World Chambers

A Forum for the Arts of Contemporary Chinese Women

Jia, F. (1999). Nüxing yishu zai jiushi niandai (Women’s art during the 1990s). Art Observation, vol. 3. Translated from the original Chinese.

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Women’s Art in the Nineties

The nineties was the decade in which Chinese female artists became the most dynamic. Since 1990 [when] eight young female painters united to begin an exhibition, female artists have become increasingly active. In1995 this practice became a hot trend: in Beijing alone, the quantity of female artists’ exhibitions was not less than twenty or more. Until 1998, female artists were involved in an expansion of exhibitions: in March in Beijing “Shi ji–Nu Xing Yi Shu Zhan” (Century Woman Artist Exhibition), in April in Taibei, “Taiwanese Female Artist’s Exhibition,” and in June in Berlin, Germany, “Half of the Sky.” Exhibitions of Chinese female artists — the line up and powerful academic research that each of these three exhibits possess — they are the important landscape at the turn of the century of Chinese contemporary art. Therefore recall the previous nine years, and the “Chinese Modern Art Exhibition,” which was the last [exhibition] to cause a temporary sensation: the “gun attack incident.” Unavoidably, this gave way to people sighing with deep feeling over one of the deeper implications hinted at: the curtain on new art closes, female artists are brought on stage. Since the individual who opened fire was a young female artist.

Women’s Art: New Theme of Conversation in the Nineties

Female art was the new topic of conversation during the decade of the nineties. It was also a popular topic within the [discussion of] China’s “post modern” and the contemporary art. Speaking like this is not to imply a denial of the accomplishments of previous female artists, it is merely to say that former female artwork certainly did not have convex displays of a type of clear female characteristic, therefore it is extremely difficult to judge their work in terms of gender. Nevertheless, coming into the nineties, the creative work of female artists appeared to more advantage, as distinctive from that of male artists. Female artists no longer needed male standards and male creative processes in order to paint. They began to establish a type of self-study and consciousness of the particular [and] recognizable similarities of their own gender, leading to gender specific discrepancies discovered within the value of their own selves. Once women attempted to use personal experience and “women’s perspective” to interpret this century, women’s creative works were not only different from male artists, but also different from the work of any former era of women. Therefore this singular practice embodied “women’s art,” and the advance of these concepts composed the topical content of “women’s art” and its “post-modern” overtones.

Once we had the one “coupled artist” age of collaboration. When men and women are equal in theory (as in couple collaborations), it keeps women from their sense of self-exploration, so the meaning of equal transforms into women’s effemulation. Under these conditions, female artist’s work can only represent one type of characteristic: “non-sexual” [by means of] anti-feminine intentions during the time of this trend. However, today the couple artist age of collaboration has passed, the “wife’s” paintings already differ from “husband’s” paintings. And this sort of difference stems from these women’s realization of their “womanhood;” and also the realization that they have their own perspective. They have their own experiences and standards of judgment. Additionally, the way that [women] feel and experience the world, and the way that they think, is different from men. It is these gender differences that are the foundation for the construction of female art. It is on top of this “corner stone” that female art can reveal a unique aesthetic, a moral character, and a spirit of direction.

Women’s Art and Male Art

When we try to distinguish art in terms of gender and confirm the concept of “women’s art,” theoretically there is a very complicated condition: if we declare that all art created by women is “women’s art,” then it means that we have to agree on an extension of the concept at the same time: all art created by men is “male art.” If we agree on that concept and take it a step further: it raises the question, what distinguishes male art from female art. How can we answer that? If there is no gender-based distinction in art, then why should we define gender-based categories in art?

Actually, within the art produced by humankind, the greater part of it is distinguished as belonging to “neutral” [art], the primary method stems from distinct gender-based perspective, so [in the category of neutral art] there is no need to make these sorts of distinctions. If we put artists into classes based on uncomplicated divisions of male artists and female artists, then it’s as if we place previous artists in the place of the bourgeoisie like the supreme class, we could cave into a theory of a type of dualism. Nevertheless, within this artistic category there is certainly a group that possesses a clear divergence based on gender, and gender-based characteristics. Thus, in regarding this section of art [one is] supplied with that particular viewpoint. We test this sort of situation below with a graph that shows:

(*Apologies for the lack of a graph here–chalk it up to technical difficulties. Imagine two overlapping circles. The one on the left is labeled, “male art,” and the one on the right, “female art.” The area in which they overlap is labeled, “gender neutral art.”*)

Male Art                                                                                             Women’s Art

1                 2

Gender Neutral Art

Circle one indicates all male artists’ artistic productions;

Circle two indicates all female artist’s artistic productions;

The value of the intersection of circle one and circle two is the portion of artists whose gender-based distinction diverges from these groups, namely “gender neutral art.” The portion of both circles that does not overlap, equals the portion where the existing group’s sexual distinction diverges, this could also be called “male art” or “women’s art” to take into account that group’s inclusion.

