A younger generation of Chinese artists, born as the one-child policy was implemented, is rising to international attention with cutting-edge practices that address the multiple issues China is facing in this period of rapid socio-political, economic and urban development. With the advantage of a more open policy towards the rest of the world than their predecessors, young emerging artists are inspired by global art practices. We discover more about 10 of the best emerging Chinese artists.
Wang Sishun integrates a diverse range of media, including sculpture and installation. A 2008 graduate of Beijing’s Central Academy of Fina Arts (CAFA), Wang is inspired by the uncertainty of the future and the perpetual movement of time and space. His work engages with the relationship between the different forms of matter and the social concept of ‘circulation’. The artist debuted with Liminal Space at Long March Space (2012), featuring installation and video work that explored his interest in the multi-dimensional world of experience and the possible existence of forms in parallel worlds, ultimately challenging our perception of the nature of being. Wang transforms everyday, readymade materials, subverting their properties, function and value, resulting in a restructuring of our sensory experiences of once-familiar objects. Alloy II, one of the first projects that brought him to the attention of the Beijing art world, is a screw made from melted, remolded coins drilled halfway through the gallery wall. Necessary Labor Time (2008) also uses coins cast into a rebar filed down to dust until only a needle is left. The dust is collected into an hour glass, as a metaphorical way of weighing the value of labor.
Xie Molin questions the essence and tradition of painting, building machines that create abstract paintings, with intricate and organized patterns. Using an axial cutting plotter that traditionally cuts shapes in vinyl, he substitutes the blades or cutting components with drawing and painting implements, such as pencils, pens, calligraphy brushes, scrapers. Xie creates the original designs as vector graphics and then programs the machines to paint them. The ‘XYZ Triaxial Linkage Painting Machine’ thus moves on the acrylic covered canvas and realizes Xie’s programmed designs. Xie is interested in appropriating industrial tools and repurposing them to create art. Xie wrote that “in the UK and Europe, due to the long-term scientific and technological environment, many artists have applied the technical applications from other fields to the creation of art.” His practice is an exploration of the possibilities of exploiting other disciplines in art-making. His paintings have an industrial quality, with meticulous details and mechanical strokes calculated to perfection. Minimalistic and abstract, they demonstrate Xie’s theory of how an age-old traditional medium such as painting still holds great room for experimentation.
Yan Xing works with performance, installation, video and photography. He won the Best Young Artist Award, Chinese Contemporary Art Award (CCA) 2012 and was a finalist in the 2012 Future Generation Art Prize, Victor Pinchuk Foundation. Yan Xing is an openly gay artist who explores personal and sexual politics in his country, as well as addresses formal, process-driven concerns. Yan engages with concepts of absence and the appropriation of presence and conducts a rhetorical interrogation of nature and body. His work mediates between international art currents and Chinese contemporary realities, creating reality out of illusion and vice-versa. DADDY Project (2011) contributed to his eventual emergence on the international art scene – a one-hour performance in which the artist, facing a wall, gives accounts of his absent father, whilst being filmed. His recent Dirty Art (2013) was inspired by Edward Hopper’s (1882–1967) iconic painting Drug Store (1927). The installation comprises nine monitors playing videos related to the Chinese expression for diarrhea (‘xie’) and embodies his understanding of ‘re-interpretation’. The creative acts of appropriation, imitation, reproduction, reconstruction and re-positioning are pivotal to Yan’s practice.
Yang Xinguang works with wood as his primary medium: “I sharpen an axe and drag branches into my studio, then I hack at them like a butcher.” Recently, he has started working with other natural materials, such as stone and earth. Yang studies his materials closely and strives to release the forms inherent in them rather than impose a planned vision on them. His practice focuses on exploring the relationship between civilization and nature and ultimately aims at understanding man through nature. Influenced by movements such as the Mono-Ha and Arte Povera, Yang works with his simple materials without adding anything to them. Violence without Mercy (2012), his third exhibition at Boers-Li Gallery, takes its title from Journey to the West: “As the saying goes, the warrior avoids unnecessary combat; but once I start there’ll be no mercy.” The essence of minimalist wooden shapes merges with a renewed functional element, such as Sharp Point 3, 315 chunks of wood shaped with razor-sharp conical points scattered on the gallery floor. Suggestive of war and acts of violence, the work seems to communicate a feeling of helplessness towards death and destruction, as unavoidable aspects of our existence.
