“We belong to each other no more than what we own belongs to us. We did not make ourselves, we cannot rule ourselves. We are not our own masters.” ~ Aldous Huxley, A bold new world
The idea of Chinese has always been something of odd concern; The International Quarter’s Chinatown struggles with this concern today, as the area underwent gentrification in the early 2000s due to overall demand for real estate development in the city as the community struggles to maintain its historical essence and reality. As mainland China, with its new development and economic growth, became a global powerhouse, the same question arose: What does it take to be a true Chinese in an ever-changing world – and how far can one remain so? Currently at the Asia Society Museum in New York is a fascinating exhibition entitled Mirror Image: A Transformation of Chinese Identitywhich puts these and other questions in a different light: a group of seven diverse artists, all born after 1976, who creatively push their art “through the internet, bootleg DVDs, international brands and global art history”.
At the foot of the exhibition is a classic arcade machine, UterusMan game, 2014, by Shanghai-born artist Lu Yang. Created and programmed for use, the work explores gender, biology, neuroscience, religion and pop culture, all the while “transporting” the player into the 1980’s joystick gaming experience with contemporary manga imagery in tow. Upon entering the main gallery, an installation entitled appears How to live a “good life” in 2019, by the Mongolian artist Nabuqi, reads like a Richard Hamilton collage – very spatially and visually appealing in its approach. The work’s reach finds its way through the influence of Heidegger’s writings, philosophy, pop art, global mass marketing, and the interaction between public and private environments.
the next work Experimental Relationships, 2013/2021, by Shanghai-born artist Pixy Liao, focuses on the recent reversal of China’s “one-child” policy, which empowers women to marry and have children at an early stage in their lives. A photo, I hug you, 2021shows the artist posing with her husband in a rocker position, detailing how power can be embraced and shared between the sexes without lowering the standard of one’s gender and individuality.
As I went through each work in the exhibition, I was amazed at the initiative each artist took to distance themselves from the traditional label of “Chinese artists”, they saw themselves as “global artists”, stripping away everything nationalistic with the modern Here and now, where the useful has been surpassed by the importance of global presence.
Realizing that the traditional can meet the modern and futuristic, I became fixated on a series of paintings titled Broadcasting Building Shanghai, 2018and Western City Gate, Belgrade, 2020both by Shanghai-born Cui Jie, who adores billboard-style advertising tropes, bold colors, architectural details, and rigorous graphic design—all presented in a way that leaves everyone visually intrigued and amazed.
Visual artists are sometimes inspired by experiences beyond the norm, be they organic, communal, or spiritual. What came to mind was Beijing artist Tianzshuo Chen’s video, Trance, 2019. A panorama of dystopian proportions, this work, based on a 12-hour performance, is a study in the idea of perseverance and meditation – reminiscent of Tibetan Buddhist ceremonies, with modern indicators of group activity (like club, electronic and hip hopping ). What is most interesting is its immediacy: highly vibrant, grotesque, visually disturbing and hectic.
Another eye candy was the photographic essay Similar disguise skills, 2021, by Chongqing-born artist Tao Hui. In the stylized form of re-enactments of Chinese television dramas, this work describes studies exploring gender, interpersonal relationships and the nuclear family, all presented in a tranquil, atmospheric and meditative setting. Although the photos may seem commercial to some, the details are quite extraordinary and otherworldly.
As most know, when it comes to anything social media and the internet, importance always reigns supreme. A work by Beijing-born Liu Shiyuan, For Jord (#1), 2020, presents the random activity of the internet by juxtaposing photographic images without relation or narrative, creating a sense of collusion within different cultures, aesthetics and political beliefs.
Most recently, I came to see the work of Shanghai-born Miao Ying Surplus Intelligence, 2021-22, as a project that was everywhere – the rugged visuals representing the beauty of the absurd; dystopian scenarios, intricate landscapes and artificial intelligence at its most mundane, allowing the viewer to identify China’s political propaganda as a subtle form of mass media manipulation.
At the end, as I sat looking at all the works featured in this exhibition, I was delighted to have found such a magnificent and unique display of unbridled mystery, sweeping interpretation, and sublime freedom of artistic expression.
This exhibition, together with Visionary Legacies: A Tribute to Harold J. Newman, can be seen until August 14thth at the Asian Society Museum in New York City. https://asiasociety.org/new-york/events/artist-talk-mirror-image-transformation-chinese-identity