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Press release courtesy of CHINA 8.
Eight cities along the Rhine and Ruhr, nine museums, around 120 artists - the CHINA 8 exhibition is the most comprehensive survey of contemporary Chinese art held in Germany to date. Alongside established artists, the positions of younger and newly emerging artists are also represented. Nine museums in Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Essen, Gelsenkirchen, Hagen, Marl, Mülheim an der Ruhr and Recklinghausen have come together for this joint project and will be showing works from the fields of painting, photography, calligraphy, ink drawing, sculpture, installation art and video from 15th May to 13th September 2015. The ‘eight’ in the show’s title is not only the number of the participating cities, but also a significant Chinese lucky number.
What is happening in the Chinese art scene today? This show sets out to explore this multifaceted landscape, identify what is currently inspiring and motivating Chinese artists, showcase their key themes and visual language, chart the stylistic paths embarked upon and answer the question of whether there is such a thing as “Chinese art” at all. In determining the show’s artistic positions, each of the individual exhibition venues has been assigned the following genres: The Duisburg Lehmbruck Museum is presenting sculptures, the Kunstmuseum in Mülheim an der Ruhr will highlight the latest artistic trends and installations, the Kunstmuseum Gelsenkirchen ink paintings and calligraphy, whilst the Kunsthalle Recklinghausen will focus on more recent and socially critical painting, and the MKM Museum Küppersmühle in Duisburg on established painting. Film and video are on show in the Skulpturenmuseum Glaskasten Marl, and applied art in the Hagen Osthaus Museum and the Essen Museum Folkwang is hosting photography. Serving as the entrée to the exhibition, as it were, is the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf, which will unveil the works of several of the participating artists from across various genres.
Overall curatorial responsibility has been jointly entrusted to Walter Smerling (spokesman for curatorial committee and Director of the MKM Museum Küppersmühle), Tobia Bezzola (Director of the Museum Folkwang) and Ferdinand Ullrich (Director of the Kunsthalle Recklinghausen). In close consultation with the directors of the participating museums, the curatorial committee has elaborated the overall concept of the exhibition.
“Chinese artists are in the process of formulating their own artistic language,” explains Chairman of the Board of Trustees Professor Walter Smerling. “And this is a development we are keen to highlight in the nine museums and eight cities staging the CHINA 8 exhibition. The success of the European City of Culture “RUHR.2010″ clearly demonstrates what the cultural metropolis of the Ruhr is capable of achieving through close collaboration. It is upon this that we now wish to build in our exhibition project, and we are delighted to be able to count on the close cooperation of the state capital of Düsseldorf.”
CHINA 8 is being organised by the Stiftung für Kunst und Kultur e.V. Bonn. With the exhibitions China! (1996) and Chinart (2002), the foundation assumed a pioneering role in promoting contemporary Chinese art in Europe. The exhibition is sponsored by the Brost-Stiftung and Evonik Industries AG. Exclusive partners of the exhibition are Finnair Plc and Düsseldorf Airport
Lin Tianmiao (林天苗) became one of the first Chinese women to establish herself as an internationally respected contemporary artist.
Her initial art training came from her father, from whom she learned calligraphy and traditional painting techniques. Then, having gained a BFA from Capital Normal University in Beijing in 1984, she and her husband—the artist Wang Gongxin—migrated to New York City in 1988 where they remained until 1994. Tianmiao has subsequently stressed the key significance of her time in New York in shaping her artistic attitudes. While there, Tianmiao designed textiles and in 1989 she attended The Art Students League. On her return to Beijing, she converted her home into an open studio that became one of the key venues for so-called Apartment Art. It was at this time that Tianmiao began making work involving winding thread around everyday objects. She has related this technique to childhood memories of helping her mother make clothes for her family, and the use of thread in various ways became a core characteristic of her mature work.
Her work has expanded into sculpture, photography, video and large-scale installation. She has repeatedly used images of the naked female body and, in a series of 'Body Language' sculptures, replicas of human bones.
Among Tianmiao's core concerns are the disappearance of tradition and the dehumanising pressures of contemporary society. Despite the materials and subject matter of her work, Tianmiao has rejected the suggestion that she is a feminist artist. When talking to Ocula Magazine in 2017, she explained that 'the term "feminism" is borrowed from the West.' She added that 'using a woman's perspective is something I've worked through now.'
The exhibition Bound Unbound at Asia Society Museum in New York (7 September 2012–27 January 2013) was crucial in establishing Lin Tianmiao's international reputation, and her work is now in the permanent collections of museums across Asia, Australia and the United States. She lives and works in Beijing.