The differences between female art and male art are produced by [the artists’] experience based on respective differences of sexual distinction. From this deep layer of sexual distinction, the heart’s resources are triggered. As a result of having male gender and female gender, there exist divergent parts from physiology to mentality. Due to the long term of the father’s power over the consciousness of women, [the father figure] exerts influence that determines their art from its starting point to its style of presentation, [so] in this sector there can exist differences. It is also from these types of differences, female art can reveal unique/personal value. Therefore the meaning of using gender distinction in the process of [this discussion]: female art’s appearance and development filled out an empty space of art history—the prior version of art history is basically the history of the male visual experience. The development of the female visual experience makes this history complete. This is where the real value of using gender distinction in the discussion of art and the advocacy of women’s art lies.

Furthermore, from the perspective of art history, women’s art could be broadly defined as being the entirety of women’s creative works. Due to [the fact that] they as a group are constantly being stifled, and being placed in the periphery of art history. Therefore when we historically, and completely settle accounts [regarding] only their art productions, it is very natural to broadly use the concept of “women’s art.”

The Basic Characteristics of Women’s Art

Since “women’s art” is an independently existing [category] separate from male art, then it is supposed to be describable and also have its own relatively stable characteristics and appearance. However, due to its plentiful, colorful, and various orientations, and due to its being located in an actively changing process, it is not possible to attempt to describe it. Nevertheless, we try to include the following points based on the current status of the development of female art:

  1. They don’t care anything about things outside of themselves, things not related to their personal emotional life. Further, [they] emphasize the excavation of their heart’s resources, and from personal experience attain the body language from which [they] obtain inspiration. The works of art include the trends of unique personal features and aspects of privacy.
  2. They very rarely use rational angles of analyses to involve a subject matter and grasp a theme. But rather emphasize the emotional characteristics of their artwork, and emphasize the importance of direct feeling, enabling base physical senses to emerge. [Their] creative works are more like childish illusions, like stealing things as one pleases, expressive in the unreasonable blurred appearance. This is to say that a clear path is not readily visible from [their] physiological to mental reaction.
  3. They are not interested in politics, history, philosophy, but express a special concern for nature, life, humanity, and the question of existence. So much so that a dull ordinary life is paid close attention to, [as if] something surpassing lofty [ideals], and the pursuit of glory.
  4. They universally lack interest toward the world of men. They barely use male figures in their art (perhaps this is the thing that inhibits [their] deepest parts). The biggest difference here is that male artists usually use female figures in their art. Questions that are personal to women are paid increasingly close attention to by female artists. They face their own egos, which allows them to explore and open an area of “art expansion.” This art stems from never exploring the knowledge outside their field of experience, which provides valiantly for female artist’s success.
  5. The linguistic style of this art developed from traditional hand-worked arts [handicrafts]. In the paired skills held by men and women, the division of labor practices was such that men tilled [the soil], and women spun [cloth]. There then appeared the innate ability [of women] to build a nest, to sew, weave, knit, and handwork embroidery. Even though modern era women have already lost this relationship, contrary [to modern times] the artistry seems to have already enabled the peaceful production of a natural accumulation [of skills]. In the arts, women naturally maintained interests in the artistry of sewing, weaving, knitting. [These skills and related media] simultaneously became one special type of female linguistic style. This linguistic style is analogous to weaving, or the language of sewing. Even though it is not widespread, it does exist within female artwork, however it is a specialty contained in female art.
  6. Mediums of art are selected from the last life transformed [i.e. traditional feminine culture] and the close feelings [toward that life]. Female artists not only have one type of particular partiality for the traditional skills of weaving, moreover the related materials of these skills possesses an especially sensitive type of feeling. Material selected for art installations express distinct female characteristics: needles, thread, cotton, silk, gauze, various types of fiber and light/gauzy material. These everyday ordinary materials transform technique via female artist’s deployment outside [the home], and changes in tradition, which were agents of change for certain concepts. In other words, using women’s inner wisdom to conceptualize and analyze daily life brings ordinary feminine material into technique and transforms art.

