The NOW programme, led by CFCCA, displays a diverse range of artworks and commissions from Chinese female artists in five UK organisations. Considering the launch of the new ‘golden era’ phase of UK-China relations, it is unsurprising that the eagerness to invest in the world’s fastest growing economy has permeated its way to the contemporary art scene. From Manchester to Middlesborough, Nottingham and Margate the programme boasts a unique dialogue on female artists that aims to reveal how the development of contemporary China translates over cultural boarders.
Though the seven artists in the CFCCA exhibition born 1977 – 1989 are all part of the same generation their practices offer a diverse range of mediums. The female form is represented in only two works, Geng Xue’s video installation ‘RR’ (2012) and Wu Chao’s animation ‘Chasing’ (2011). Despite the provocative connotations of Xue’s work of blurring body parts and Chao’s Margaret Atwood inspired red hooded figures scurrying through a lurid dystopia, the exhibition guide makes no mention of gender when referring to these works. Although being a programme of exclusively female artists, there are no explicit references to gender politics in order to display how artworks can transcend explorations of gender difference. You are, therefore, left to make your own conclusion.
One of the most contextually relevant pieces in the exhibition is by Yang Guangnan from the Hebei Province of China. Her work, ‘Action No. 1’ (2012), consisting of repetitive semi-human mechanical movements and bodily videos, question divisions of labour and the politics of production. Having come to the end of its industrial revolution, China is in the process of an economic shift, hoping to transform the notoriously famous label ‘made in China’ to instead read ‘invented in China’. The end of British industry is particularly potent in the collective memory of England’s North West where the CFCCA is situated. This means the work relates not only to the socio-historical context of China, but also to the city in which it is presented; making the piece particularly pertinent and exciting. The themes and concepts of mechanics, production and labour are current and relatable, presented here in an almost satirical medium.
‘Floating Narratives’ (2017) by Na Buqi is as aesthetically Instagrammable as an Urban Outfitters window display, consisting of familiar and ‘on trend’ décor displayed in abstract positions on a metal armature. Being site specific, Buqi assembled the hanging lighting and artificial plants with printed images and portable fans to explore occupation of physical space and how this impacts on identity. Though less voyeuristic than works such as Tracy Emin’s ‘My Bed’ (1998), the homely décor and personal creation of the piece on site establishes a similar intimacy. Like looking into an intriguing bedroom window, the piece makes you curious to know the identity of the person behind it.
The exhibition at CFCCA is an intriguing display of contemporary Chinese art, and the NOW programme itself is an ambitious project that potentially marks the start of a growing trend in projects of its kind. Exhibitions such as Presence: A Window Into Contemporary Chinese Art currently on display in Liverpool as part of the China Dream: Contemporary Chinese Arts X Liverpool project evidence this initial shift. Whether to begin to fill the increasing number of direct flights between our cities and mainland China, encourage cultural exchange or providing purely educational opportunities, NOW provides an insight into the current field of Chinese contemporary art that seemingly will become increasingly prominent in the future.
NOW: A dialogue on female Chinese contemporary artists, CFCCA, Manchester.
16 February – 29 April 2018.
More information about the NOW programme can be found here.
Jessica El Mal is a freelance writer living and working in Manchester and Southern China.