Lisson Gallery's summer exhibitions continue the gallery's long-running commitment to presenting new art and new approaches to art as defined by guest curators. This year, curator Victor Wang offers a fresh interpretation and alternate trajectory for the development and genealogy of dangdai yishu (the Chinese phrase for 'contemporary art') as an open and discursive term, rather than a temporal or geographical definition. Taking a critical distance from established movements and narratives, Afterimage: Dangdai Yishu brings together work by several generations of artists born between 1960 and 1990. It includes many artists not shown previously in the UK including seminal figures Wang Youshen, Yu Hong, Lin Tianmao and Xiang Jing, as well as a new generation of practitioners Shen Xin, aaajiao, Li Binyuan, Ma Qiusha and Zhao Zhao.
Employing a framework of critical research rather than prior validation and repositioning both Chinese and Euro-American assumptions, Afterimage: Dangdai Yishu attempts an overdue appreciation of the impact and lineage of what Wang calls the 'post-figurative condition' or hou juxiang zhuangtai, set in motion by China's '85 New Wave movement, and now reflected in the current artistic scene in China. Although denied a prolonged dialogue with 20th century Modernism, the threads and development of video (yingxiang yishu), installation (zhuangzhi yishu) and performance art (xingwei yishu) in Chinese contemporary art are more entangled and rich than would be suggested were they mere by-products of Western art historical concepts or of the artistic and political upheaval following the Cultural Revolution.
Many important local concepts and artists emerged from an era of experimentation during the 1980s, including Yu Hong, a painter who began her annual ritualised acts of self-portraiture, entitled Witness to Growth, in 1999, in which she depicts herself or a personal event, in tandem with a contemporaneous newspaper story or magazine article from the same year. Wang Youshen was also active in the early 1990s, making similarly timely political statements including an audacious pasting of newspaper pages across an entire section of China's Great Wall—an act of cultural commentary, or perhaps restoration, which he will be recreating across various walls of the Lisson Gallery.
A younger generation born after those tumultuous years and working within a global context will also be represented in the show, from aaajiao, whose DIY wall-coverings are infested with 404 messages from blocked websites from the continuing era of internet censorship within the so-called 'great firewalls' of .cn, to the nuanced video portraits depicting the diversity of ethic groups found in the contested region of Xinjiang, an inspection of nationhood and alienation by Zhao Zhao.
Instead of simply defining Chinese art by geography or dividing it into pre-modern and post-modern, Wang proposes a lineage in which decades of figurative art and teaching have resulted in the conditions necessary for the current period of post-figuration, through interdisciplinary practices with pluralistic outputs. In relation to Chicago-based Professor Wu Hung's theories of a globalised and 'deterritorialised' Chinese art landscape—partly expounded in his book Making History of 2008—Wang posits a 'transcategorical' tendency linking the profusion of media, identities and nationalities within his grouping of dangdai yishu, as he explains in this extract from his curatorial statement:
'Following the radical transformations set in motion by China's '85 New Wave movement in the 1980s, and the subsequent post-reform policies, the early 1990s and the early 2000s saw several radical developments in the visual arts. Among them was the broad exploration of artistic techniques that readdressed or countered the standardised forms of art education in the region, centred on teaching technical skills from the academies. There was also an acceptance of the concept that all materials, not just the traditional ones used in painting, calligraphy, writing and sculpture, could be used to make a work of art, as well as an increased access to video-making technologies and the rise of artistic movements, temporary exhibitions and socially based and 'idea'-based art forms that embodied questions of identity, class, gender and larger socio-political relations.'
Press release courtesy Lisson Gallery.
An afterimage is a false visual burned onto the eyes even after its source is no longer being viewed. Victor Wang, the curator of Afterimage: Dangdai Yishu (3 July–7 September 2019) at Lisson Gallery, London, borrows the term to describe one of the key accomplishments of contemporary art: the accommodation of work that is post-figurative, or...