Re-engaging with the Real
-Short Notes on CCAA 2004
China is no doubt the most attractive centre of attention for the world today, not only in terms of it’s economic development, but also in terms of its cultural and social mutations. Accordingly, China’s contemporary art is becoming a new emerging force in the global art scene in the beginning of the 21st century. The presence of Chinese artists in major international art event is spectacularly increasing while more and more people from the international art world are visiting and acting in the Chinese art scene. It’s no surprise that one can talk about a genuine fever for everything Chinese. This renders the prize CCAA (Chinese Contemporary Art Awards) a new implication. It’s an internationally significant event instead of a solely “internal affaire” in the Chinese art world.
It is in this context that one should ask the question: what’s the real significance of Chinese contemporary art n the Chinese society and in the globalising world today. One can also raise the question, through exploring the “boom” of Chinese art, of the significance of contemporary art in general in the world.
Contemporary art activities in China has been developed along with the speedy modernisation process of the country. It’s fundamentally a movement of experiment and “avant’garde”. The ultimate motivation is to achieve freedom of imagination and expressin although the cultural, political and economic conditions are constantly changing and evolving towards further opening. However, the rapid modernisation and integration into the global market economy and geopolitical restructuring imply new and increasing pressure coming from the demand of the economic growth and transformation of the nature of cultural activities into exchangeable “objects” in the global market and communication systems. this provokes a kind of unprecedented collective fever for development and consumption. Ironically, this tendency pushes further the uniformisation of the society under the banner of material development and leaves less and less space for individual freedom and independent intellectual positioning.
In this situation, it’s urgent that we should articulate on the importance of re-examining the independent and individual positions and expressions in the arts, as a concentrated reflection to the necessity of rethinking China’s and the world’s intellectual and cultural maps.
China is going through a period of explosive boom of material development, consumption and urbanisation. In the meantime, further social democratisation and justice building are evolving in rather slow paces, not to say stagnated. the populations are increasingly being swallowed into the spiral of migration and social reclassification. However, as pointed out above, individual freedom, and especially, creativity, have not been much encouraged and increased. Like most of the intelligentsia, artists are caught into an even more intense contradiction between material improvement and spiritual limitation. Covering an extremely immense territory and different contexsts, contemporary art in China is a highly diverse and complex scene. the opportunities of frequent presences in the internal and international art worlds have not only excited the artists while integrating into the global art market becomes a new condition of work. For many, it’s also a crucial moment for critical reflections on reality and consolidation of personal stances and independence. These artists, by further profound researches and persistence on their own thoughts, imaginations and creativities, reaffirm that very essential vocation of art is open spaces for freedom, freedom of imagination and creation. Instead of manipulating superficially “social and political signs: to satisfy the expectations of institutions and market, they refuse to be instrumentalised by either national or international establishments. They resort to the most diverse and personal languages and references to express their ultimate fantasy. Often with great senses of humour and distant but pungent comments, they fabricate their own heavens, their own paradises, of imagination, fantasy, and ideals. Incorporating experiences navigating between memories and dreams, between personal desires and philosophical reflections, between everyday, “minor” initiatives and revolutionary, utopian projects…they are constantly developing their works in the most unpredictable, unfathomable and even uncertain ways.
Using all kinds of imaginable media, they open their works and lives to the most risky intellectual and cultural adventures. In the middle and late 1990s,the most spectacular phenomenon in the Chinese scene was, among others, actions and images that directly involved corporal conditions, often suffering and violent. It was a kind of mixture of desperation and lose of self-control in front of a schizophrenic world. However, along with the establishment and “normalisation” of a consumerist and urbanised society, especially along with the prevailing of electronic images in the urban world, ranging from TV programs to advertisements, from pop culture to the internet…,the introduction of multimedia such as video, digital photography and computer technologies has fundamentally changed the approaches and languages of the artists’ creations, and more importantly their visions and imaginations. A great number of video and cinema works have been created to provide entirely new narratives of the individual and collective lives in the Chinese society today while new fantasies and critical discourses are being generated through the making of those narratives. On the other hand, urbanisation is also deeply influending the mutation of the art scene. More and more artists are now exploring the possibilities of bridging urban life and art, and especially the possibilities of merging architectural design and visual arts. All in all, these allow the artists to re-engage themselves with the real. And, they are obviously reflected in the results of this year’s CCAA judgments.