In summation, today’s female art is already far from traditional female artist’s expressions, which were of a slender and reserved type, clearly beautiful as if inviting a singular unique style [parlor art]. We can already use a traditional appreciation of beauty to look within women’s creative productions, but [female artists] also have the power of expressing visual intensity, in this they are almost on par with male artists, and are not below them. From poetic atmosphere, that conveys one’s emotions, of illusion, romance, aesthetic importance, ideals, [the art] transforms into a type of mysterious, crazy, strangeness, with an abundance of ideological language and a spirit of visual sense motivating it. This type of [art] is directly practical, directly from human life, directly of the self. Contemporary female artists display for us what is one horizon within the vast scenery of art. However, even though there are numerous different concepts and various techniques, we can still see some common qualities. It is precisely in these common qualities that “women’s art” becomes something worth discussing.

**Thank you to Dr. Deborah Porter and Fiona Meng-Fan Lu for invaluable assistance and consultation on this translation!**

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Written by Andrea Descoteaux Hugg

August 3, 2009 at 1:56 PM

Posted in Nuxing Yishu

Female artists featured in Prestel’s 2009 text, Young Chinese Artists: The Next Generation — Part II: Cao Fei

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Cao Fei offers an exemplary character study for the possibilities open to young female artists. She has made high waves in international and domestic circles since earning her BFA from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in 2001. Her work is often credited as being some of the best that the post-1975 generation has produced, as well as representational of the creative strengths of contemporary Chinese art in general. She has had influential supporters, such as super-star curators Hou Hanru and Hans Ulrich-Obrist, even before she finished school. Take for example, this quote from an article entitled The World According to Cao Fei:

…the curator Hans Ulrich-Obrist says the young supergirl ‘has developed an expansive oeuvre of theatrical performance, photography, writing, sound pieces, short film and even a feature length production” that reminds him of a young Robert Rauschenberg.’

Art:21 blog reports that the October 14th episode of the PBS series, Art: 21 — Art in the Twenty-first Century, will be titled “Fantasy,” and will feature Cao, along with three other artists:

Mary Heilmann, Jeff Koons, and Florian Maier-Aichen — whose hallucinatory, irreverent, and sublime works transport us to imaginary worlds and altered states of consciousness.

The editors of Young Chinese Artists describe the varied mediums and socially conscious viewpoint that have made up her work in the last decade, as well as the dark, introspective piece, Room 807 (2002), which they rightly point out is seldom included in surveys of her work.

Cao Fei, "Room 807," 2002

Cao Fei, "Room 807," 2002.

Cao Fei, "Room 807, No. 5," Photograph, 84 x 112 cm.

Cao Fei, "Room 807, No. 5," Photograph, 84 x 112 cm.

Unfortunately, there is no interview included in their portrait of Cao, so the editors include quotes from other interviews with the artist. Still, the interviews they include are notable (e.g. a 2007 interview with curator Hou Hanru). It would have been interesting to see what this poster child of generational talent would say in a body of work full of the words and works of her generation, especially since she often has a critical eye on the construction of realities among the techno-centric youth of China’s rapidly altered urban environments.

Cao Fei, "Yanmy at Home (CosPlayers Series)," 2004, C-print.

Cao Fei, "Yanmy at Home (CosPlayers Series)," 2004, C-print.

Cao Fei, "Nada at Home (CosPlayers Series)," 2004, Digital C-print.

Cao Fei, "Nada at Home (CosPlayers Series)," 2004, Digital C-print.

The editors sum up her work clearly and concisely (something which is sometimes lacking in the flourishes of art criticism):

Cao Fei’s art has become increasingly challenging, demanding, and socially engaging over the past ten years of her career. Her playful joggling of realistic fantasies and fantastic realities makes her work most pertinent to actual life experiences in contemporary China, something often lost in the staggering numbers of economic growth and the cant governmental promises of an Utopian future where everyone’s life will be better the next day.

Cao Fei, "RMB City 2," 2007, Digital C-print.

Cao Fei, "RMB City 2," 2007, Digital C-print.

