Galerie Paris-Beijing announces Exotic Stranger, a group show curated by acclaimed independent curator Bao Dong. The exhibition brings together fourteen artists, mostly born in the 70’s under the one-child policy, who are all active in the renewal of Chinese Contemporary Art Scene. The opening of the exhibition will take place on Saturday, March 12th, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., with a press preview taking place on Friday, March 11th, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. with the artists and the curator.
From the eyes of a curator coming from the same generation of the exhibited artists, Exotic Stranger gathers a bold and eclectic selection of works, ranging from video art to painting, photography and installation and attesting to the formal variety that characterises the art scene in China today.
On the Edge of the Unknown
In “Stranger Shores,” a collection of critical essays, Nobel prize winner J.M. Coetzee expresses his duality dilemma, being both South African born and son of Western descendants at the same time. Being aware of the western literature legacy without ignoring its literal local anchorage. How to carry on the inherent transcendence of literature without considering its political function? The author faces this dilemma with disillusion and detachment. The title underlines the duality of the author: the multiple connotations of the word “stranger” qualifying both what is “out of the ordinary,” “unfamiliar” and what is “foreign,” “unknown,” reflect the author’s double reference to both his studies and his own local interpretation.
J.M. Coetzee’s identity dilemma can equally exist at all levels for Chinese contemporary artists. Even if Chinese contemporary art has been strongly influenced by overseas trends, its one-sided and outdated cultural images cannot overcome a reading based on Eastern symbols and with a political interpretation. This is why it has always been considered as different. On the other hand, because of the influence that Western culture has had on Chinese contemporary art from the very beginning, it has always been reflected on and broadcast inside a closed circle, without developing any sense of belonging within a larger part of Chinese Society. Chinese contemporary art was treated as a “stranger” by the West but also as “something coming from the outside” by the native’s point of view. In this context, many Chinese artists strive to link their work to the local experience while avoiding territoriality that would reduce their works to a kind of multiculturalism sample. Therefore, they avoid traditional eastern symbols and also reject the rigid political characteristics. Regarding the approach of the western public, the work of Chinese artists is perceived as something apart beyond the frame of reference of Multiculturalism. This is precisely where the power of Chinese culture and contemporary art lies.
Bao Dong, January 2016
Bao Dong was born in 1979 in Beijing, China, where he currently lives and works. As an art critic and independent curator, he successfully contributes to the recognition of a new generation of artists. He conceived one of the most significant exhibitions of the last decade in China, : ON | OFF : China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice, at UCCA Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (2013). He is a contributing editor of LEAP magazine and guest writer for cn.NYTimes.com as well as cn.Artforum.com. He was awarded an Asian Cultural Council (CCA) fellowship grant in 2014, and selected to participate at the Independent Vision Curatorial Award of the prestigious Independent Curator International (ICI). In 2013 he conceived a publication with three other curators and critics: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art Studies, an annual publication focused on research topics, archiving and exhibition studies of Chinese contemporary art. He is a strong supporter of closer work between art professionals and non-profit art museums across China.
Cai Lei‘s works explore with poetry the geometric notion of volume, placed mid-way between painting and installation, fragile and intimate, resulting from his constant research on the notions of space and time. The artist is known for recreating human figures with astonishing hyper-realism. His sculptures depict the human body with all its flaws by focusing on the surface texture and the brutal splendour of reality.
Photographer and multimedia artist Chen Xiaoyun struggles with China’s tumultuous recent history and breath-taking modernisation. For the series The Flesh assimilates the world, he stages ordinary scenes containing incongruous elements. The ambiguity comes from the association between the nudity of his characters adopting a submissive position with an object symbolising labour, physical effort, linked to everyday experiences.
Both considered as major actors of the Chinese independent art scene, the Chen Brothers (Chen Yujun & Chen Yufan) work on the notion of space and territoriality with a reference to their cultural heritage. The multidisciplinary approach of their artistic practice lends them to the creation of ambitious structures, made of recycled materials and theatrical scenes, strongly influenced by the architecture of their native province of Fujian.