Yang Dongxue sees himself as a “dedicated” and “serious” artist who is aware of the futility of such a disposition: his practice follows an ambivalence towards art production and his role as a player in the contemporary art scene. For him, the focal point of his work is the interplay between the conscious and subconscious acts of conceiving an artwork. Creating sculptural and sound installations and watercolor drawings, Yang emphasizes the constant struggle to express oneself honestly to the viewer and the inevitable failure to do so. Yang aims to shift the focus away from the outcome and onto the process of creation. We Have Got Used to Construct Dreams in Nihility Habitually (2013) is a piece of writing on a wall in red, yellow and green wooden letters that reads: WE NEVER LOVED ART AND ART NEVER LOVED US. In Regarding the Silent Majority (2014) Yang talked about “the realities we cannot or do not want to change; it’s about the kind of ‘dependency’ people develop for a terrible and unjust reality.” Drawing from a “structural deficiency and disorder,” the artist exemplifies how “artists thrive on chaos” to create.
Zhang Ding is a multimedia artists who creates large-scale installations that question our perception of reality and the relationship to our surroundings. Zhang is especially interested in the relationship between the viewer and the viewed, and in audience interpretation and interaction. Pry is a film installation consisting of a series of seven documentary-style films – so far three are complete – about the lives of individuals on the fringes of society, such as middle-aged transvestite. The stories are recounted in sincere tones, without stereotypical or condescending commentaries and present human beings that have succeeded in preserving self-respect and dignity in a life filled with struggle. Zhang’s interest in the stories of anonymous people extends into an archival project on missing persons, in which he photographs missing persons’ flyers. ‘Opening’ (2011) engaged the audience in a nightclub experience in the gallery that hovered between reality and imagination. The spectators were filmed throughout the opening night, a video that subsequently became part of the artwork. The two realities – the dancers and DJ versus the audience – were intersecting as the viewer and the viewed, while at the same being completely separate.
Zhang Xiao graduated in Art and Design from the Architecture Department at Yantai University, but soon developed a passion for photography. He worked for the Chongqing Morning Post as a photographer for three years until 2009, while also developing his own artistic practice. Zhang captures scenes in the everyday life of his countrymen that seem as if they come out of an imagined reality. In his solo exhibition at Pékin Fine Arts (2013), he presented his 2009 series Shanxi, taken with a cheap Hong Kong-made, plastic Holga camera. The choice of the Holga springs from the artist’s belief that low technology helps to capture natural emotions and spontaneous shots, allowing for more attention to composition. Shanxi was taken during the first lunar month after Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) in Shanxi, where Shehuo (Community’s Fire Festival) and Temple Fair take place. People dress up in ancient costumes for the festivals and performances and, as Zhang says, “illusion and absurdity finally meet in real life.” Envelopes (2011) is a series of 100 portraits of real people printed on company and government business envelopes.
Zhao Yao graduated from the Design Department of the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute. His design background is evident in his ordered abstract, geometric compositions and conceptual installations that merge with the architectural environment of the exhibition space, as exemplified in his first solo exhibition in the UK Spirit Above All (2013) at Pace Gallery, London. The artist, for the first time, contextualised his denim paintings – blessed by a Tibetan living Buddha – against photographic backdrops of the Tibetan landscape. Pivotal to Zhao’s practice is the relationship between the art and the audience, which creates a cycle of self-assessment and reconstruction of the old to create the new – as the artist calls it, “self-consumption.” Zhao engages with a variety of issues that pertain to contemporary China and life in the midst of its fast-paced development. For Harmonious Society (2014) at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester, he presented Wonder, a reflection on China’s rapid urbanisation through contoured carpets featuring aerial views of Chinese airports undergoing development and expansion.
Zhao Zhao was the personal assistant to famed artist-activist Ai Weiwei’s for seven years and Zhao’s practice can be related to the political engagement of his mentor: “I don’t want to become cautious,” Zhao Zhao told Der Spiegel. The Chinese government has been paying increasing attention to Zhao Zhao in recent years and in 2013, a shipment that contained Ping Pong (2011) and Officer (2011) – a huge broken concrete statue of a Chinese police officer whose uniform number is the day of Ai Weiwei’s arrest – was confiscated before departing to Tianjin for a solo show in New York. Zhao Zhao was even asked to pay a fine of $48,000, despite there being no explicit crime involved. His 2013 work Waterfall, a large-scale sculpture of a throne covered in dripping, bloody red paint, references concepts of nation, family and blood – ties and violence. The artist questions ideas of power and its affect on people. For UCCA’s ON|OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice (2013), Zhao presented another broken statue work, that of a fragmented Buddha, which was a commentary on faith and belief. At Art Basel Hong Kong in 2013, Zhao presented a new series of work, Constellations, rectangular glass panes bearing the marks of gunshots.
By C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
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