This afternoon, I saw Cao’s video triptych, Whose Utopia at the Henry Art Gallery. The twenty minute piece is incredibly moving (also great to sit in a dark air-conditioned room during the heatwave that has been raging in Seattle). I watched it twice, and not just for the free a/c. The first part, Imagination is Product, is visually interesting, but topically numbing, which is an appropriate portrait of the mechanical repitition required in professional factory life. Countless identical light bulbs get produced largely by machines. Then the human workers–mostly young, mostly female–take over to perform those tasks that are not well suited to machines. The central aspect of this labor seems to be quality control. One worker pushes bulb after bulb onto a conduit to test them. Cao shows her face lit up over and over again, as the woman stares into the light. One can only imagine the headaches that this induces. The sequence title is fitting since it was imagination that resulted in machinized labor, and it was imagination that led Deng Xiaoping to open China to commercial possibilities and to build large factories on which the world would come to rely. In the end, imagination turned into products, in this case lightbulbs, sent abroad by the boatload to light homes, businesses, and cars. These young workers traded rigid tradition and parental supervision, for a lonely sort of freedom as cogs inside of concrete buildings. Cao was born in Guangzhou, the capital city of the province in which the OSRAM lighting factory sits. This area had one of the first of China’s national economic developments zones: the Guangzhou Economic and Technological Development Zone. As such, this city and the surrounding towns are intimately connected to the social instability that accompanies China’s rapid economic growth. Cao has rythmically portrayed the disconnect between the dreams of youth looking to factory jobs for economic and social freedom, and the true quality of life that these workers experience.

Cao Fei, "Whose Utopia?" 2006, Video Installation

Cao Fei, "Whose Utopia?" 2006, Video Installation.

Cao Fei, "Whose Utopia?" 2006, Installation View

Cao Fei, "Whose Utopia?" 2006, Installation View, Tate Liverpool.

The band of the same name, who's members are featured in the video, wear t-shirts that spell out the title of the piece: "My future is not a dream."

The band of the same name, who's members are featured in the video, wear t-shirts that spell out the title of the piece: "My future is not a dream."

I must also make a note particular to the Henry set-up: the designers chose two facing galleries to present Cao’s video and that of her co-artist in this exhibit, Yang Fudong. This layout is ideal since the co-curators of the exhibit, Heather Lineberry and Marylin Zeitlin, chose the two partly because the artists are different enough in style, age, and gender to represent the spectrum of contemporary Chinese art. However, the speakers in both galleries were placed just inside the door so that sounds from the opposing gallery constantly leaked into the other, and could be heard even when one was not near the entrance. This may have been caused by differences between what Henry staff wanted to accomplish, and what building and budget conditions enabled them to accomplish, and I am not meaning to criticise without some understanding. It really is a shame, however, because the simple presentation of the videos–one screen, one bench, no text inside the room–was perfect, and perfectly spoiled by the noise pollution.

Written by Andrea Descoteaux Hugg

August 1, 2009 at 11:14 PM

“Where the Spirit Lives” — At PIFO New Art Gallery, July 24-August 23, 2009

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PIFO New Art Gallery, located at B-11, 798 Art Area, No.2 Jiuxianqiao Rd, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China, has organized an exhibit to honor the centenial of abstract painting’s inception. Abstract painting did not emerge in China until the 1920s, but it has gained in popularity and development during the last 20 years, and this show has been so well-recieved already, that PIFO plans on making abstract painting exhibitions an annual occurance.

Among the 13 artists featured as the future of abstract painting in China, PIFO includes at least two women.

Huang Jia, who is preparing for a solo show in December, features her monochramatic color pallettes with plate-like dimpled images, the “circular shapes (of which, she says) reflect her temperament and her reflections on traditional Chinese culture.”

Huang Jia, "August 16th, 2008," Oil on Canvas, diameter 50 cm.

Huang Jia, "August 16th, 2008," Oil on Canvas, diameter 50 cm.

Huang Jia, "August 21st, 2008, Oil on Canvas, 120 x 210 cm.

Huang Jia, "August 21st, 2008, Oil on Canvas, 120 x 210 cm.

Zhang Xuerui uses delicate alterations in color to create calming, fluid effects accross straight-forward grid patterns. The artist is among the post-1975 generation (she was born in 1979),

Zhang Xuerui is a young artist, born in 1979, who currently lives in Beijing. Her paintings feature hundreds of grids covered and filled with gradated colors. Her inspiration comes from a desire to as she says, “express (her) understanding of our changing life in a rationalist manner.” According to an intereview with China.org.cn, her motivation in this direction was spurred on by the philosophical quote: “the only thing that does not change is change itself.”

Zhang Xuerui, "260 Squares - Grey Green," Acrylic on Canvas, 40 x 130 cm.