Huang Rui Biography
Huang Rui's artworks often deal with critical and political subject matter, presented using a number of mediums including photography, installation, printmaking, performance, and—most frequently—painting.
Forced into the countryside of Inner Mongolia for 're-education' as a teenager, where he laboured through the Cultural Revolution, Huang's practice expanded greatly after 1976, following a pivotal moment in both politics and art in China. Soon after Mao Zedong's death and the subsequent end of the revolution in 1976, the artist and his contemporaries took advantage of a period of fervent, tentative freedom and access to the world's art and culture. Joined by a group of young intellectuals and artists, Huang began to work in expressly Western and Modernist mediums, in direct opposition to the state-sanctioned methods of Socialist Realism. Over the years, the artist has garnered inspiration from key movements in Western art history and the aesthetics of traditional Chinese ink to develop a style that is a confluence of technique and thought.
Part of a generation of Chinese artists who pioneered contemporary art in the country, Huang also co-founded a literary magazine, Jintian (Today), in 1979 with poets Bei Dao and Mang Ke. Together with Wang Keping, Ma Desheng, and others, he also formed the Stars artist group (1979–1984), whose seminal, striking exhibition outside what is now known as the National Art Museum of China in Beijing in 1979 would be a turning point in protest art history in China. The exhibition presented works by 23 artists hung on the railings outside of the Museum. It was forcibly removed by the authorities just two days after its opening. The Stars group was also crucial to the development of the Chinese avant-garde approach of the mid-1980s on. Around this time, when his contemporaries began to leave China in pursuit of their artistic careers, Huang moved to Osaka, where he remained until 2001.
During this early period in his practice, Huang created works inspired heavily by Fauvism and Cubism, coupled with notions of Japanese Zen practice. One of his most iconic pieces, April 5, 1976 (1978) depicts a half-naked female figure draped across a scene of faces taken from protests of the Tiananmen Incident of 1976. The figure is a convergence of aesthetics seen in iconic Western art, including Eugène Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People (1830) and statues of the Venus de Milo. In the early 1980s, Huang created a series of paintings after Piet Mondrian, exploring fields of saturated colour, abstraction, and the minimalism of architectural form, as seen in Courtyard Abstraction No. 2 (1983). He also began working with Chinese ink, creating visceral pieces using fast, heavy, calligraphic brushwork that revealed abstract scenes. An example of this is Black and White Chinese Landscape Painting (1987).
After returning to Beijing in 2002, Huang started combining his interests in various mediums and aesthetics into conceptual works that continued to be imbued with contemporary politics at a time when China was experiencing rapid change in its economy and foreign policy. He began using Songti—the Chinese typeface developed and regularised during the Song Dynasty—in his artwork, which harkened back to Communist propaganda posters. During this time he also experimented with juxtapositions of different colour palettes against one another to emphasise the ambiguous nature of language and how re-contextualisation can be impactful even with the subtlest shift in perspective. His 'Chai-na/China' series (2004–2009) was clear in its criticism of the government's constant destruction and reconstruction of the country ('chai na' in Chinese means 'demolish there'), particularly in the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. With many artists facing increasing persecution and censorship in China, Huang's own studio situated in the northeast of Beijing has been under constant threat of demolition, particularly since 2016 following the end of a 10-year lease. The studio design is Bauhaus-inspired, surrounded by walls constructed using the Qing- and Ming-dynasty bricks of old buildings from neighbourhoods that had been razed, echoing the artist's interwoven practice.
Huang continues to create art that is reflective of contemporary Chinese society and thought. In the later 2010s he returned to his original style of painting, creating works such as in the series 'Zen Space' (2018), which he described as 'a continuous experimentation towards the most essential statement of art'. Shown alongside his works from the 1980s in one North American retrospective of his work, viewers witnessed a narrative of the artist's career having come full circle.
One of the most distinguished contemporary artists of his generation, Sun Xun (孙逊) deploys traditional Chinese ink painting and printing techniques to create drawings, paintings, animated films and installations of ambitious scale. Full of references to sources as diverse as Chinese mythology, European art traditions, literary classics and contemporary events, Sun Xun's thought-provoking works expose historical and current-day consumption, exploitation and political corruption.
As a result of the discrepancies between state-sanctioned and personal histories he observed as a child, Sun Xun is skeptical of history books. At school, he learned about the great achievements of the Communist Party without any mention of its darker moments, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. However, at home, his parents told him about his family's past, which was one that lacked the glory he was taught in school. Consequently, many of Sun Xun's works are concerned with the inextricable relationship between history and power. Often taking a personal microcosm as a departing point, Sun Xun combines it with symbols and cultural references to explore the gaps in both individual and collective memory and consciousness.
