People and Place

People and Place

Experimental artists have always reacted to extreme changes in their environment: the disappearance of the traditional countryside and lifestyles, the grown of megacities, the appearance of new urban cultures and of mass domestic migration.Many of the works here reflect a growing consciousness of the fragility of, and radical changes in, urban structures in China. During the past two decades, urban life has been totally transformed. High-rise settlements are spreading rapidly like cancerous growths, rising up out of nothing in next to no time, whilst historical city centres are being raised to the ground. Tens of thousands of people are compelled to move from the centres to the outlying districts. In theory, destruction and resettlement ought to be grasped as a precondition for carrying out the urgently needed modernisation of the towns and cities. In fact, however, prevailing conditions are increasingly alienating residents from “their” cities. The works in this section reflect upon the new structures in China’s metropolis culture and try to find individual answers. Works of art that relate to the new urban spaces are closely linked with another frequently occurring theme in contemporary Chinese art: the increasing appearance of the so-called generation city or - in Chinese - dushi yidai. What the artists are trying to capture here are the taste, style and mood of this young generation of urban-dwellers. In the process, they creating pictures which are, at times, deliberately made to appear superficial, trivial or ambiguous. Song Dong, for example, literally crumples up the city, while Yang Fudong stylises office-life as an aesthetic total work of art.

Quotes from the catalogue, accompanying the exhibition: Wu Hung, Christopher Phillips, Between Past and Future. New Photography and Video from China, Steidl et al. 2004

Christopher Phillips about Song Dong’s Video 'Crumpling Shanghai'

This work records a number of streets scenes shot in contemporary Shanghai, which are all projected onto a sheet of paper that the artist holds in his hands. We see throngs of pedestrians, towering skyscrapers, a natty policeman directing traffic, expressways packed with autos, cruise ships gliding on the Pudong River, and the blazing neon signs of the nighttime skyline. Each image appears just long enough to establish its own specific texture of reality. Then Song abruptly crumples the paper, and the image melts into the darkness. The incredible dynamism of cities such as Shanghai, the artist seems to say, can also lend the lives lived there an alarmingly fragile and fleeting quality.

Yang Fudong (City Light) about urban art

Art is definitely not my profession, but it has become an integral part of my life. It’s like going to sleep every night and dreaming. It’s something that is always going to happen, something that ends and then begins again. It’s like when you wake up in the morning knowing that you had a dream last night, but you cannot recall what it was that you dreamed. Still, a feeling lingers in the back of your mind that you had a strange or even frightening dream last night. You know if you try to tell the dream to someone else, they just won’t be able to relate. So you can keep it only inside you.You live in a big city, hiding in your little corner, and it’s doubtful that even a few people know of your existence. Yet you are a part of the city. It’s you and a lot of other people who make up this city. The feeling of the city depends on all these people living in their own dreams. My relationship with society to a large degree is a kind of metabolic relationship. Society needs ever-changing relationships, just like those that are occurring today. I too am ever-changing. I was unable to choose which generation I was born into, yet I have to learn to adapt to the times.

The artists:

Ai Weiwei, Bai Yiluo, Chen Lingyang, Chen Shaoxiong, Cui Xiuwen, Hong Hao, Sze Tsung Leong, Liu Zheng, Rong Rong, Song Dong, Xiong Wenyun, Yang Fudong, Yang Yong, Zhang Dali, Zheng Guogu, Zhuang Hui.