Zhang Xuerui, "260 Squares - Grey Green," Acrylic on Canvas, 40 x 130 cm, 2008.

Zhang Xuerui, "598 Squares - From Grey Green to Purple," Acrylic on Canvas, 92 x 130 cm, 2008.

Zhang Xuerui, "598 Squares - From Grey Green to Purple," Acrylic on Canvas, 92 x 130 cm, 2008.

Zhang Xuerui, "225 Squares - Green," Acrylic on Canvas, 60 x 60 cm., 2008

Zhang Xuerui, "225 Squares - Green," Acrylic on Canvas, 60 x 60 cm., 2008.

All images are from PIFO’s exhibit website.

Written by Andrea Descoteaux Hugg

July 31, 2009 at 12:43 PM

Metropolis Now! at Meridian International Center, Washington, D.C.

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The Meridian International Center in Washington, D.C. has organized and is currently hosting a modern Chinese art exhibit, Metropolis Now!, that features 31 contemporary Chinese artists, 7 of which are female. The female artists included—Xing Danwen, Wang Xiaohui, Liu Ren, Liu Liyun, Lin Tianmiao, Li Wei, Han Yajuan—echo the stated intent of the exhibit to chronicle “the significant changes taking place in China as that country experiences the rapid growth of its cities and the impact of globalization.” The artists chosen come from multiple generations and also represent the developments that have occurred in the field of “women’s art” during their professional lifetimes.

The exhibit’s website includes a note about each artist’s vision, many of which reveal the ways in which China’s rapid development has impacted their creativity. From the exhibit’s artist page:

Han Yajuan, Before the Big Night, 2008. Oil on canvas:

Before the Big Night, 2008. Oil on canvas.

Like many people born in the 1980s, she is constantly in pursuit of new sensations and fresh experiences and her paintings reveal that overarching quest of her generation. The cartoon-like language in Han Yajuan’s works not only effectively represents the romance and simplicity of this group, but also shows the difference between their visual understanding and visual representation. These young artists share similar life experiences and most of them have subconsciously acquiesced to consumerism through their art.

Han, born in 1980, is also included in the new text, Young Chinese Artists: the Next Generation that highlights the work of those artists born around or after 1975. The cartoonish and ultimately “girly” quality of her work confirms the characteristics ascribed to art produced by Chinese women within the category nuxing yishu (women’s art), but while the immediate sense of the work is personal and internal, its message is one that reflects the artist’s generation and the future of Chinese society. By having “subconsciously acquiesced to consumerism through their art,” these artists make pointed statements about modern society. The depiction of materialistic caricatures of Han’s generation may be an intentional and pointed statement about the shortcomings of herself and her peers.

Lin Tianmiao is an impressively established artist, born in 1961, who came of professional age during the period in which the work of female artists in China was characterized by the category of nuxing yishu. She resists classification as a feminist artist, and it is questionable to apply this western term to any of China’s female artists, but her work does have a definite focus on the female experience (a key point of nuxing yishu, and what critics say separate the artwork of this era from that of their female predecessors).

From the curators of Metropolis Now!:

The installation art and conceptual photography of this extremely influential woman artist embody a unique style and femininity. Her greatest strength is the ability to combine the intricacy of life experiences with a manipulation of materials. Lin Tianmiao’s woven silk installations require significant manual labor and are a reflection of traditional craftwork.

Lin Tianmiao, Shadow No. 1, 2008. Mixed Media.

Lin Tianmiao, Shadow No. 1, 2008. Mixed Media.

The time-intensive incorporation of thread recalls China’s female tradition of cloth production and embroidery, which “echo(s) the repetitive, redundant duties of female labor” (Albertini, 2008, 72). The futility of encasement that is inflicted upon previously functional items in The Proliferation of Thread-Winding series (1995-1997) also bring to mind the long-standing tradition of foot-binding, which significantly decreased the ability of late imperial women to function on their feet.

Xing Danwen, born in 1967, is in the same professional generation with Lin. Her work is concentrated around the impact of urbanity on personal and environmental well-being. It encases cultural memory and portrays the sense of being caught in something larger than oneself. Xing, like Lin, has travelled extensively has held successful exhibitions in the west. This is a trait that is shared by their male contemporaries who left China in order to produce art without censorship or political prosecution. It has only been in recent years that these have begun to return in large numbers.