Mythological Time (2016) is representative of Sun Xun's approach to black holes in history. Commissioned by the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York, the animated film consists of 5,000 frames hand-drawn by the artist in his characteristically bold, expressive brushstrokes. It opens with the landscapes of Fuxin, Sun Xun's hometown in northern China. Once treasured for its open-pit coal mine, the town now suffers from over-extraction and poverty. Sun Xun builds his sequences of energetic images from historical, contemporary and imagined sites and events: the Natural History Museum, a monumental statue of Chairman Mao with a group of revolutionaries gathered at its feet, falling trees, men climbing a giant fish, tanks, and mythological creatures morphing into the monument Worker and the Kolkhoz Woman (1937) and then the Statue of Liberty. Coal is a consistent presence throughout the video, at times depicted as crystal coffins with fossils inside, which refers to the memory of the coal-mining industry in Fuxin. By interweaving scenes of the city with those of other coal-mining regions across the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, however, Sun Xun suggests that the depletion of natural resources is by no means unique to Fuxin or China, but universal. Mythological Times brings attention to a history of exploitation that mankind has overlooked in favour of progress and profit.
In Mythological Time, a top-hat-wearing magician often appears to watch as the array of images unfold. He is one of the oldest and most recurrent motifs in Sun Xun's work, first appearing in Shock of Time (2006)—a stop-motion animation composed of 150 paintings and drawings on old Chinese magazines and newspapers from the 1950s and 1960s. Opening with the phrase 'History is a lie of time', and positioning a figure who is paid to play tricks on people as the animation's protagonist, Shock of Time's narrative disputes whether newspapers truly reflect the history of China. In the words of the artist, the magician is 'the only legal liar'.
The magician also figures large in the multimedia installation Republic of Jing Bang, Citizens Wanted! (2014), where he is the mentor of the imaginary world of Jing Bang ('Whale Nation' in Chines). Presented at Art Basel Hong Kong 2014, the artwork comprised a briefcase containing various items—a manifesto, a passport, an identification card and a national flag, among others—and an immigration booth that offered Jing Bang citizenship to 100 people for $10,000.
Sun Xun's distrust of authority and aptitude for satire were also evident in Brave New World (2014), a solo exhibition at Hong Kong's Edouard Malingue Gallery. Deriving the title of his show from Aldous Huxley's 1931 eponymous novel, the artist was also inspired by the dystopian literature of Yevgeny Zamyatin's We (1924) and George Orwell's 1984 (1949) to reflect upon recent Chinese history. As the centrepiece of the exhibition, the film installation What Happened in the Year of the Dragon (2014) included a screen attached to the rear of a taxidermy horse and flanked by two columns with orbs at their bottoms. The animated film begins with a battle between two dragons that alludes to the political scandal between the Chinese government and Bo Xilai (now imprisoned for corruption) in 2012 (the Chinese zodiac year of the dragon).
The installation was accompanied by Script for What Happened in the Year of the Dragon (2014), a 38-page album of comic-like sketches that recounts the same battle in the form of ancient myths. One line from the script, 'Today, everyone is pursuing a new world order in a global context', echoes the tendency among some Chinese artists to avoid censorship by avoiding direct criticism of the Chinese government. Sun Xun's solution to this quandary is to replace recognisable figures with visual metaphors—such as the dragons—as a means of criticising power on a global level, without explicitly stating names. As his works are loaded with symbols, however, their interpretation also depends on the viewer. In an interview with Ocula Magazine, Sun Xun explained that 'anyone can decide [the points at which they think about a work's meaning]. As long as you're willing to think you're welcome to do so'.
Sun Xun is the founder of the π Animation Studio, established a year after his graduation from the printmaking department of the China Academy of Arts, Hangzhou, in 2005. Initially based in Hangzhou, the studio moved to Beijing in 2009. In addition to holding multiple exhibitions at ShanghART in Beijing and Shanghai and Sean Kelly Gallery in New York, Sun Xun has recently showed his works at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (2018); Arario Gallery Seoul (2017); Yuz Museum, Shanghai (2016); and Hayward Gallery, London (2014). In 2017, he was a part of the exhibition Zhongguo 2185 at Sadie Coles HQ, London, which invited ten Chinese artists born after 1976 to share their visions of the past, present and future.
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