Sparks of youth
Updated: 2013-01-25 08:03
By Chen Nan (China Daily)
Chen Wei's photographs possess an irresistible sense of closeness. Provided to China Daily
There are many promising artists in China, but an ongoing exhibition in Beijing aims to show audiences "who represents the real young artists". Chen Nan takes a closer look.
You have to see it to believe it.
That's the aim of an ongoing exhibition, On | Off: China's Young Artists in Concept and Practice.
"We've seen many exhibitions and related events on contemporary China's young artists and their works. But we believe that words, themes or symbols are not enough to reflect the young generation of Chinese artists today," says 34-year-old Bao Dong, one of the curators of the exhibition at Beijing's Ullens Center for Contemporary Art.
"We are here to show what we feel represents the real Chinese young artists," he says.
The show displays works by promising and some unknown post-1976 artists who grew up after China's economic reform and opening up.
Together with another curator, Sun Dongdong, Bao traveled around the country for more than six months to search for the artists.
They visited more than 200 artists in cities like Shanghai, Hangzhou of Zhejiang province, Guangzhou of Guangdong province and Chongqing, before selecting what they felt were the best.
Featuring 50 commissioned works by 50 artists and artist groups, the exhibition is considered an ambitious survey of works by these young talents.
As the curators put it, these artists have "grown up in a society and culture beset by binaries, constantly toggling between extremes".
The exhibition is rooted in a series of such tensions that intensified around 1999, just as the Internet was becoming part of everyday life.
"Young artists in China are labeled as being rebellious, nonsensical and cynical. But they are just like any other young people.
"Their artworks reflect their thinking about their lives. We want an exhibition that triggers communication and understanding," says Sun, who was a senior editor of Leap, a bilingual magazine of contemporary art in China.
According to the curators, they didn't display the works of artists they know very well or those introduced by others. Instead, they decided to go on a field trip to search for them.
With the support and help of Philip Tinari, the director of UCCA, they set out and brought back surprises.
One of the artists is Wen Ling, whose pen-on-paper comics - One Day in My Life - is displayed in the long, high-ceilinged UCCA nave.
The 37-year-old studied woodcut prints at the Central Academy of Fine Arts and now lives and works in Beijing.
"One Day in My Life describes all the tiny pieces of my life - waking up, switching on my cellphone, brushing my teeth, having breakfast, sleeping, and so on," Wen says.
Asked about the biggest draw of the exhibition, he says, "It's an exhibition without asking artists to work on the basis of any theme."
"It means that the exhibition belongs to the artists and shows the personality and perspectives of the artists," Wen adds.
He set up his photoblog in 2001 to show how common people live their lives in Beijing. The blog includes a variety of pictures ranging from young women eating noodles to bored security guards.
"Like when I'm taking photos, I only draw what I am interested in, especially my own life," he says.
According to the curators, when they visited Zhejiang province-based artist Chen Wei, they were impressed by his photographic works, which carry an irresistible sense of closeness.
Chen says when he first started out as an artist, he was filled with anxieties. He later turned his hopeless wait for inspiration into a contradictory commentary on the gap between expectation and reality.
"We grew up in a world of chaos. For the older generation artists, they all have similar enemies. But for young artists today, we have to face various types of challenges," says 32-year-old Chen.
"Art makes my life interesting."
Bao opines that young Chinese artists, unlike the older generation, focus on their own lives even as they are bombarded by information from inside and outside China.
"They try to fit into the international art scene while maintaining their own identities," he adds.
Meanwhile, Philip Tinari, the director of UCCA, says that On | Off offers a platform for new forces of Chinese contemporary art.
"We want to give insights to let people know what's going on in Chinese contemporary art world.
"We are not telling people how to judge or what to interpret. We want to offer multiple ways to observe contemporary Chinese art," he says.
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