The curators of Metropolis Now! depict her work thus:

Her works are the result of frequent travels around the world. According to this artist, ‘In modern cities solitude means more than being alone. It is a psychological experience. New objects are intertwined with old ones, and it seems that people are living in grids.’ In her photographs the exteriors of building models are always the initial focus. The dramatic scenes inside are perceived only through careful observation. Xing Danwen’s virtual scenes permit audiences to see and feel people’s solitude and the gaps between them.

Urban Fiction Series No. 15, 2008. C-print.  Exhibited by Meridian courtesy of the artist and Ooi Botos Gallery.

Urban Fiction Series No. 15, 2008. C-print. Exhibited by Meridian courtesy of the artist and Ooi Botos Gallery.

The site includes the following note: “The artwork was produced in a format that differs from Xing Danwen’s Series specifically for this exhibition.” C-prints are not different for the artist, and I wonder if this alteration has to do with the scale of the images since her work in this series is incredibly detailed. There are only a few things that draw me to D.C., but this exhibition is most certainly one of them. Thank you to the people of the Meridian International Center for putting together this topical and exciting show!

Written by Andrea Descoteaux Hugg

July 27, 2009 at 5:34 AM

Female artists featured in Prestel’s 2009 text, Young Chinese Artists: The Next Generation — Part I

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Prestel recently published a book by Christoph Noe, Xenia Piech, and Cordelia Steiner, entitled Young Chinese Artists: The Next Generation. The illustrated hard-cover text includes valuable insight into the political, economic, and cultural circumstances that shaped the visions of up-and-coming artists from the “post-1975 generation.” For each artist featured, the reader gets a sample of work, a descriptive bio, and a short question-answer with the book’s editors–many of these interviews were conducted online, indicating the comfort with online social networks of this younger generation. The questions are the same from artist to artist, which allows the reader to paint similarities between the like-aged artists.

Of the 30 artists featured, 7 are women. Though still a minority, women are not marginalized to the point of near exclusion as they were in the 1980s. This is indicative of the future of China’s art scene, and may have been made in part because the market value of the art featured was not taken into consideration when deciding upon which artists to include (p. 8). As women continue to emerge onto the art scene, their work will fetch higher and higher prices, but the present and the past of the Chinese art market holds male money-makers.

One of the female artists included, Chen Ke (b. 1978 in Tongjiang), just had her first institutional solo-show in Europe. Another Me in the World ran at Kunstverein Viernheim e.V. (in Kunshtaus Viernheim), Rathausstr, 36, 68519 Viernheim, Germany from June 19th to July 18th. The show’s title is taken from her 2007 work of the same name made from modeling paste and oil on silk:

Image used in Art Agenda announcement.

Image used in Art Agenda announcement.

The feature of “melancholy girl-women” has been a defining mark of Chen’s work since 2004 (p. 57), along with a cartoon noir quality that reminds me a bit of American painter Mark Ryden. Chen uses her work as a mental mirror on which to safely express her dream worlds, and often experiments with new media. In 2006, it was fiberglass (Albertini, C., 2008, 24), and in 2008 she started to incorporated embroidery and beads to make patterns over clear-coated canvas sections. The editors of The Next Generation give us a glimpse into the sense of solidified inner-wonder and exploration that radiates from these pieces, quoting the artist on the progression of her 2008 works: “For me, these new works are like a diary. It’s no longer just about readable picture stories, and it’s no longer about looking inward. For me, art is like an expedition, and I don’t know where it’s taking me” (p. 57).

In 2008, this expedition began to take her to a point of critique with the Chinese art market, and increasingly global concerns, with the titles written in both English and Chinese–many experts will often point to the close ties between the west and east when the market is concerned. The editors describe her dark and upsetting 2008 piece, Game Over, as “articulating a wish for the Chinese art world–with its very young history of success–that is often expressed among the artists of her generation: a return to self-determination” (Ibid). In her online interview, Chen describes her generation in two words that the editors point to as common among this set of artists: loneliness and uncertainty. She diagnoses the situation as the possible result of the speed of socety in China, saying “Maybe the speed of society is too fast. Many values were broken, yet they were just being built yesterday” (p. 65). This is an incredibly telling statement of the social climate of China’s young, only children. Their parents lived through the Cultural Revolution, and built, or were built by, the new social order that came about only after decades of national struggle and succeeded hundreds of years of a very different political order (and in some ways, a not so very different cultural order) from those that modern China has seen. This sense of upheaval might way heavy in the mind of a child alone among children in their nuclear family. Chen has said that the cartoons of her youth certainly influence her work (Albertini, 2008). The rapid succession of “Chinas” in her lifetime and the resulting dearth of confidence in society’s form and function color those cartoons with unnerving melancholy.

