary iMirror, Cao Fei adopts the persona of "China Tracy" on Second Life and follows a journey through the fictional "RMB City". Along the way, she meets other avatars that are on a similar journey, which ultimately culminates in a video that provides sincere philosophical discussions about the nature of virtualization in our computer age. With Second Life, there is no need for direct human interaction. It is a different sensory experience altogether. Avatars can be whoever they want to be, act however they want to act, and do not have to face the consequences of their actions in the real world. Cao Fei shows us how this mode of behavior might prove to explain more about who we really are than one might first imagine. In fact, it is a language that is able to articulate our insecurities and doubts, as well as a vehicle to live out our fantasies and dreams. iMirror questions the state of social relationships today. Is the Second Life persona a representation of our increasing alienation or does it signify a new form of social interaction?


9. Yi Zhou, One of These Days, 2005, video and 3-D animation

One Of These Days, a large screen video animation by Yi Zhou, comments on the impermanence of todays world. The artist worked with a group of architects to build a computer model of an imaginary city from one of her vivid dreams. The video depicts the desolate metropolis being destroyed. Windows shatter and buildings crumble to an orchestral score, as the camera slowly pulls back. Although the city in One Of These Days is fictional, is resembles any modern city and reminds viewers that one day everything will disappear. This uncomfortable reality is particularly relevant to China. The rapid pace of urban growth has in some cases rendered local resident unable to recognize their own city. China's delight in destroying its own heritage stems from its eagerness to modernize. Individuals feel detached from their environment and thus isolated from reality. Not dissimilar to the impersonal virtual city portrayed in One Of These Days.


10. Xu Zhen, Shouting, 1998, video

In his 1998 Shouting video, Xu Zhen and a group of friends film themselves shouting in pubic spaces within Shanghai. The gesture could be seen as a desperate attempt at asserting existence. As they film the crowd before they shout, the viewer feels the fast-paced movement of the city. It is the characteristic notion of the modern city: a crowd in constant flux, without engaging or acknowledging one another. The act of shouting temporally disrupts this pattern, forcing the crowd to turn their attention to the camera. But this moment is fleeting, and the artist is once again forced into a position of anonymity. Shouting is essentially an act of desperation. It is the act of pinching yourself to make sure you are still alive. While the artist is successful at a temporary intervention, we are left to ponder how it is possible to make a greater impact than a momentary response.


11. Yang Yongliang, Untitled 2, 2008, pigment ink on Epson Fine Art Paper

Where does civilization go now that it has attained such technological advancement and industrial accomplishments? What do we do with the problems created by these modern achievements and how do we get rid of them?


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