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Ocula Report

'I Do (Not) Want To Be Part Of Your Celebration' at Qiao Space and Tank Shanghai Project Space

Sam Gaskin Shanghai 27 July 2017

Aspartime, Echo_Shape (2017). Acrylic on canvas, high-density foam. Dimensions variable. Exhibition view: I Do (Not) Want To Be Part Of Your Celebration, Qiao Space/Tank Shanghai Project Space (29 June–27 August 2017). Courtesy Qiao Space.

When four parts of Zhu Tian's (朱田) body went up for auction on WeChat, it wasn't her whole back, her left breast, or her armpit that inspired a thirsty bidding war. That coveted prize was her chrysanthemum (菊花), the Chinese euphemism for anus, and it sent prices skyrocketing as the designated deadline approached. When all bids were in, an A4 life-size photocopy of Zhu's chrysanthemum sold for 800 RMB. The real work here, of course, is not an A4 arsehole but the auction itself, a performance Zhu presents through a video projection of her chat window during the event that's voiced over in English by a robot reader who recites even the emoji—'grin, grin', 'lol, lol, lol', 'commando, commando, commando'. Viewers can watch the auction play out from large floor cushions printed with close ups of Zhu's body parts.

Entitled Selling the Worthless (2014), this is not an unusual commentary on artistic expression as a commodification of self, but it's enlivened by two things: the players testing its ludic parameters—the bidders nominate the body parts to be bid on, and later start to negotiate among themselves how they might all share copies of the prize—and the contemporaneity of the expression, a hyper-speed, quippy WeChat convo. One of the chrysanthemum bidders, desperate not to miss out on a piece of the action, pleads with his rivals for 'three flowers to bloom from a single stem'. (Who says dirty things more poetically than young Chinese artists?)

Selling the Worthless is the most captivating of the works presented in the group show I Do (Not) Want To Be Part Of Your Celebration, which features nine artists, including Zhu Tian: Aspartime (阿斯巴甜), He Shaotong (何绍同), Liu Wa (刘娃), Liu Xinyi (刘辛夷), Pu Yingwei (蒲英玮), Tan Tian (谭天), Yu Feifei (于霏霏), and Tant Zhong (钟云舒). The exhibition runs all summer in two West Bund buildings separated by a ten-minute walk: Qiao Space (乔空间) and the newly inaugurated Tank Project Space (油罐艺术中心项目空间) (29 June–27 August 2017)—the first phase in collector Qiao Zhibing's 100 million RMB art centre being built in a cluster of oil tanks once used to store airplane fuel for Hongqiao International Airport.

Zhu Tian, Selling the Worthless (2014). Performance documentation video, 30'04''. Single channel, colour, sound. Exhibition view: I Do (Not) Want To Be Part Of Your Celebration, Qiao Space/Tank Shanghai Project Space (29 June–27 August 2017). Courtesy Qiao Space.

A counterpoint to Qiao's art world empire building is another fine work by Zhu Tian included in the show. Money (2015–ongoing) is a wall printed with the artist's bank balance on the first of every month going back to April 2015. People can follow her fortunes (and influence the results) by sending 50 quid to money@zhutian.co.uk to receive her bank statement in the mail every month until her death. The most recent balance recorded (as of 1 August) is an anxiety inducing -£3709.75. That the account's balance is recorded in pounds and not renminbi is a clue to the exhibition's organising framework. Curated by Miao Zijin (缪子衿), the exhibition focuses on young Chinese artists who have studied abroad. In her introduction to the show, Miao, who herself studied at Goldsmiths and the University of the Arts, London, says 'it is problematic to identify an artist according to his or her age, gender, race or nationality.' Thus, Miao says, the show does not deal 'with dual concepts such as global-local, western-eastern, but emphasises the dynamics of each artist's global position.'

Yu Feifei, As Artists, We comment (2017). From left to right: Screen print, hand writing, Somerset hand-made ink paper, ink (55x55 cm); digital print, Canson edition paper (55x55cm); digital print, Canson edition paper (55 x 55cm). Exhibition view: I Do (Not) Want To Be Part Of Your Celebration, Qiao Space/Tank Shanghai Project Space (29 June–27 August 2017). Courtesy Qiao Space, Tank Project Space, the artist.

Exposure to foreign preoccupations is apparent in Yu Feifei's print series As Artists, We Comment (2017). The headline 'Trump and May Hand in Hand' is swarmed by the word 'COMMENT' printed innumerable times in small type reminiscent of newsprint. Devoid of semantic content, these comments are just visual noise, incessant but ineffective, lending an ambivalence to the practice of art making itself. As well as foreign subject matter, the forms the artists work in have been influenced by their time abroad. He Shaotong's video #friends (2017), for example, offers a mash-up of exhibition opening well wishes from Kanye West, Taylor Swift and other A-list celebrities; it is a cheeky take on how much performance and pretense goes into our global (often online) identities.

Exhibition view: I Do (Not) Want To Be Part Of Your Celebration, Qiao Space/Tank Shanghai Project Space (29 June–27 August 2017). Courtesy Qiao Space.

At its worst, the influence of foreign art institutions only steers these artists towards tired self-referentiality, as in He's How To Be a Successful Artist (2017), and empty conceptual gambits, like Liu Xinyi's Demo Graphics (2017), which logs the temperature and humidity near each of the other works in the exhibition. Tan Tian's Easily Accessible Work #9 (2017) is more substantial, drawing attention to the disconnect between China's ongoing interest in oil painting, and other markets where artists have largely left it behind. The large canvas features squiggles by the artist's two-year-old daughter and a painted-on explanation stating that because she says they are flowers, and he trusts her, they are flowers.

Zhu Tian's WeChat auction for a prized chrysanthemum, however, remains the most successful work, wielding an art education as an exploratory tool without making it the object of its investigations. Artists lucky enough to travel half way around the globe should be careful not to leave their unique knowledge behind—stuffed in the seat pocket in front of them—in their rush to arrive in the same, self-interested art world they embarked from. —[O]

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