Gong Jian‘s intimist paintings are inspired by familiar places of his daily life. In Observation of a grey tree and Portrait of a tree, the same subject has been painted during two different moments of its leaving cycle: autumn and spring. Based on Michel Foucault’s analysis of a painting by Edouard Manet pointing at “what the viewer cannot see,” the artist decided to develop his practice starting with the question “How to look at things?” He then chose to use a flash to take photos of his subjects at nighttime. The light and colours obtained within one thousandth of a second belong indeed to a vision of reality that is yet unknown to us.
Leading figure of a new generation of conceptual artists, He Xiangyu explores a large range of media expressing his point of view on social and cultural issues. His ambitious installations reveal the provocative nature of his works, as the Cola project (2009), a huge post-apocalyptic landscape of a black matter made of coal-like crystals. This material is the residue of a long extraction process: over the course of a year the artist boiled down 127 tons of Coca Cola, criticising the effects of western consumerism on contemporary China.
Multi-faced artist Jiang Zhi manipulates images combining reality and hi-tech digital technologies to create works that revisit our notions of time and instant moment. Conceived after a painful loss, his photographic series Love Letters help him to express his feeling of grief through the flowers, a symbol of beauty and love, consumed by the flame, metaphor of our ephemerality.
The Rainbow series of Li Jinghu deals with questions of mass production and obsolescence. He uses everyday objects found in the highly industrialised region of the Pearl River Delta. This joyful symbol is a tribute to the workers of this province also known as the “World Factory” and a caustic critic of China’s blind development.
In the Topic series (2008), Liu Qingyuan resumes the old tradition of Chinese woodcutting used for propaganda during the communist Regime. He twists the original imagery of socialism-realism and combining them with the contemporary aesthetics of Manga and comics. The artist is interested in the impact that advertising methods and communication systems have on the population.
Shi Qing is known for his reinterpretation of old tales of Chinese popular tradition through performance, installation and new media. The novel becomes the starting point of a questioning on China social issues such as the legacy of socialism, consumerism, environment or energy. Electricity Controls Shanghai (2006) is emblematic of Qing’s reflection on the economic development of his country: a mixed-media installation comprising a bicycle sprouting neon rods, symbol of Chinese people producing energy and wealth.
Born just after Mao’s death, Song Kun grew up with the rise of consumerism, subjectivity and individualism that characterised the 80’s and their constant confrontation between two opposite systems. In 2006, she adopts the approach of a blogger producing one work a day during an entire year. It’s my life reports the story of a young woman in China, full of sincerity and frustration, nourished by daily life experiences. Today, Song Kun articulates a new visual language to express concerns that are less overtly political than those of their predecessors, becoming a symbol of a new kind of artist in China, intellectual, urban and free from conventions.
From the perspective of an independent intellectual, Weng Yunpeng holds a narrative point of view on many sensitive issues in today’s Chinese society: politics, education, value outlook, identity within the context of the country’s open-door policy started more than three decades ago. In a Random Narrative of China (2009), the words pronounced by mechanical voice system are aimed to touch a deeper layer of significance. Despite their deconstruction and profound social criticism, the images reveal the artist’s sympathetic awareness towards human society.
Xin Yunpeng goes against all conventions and the commonly accepted notion of Art. His ethnic belonging to the Muslim Minority of Uyghurs has a strong influence on his works, imbued with social criticism, yet not bereft of a certain poetry. In his videos, he likes to play with the viewer’s perceptions and understanding of what appears to be a familiar experience: the use of fictional techniques allows him to control the notion of space and temporality.
Xu Zhen‘s irreverent and provocative practice tackles socio-political taboos of contemporary China and undermine the Western preconceptions on Chinese art and its market. In 2009, he demonstrated once again his capacity to reinvent himself with the creation of MadeIn Company, a pluri-disciplinary cultural company devoted to art creation, production, promotion, support and curation. Most recently, he worked on the confrontation between classical masterpieces of Western and Eastern statuary, like the famous sculpture Eternity representing the union between the Winged Victory of Samothrace and a famous Bodhisattva, currently on display in the permanent collection of the Foundation Louis Vuitton.
Yang Maoyuan is particularly interested in the concept of the “sphere,” considered as a symbol of harmony and perfect representation of reality in the Western culture. His knowledge in taxidermy techniques helps him to create a fascinating bestiary: sheep, camels and horses lose their original form and become strange figures recalling spherical balloons. The obsessive use of the sphere, associated with the action of blowing, is interpreted as a metaphor of life: the ultimate substantial form of our universe and the original source of all beings.