Game Over, 2008, Oil and beads on canvas, 220 x 220 cm

Game Over, 2008, Oil and beads on canvas, 220 x 220 cm

Written by Andrea Descoteaux Hugg

July 24, 2009 at 9:19 AM

Cao Fei & Business As Usual

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Cao Fei has been quickly rising within the art world, especially for her video work (the stills of which I think look expertly directed). Significant voices in the field have paired her with a more seasoned, male, video artist, Yang Fudong both in exhibition and critic. They are the only mainland-based artists included in the show Louis Vuitton: A Passion for Creation open at the Hong Kong Art Museum until August 9th; in 2008 Director of the Asia Society Museum and Vice President of Global Art Programs, Melissa Chiu named Cao and Yang as the two artists that represent the current developments in, and future of, Chinese art; and they compose a two person show focused on Chinese video art: Business As Usual that was curated by the Arizona State University Art Museum and will travel to the Henry Art Gallery this summer.

One of the curators of this show, Heather S. Lineberry Senior Curator and Interim Director of ASU kindly spoke with me about the process behind the choices of herself and her co-curator, Marilyn Zeitlin:

BAU was co-curated by myself and Marilyn Zeitlin, retired director of the ASU Art Museum.  As most contemporary curators, we both followed the rise of the contemporary art world and market in China and its representation on the international scene.  We hosted the Regeneration exhibition, organized by the Samek Art Gallery at Bucknell University, a few years ago which was a broad survey of recent generations of contemporary art in China and included a broad range of media.  After this survey, we were interested in a more focused exhibition on video work, as presenting video and new media is a primary initiative for our museum.  Drawn both to individual pieces and to their bodies of work, I selected Yang Fudong and Marilyn selected Cao Fei.  We were interested in the complex comparisons created by this two person exhibition, between the artists and their careers and between the content and style of their work.  Yang Fudong has become a standard bearer for video art in China with international exhibitions, publications and collections.  Cao Fei is much younger, a woman, and when Marilyn selected her for the exhibition, she was an emerging artist in China and internationally.  The content and style of their videos/films only emphasizes this contrast in generation and career stage.  Yang Fudong’s work is more cinematic and narrative, quoting broadly from Chinese political and cultural history.  Cao Fei works seem to reference reality shows with participants who are not actors and less scripted.  She focuses on current realities in China, popular culture and youth.  We found these contrasts to be a powerful bracketing for the breadth of contemporary art by Chinese artists.

Needless to say, I can’t wait to see this show when it comes to Seattle. Cao Fei may be the poster child, not only for success as a young Chinese artist, but also for success as a female artist. She does not identify her work as “women’s art” (nuxing yishu) and does not seem constrained by the cultural restraints of previous generations of women.

In her mention, of Cao and Yang, Melissa Chiu pointed to Cao’s  early project  from 2002, Rabid Dogs which featured Burberry-clad canine characters making their way though office settings in order to showcase the determination for social climbing amongst Cao’s peers; and also Cao’s newest work seen at the 52nd Venice Biennale 2007. This piece utilizes second life to build a pavilion in which Cao shows a video installation. The topic of this real art inside of an unreal world is the “rather melancholy, a little about the sex, ..money, .. gambling, the forever young and beautiful avatars, but mostly [is] about loneliness, longing, and meeting someone from the other side of the planet with similar thoughts and feelings!” (Posthorn, P., 2007, June 17, para. 2). In 2004, she used video and still images to portraiture Guangzhou youth engaged in imaginary battles while dressed in Japanese anime costumes. Some shots even followed the characters home to their parents who, as one could imagine, did not appreciate the manifest obsession with pop culture.

8mins/DV/2000, Director/Photographer: Cao Fei, Actors: Wu Ying, Zhang Xiaochuan, Zhang Xinqi, Lin Yusi, Ou Guorui, Song Jiaqi, Zhong Liang, Lighting/Still photographer: Lu Yigang, Makeup/Costume: Zhang Xiaochuan, Cao Fei, Costume maker: Mr.Zhou, Editing: Cao Fei, Music Editing: Cao Fei (http://www.caofei.com/works/video/).

8mins/DV/2000, Director/Photographer: Cao Fei, Actors: Wu Ying, Zhang Xiaochuan, Zhang Xinqi, Lin Yusi, Ou Guorui, Song Jiaqi, Zhong Liang, Lighting/Still photographer: Lu Yigang, Makeup/Costume: Zhang Xiaochuan, Cao Fei, Costume maker: Mr.Zhou, Editing: Cao Fei, Music Editing: Cao Fei (http://www.caofei.com/works/video/).

Cao Fei, China Tracy, 2007, Internet and installation project (Grosenick & Schübbe, 2007, 53).

Cao Fei, China Tracy, 2007, Internet and installation project (Grosenick & Schübbe, 2007, 53).

Her 2006 piece, My Future is not a Dream (aka SIEMENS Art Project 2006: What Are You Doing Here? won Cao the China Contemporary Art Awards young artist category in 2006, and is my favorite of her work. The video captures workers of a light bulb factory in Guangdong, whom Cao invited to perform / dance to their choice of music. In this act, Cao, who is from Guangdong, showcased the juxtaposition between the creative dreams and material realities of many workers. Cao is admirably pushing boundaries between audience and subject, but what is most significant for her work as a female artist is that the subject at hand does not descend from traditional definitions of female, and far surpasses social ideals of the female sphere. Because Cao and other similarly aged / minded women have ideologically broken out of the restraints of the inner chambers, they can case their social inquiries and critiques onto society as a whole. Furthermore, the artists of this generation are not confined to the “women’s art” genre in terms of curatorial and critical choices. The only specialty exhibits included in Cao’s resume relate to her chosen mediums, and not her given gender. It is work of this scope that has elevated female artists to previously unheard of positions, and they will likely continue to rise as the bursting bubble of China’s art market refines the quality of the field.

Cao Fei, My Future is not a Dream, 2006, Video (Grosenick & Schubbe, 2007, China Art Book, 52).

Cao Fei, My Future is not a Dream, 2006, Video (Grosenick & Schubbe, 2007, China Art Book, 52).

Written by Andrea Descoteaux Hugg

June 8, 2009 at 6:58 PM

Jia Fang Zhou’s Essential Characteristics of Women’s Art

with 2 comments

  1. Not paying close attention to those extrinsic objects that have nothing to do with personal feelings and life. Instead, paying more attention to intrinsic inspiration from personal experience and instinct. Such works of art show are (sic) more intimately about the individual.
  2. Seldom taking motif analysis rationally. Stressing artistic intuition. Their works are full of childlike fantasy, free sketching, an irrational composite of images and a mysterious interaction between the physiological and psychological.
  3. Being apathetic towards politics, history and philosophy, and on the contrary, concentrating on the themes of nature, life, humankind and survival. Even paying attention to tiny, petty and ordinary things much more than seeking the sublime.
  4. Being generally disinterested in the men’s world. They rarely use man as artistic object, unlike male artists who commonly treat women as objects of study. Women’s art cares more about those questions pertaining directly to women. When they face their own ego, a new spiritual domain hitherto unobserved, provides women artists with a free space to explore.
  5. Their methods of discourse are developed from traditional handicrafts. The traditional division of work was ‘male farmer, and female weavers,’ which trained women to have deft hands. Although modern women seem to have little link with such handicrafts as stitching, weaving and embroidery, women artists reveal an interest in them in their art and turn it into a kind of individual discourse. They are not common to the art works of all women artists, but surely are specific phenomenon in women’s art as a whole.
  6. Materials are often chosen from daily life and a sense of propinquity. Women artists not only prefer those of such traditional handicrafts, but are specially sensitive to these materials. Here, installation artists who manifest and (sic) distinct characteristics of gender: needles, thread, cotton, silk, wool, fibers and light materials. In the hands of women artists, these objects of daily use are transformed into conceptual materials (1998. Shi ji, nu xing yi shu zhan – Century woman. Xianggang: Shi jie hua ren yi shu chu ban she, you xian gong si, 9).

Some of these characteristics are supported by the art produced by women, and in those instances, it is clear where these aspects of the “women’s art” category come from. Two common confirmations of this category are works that 1) embrace materials associated with women in pre-modern China; and 2) works that illustrate the female form and / or the female experience as their central subject. However, even in these instances, I think that one can read more into the work that what is intended under the limited category of “women’s art.” Some of the following examples feature graphic representations of the female form, so have been placed after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrea Descoteaux Hugg

June 4, 2009 at 5:30 PM