NOW: A Dialogue on Female Chinese Contemporary Artists

‘NOW: A Dialogue on Female Chinese Contemporary artists’ at Centre for Chinese Contemporary Artists (CFCCA) 

The first thing you hear sharp, staccato, and slightly annoying banging. The strange thing is, this loud, heavy sound, is coming from a tiny, old-school TV, a box TV, with a mini 10 inch screen.

This video piece ‘Nothing’ is by artist Yang Guangnam, who has a few pieces within the NOW exhibition. The banging is coming from a video of doors slamming. Different sounds are created from a mixture of different doors, heavy wooden doors, corrugated metal, creaky ones and rusty ones. The camera is so close to the shutting door, you get the sense of it being slammed in your face. Perhaps this piece represents rejection. Don’t all artists at some point get turned away? Perhaps this is the physical act of feeling shut out, refused.

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‘NOW’, at CFCCA, is an exhibition which features seven female artists – Na Buqi, Wu Chao, Yang Guangnan, Li Shurui, Luo Wie, Hu Xiaoyuan and Geng Xue. The exhibition focuses on what it means to be a female artist in China today, this is in collaboration with other galleries across the UK including ‘Turner Contemporary (Margate), Nottingham Contemporary and Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art.’

The statement for the exhibition reads; ‘As part of the programme, CFCCA showcases seven artists working across a diverse range of media, all affected and influenced in different ways by rapid transformations in the socio-political environment in China and the new opportunities available to female artists.’

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Within the exhibition at CFCCA artist Geng Xue displays a series of photographs of the body with isolated, red, painted parts. It blurs the lines of what we regularly see, what we readily recognise. Two single fingers painted red, or a painted knee, or the neck. The red is a provocative colour which has many connotations, including war, strength, power, blood, passion and love. These photographs are accompanied by two videos, subtle videos of the photographs which slowly become more blurry. Is this a representation of we as humans becoming more faded. Perhaps as we turn into more digital versions of ourselves, are we seen as we once were? I later read on CFCCA’s website what these images represent:

Geng Xue presents a series of photographs and video works, called RR that demand reflection on the concept of the body in space and the position of the individual in society.’

One of the weirdest video pieces I have ever seen has to be Hu Xiaoyuan work ‘You come too early, you come too late.’ In this video piece, a chicken is securely strapped to a drone, and flown around a dark cave. Without reading about the artist or the title of the piece, I really tried to imagine what this video could mean? Is it because chickens can’t fly? I even tried to imagine myself as a chicken, and what that chicken could be thinking. But without knowing much about chickens and their emotions, that was a struggle. Whatever the theme of this piece was, I don’t think I was getting it. All I kept thinking was how loud drones are! That poor chicken. Outside the video, on the statement on the wall of the gallery, it states; ‘No chickens were harmed in the making of this video.’ Maybe not physically harmed, but who knows what emotions that chicken went through?

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My attention was grabbed by another piece by artist Yang Guangnam. A moving sculpture named ‘Action No.1’ shows a white shirt, hung on a metal mechanism which forces the hanger and the shirt to bounce. Even though the motion is the same – the mechanism winds round, pushing down a rod that the hanger is on top, then releasing the rod – the end portion and movement of the shirt changes with each bounce. It looks almost ‘free’ to move and end where it pleases, changing its shape with turn. It personifies the shirt, giving an inanimate object a life, freedom of movement. Around the collar and shoulders the shirt looks worn out and dirty. Is it oil that has been used in the mechanism? Or just the constant rubbing on the hanger? Was it there originally or did the shirt start off brand new? Either way, it gives the piece a feel of being used, being worn-away or worn-out. This links back to giving the shirt a sense of life, I find myself looking at this shirt and the way it moves as a presentation of a human and a body.

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What I liked about this exhibition is that each piece was totally different. From moving sculptures, to crazy video pieces, to installations and photographs. You look around and every artist has their own individual take on the theme, shown in a different media. The exhibition keeps you on your toes. Yes, the artist’s work shares the overall influences of the political and social changes in China, but there are no in-depth artist statements to accompany each piece – and if you don’t know why that makes me happy, read my piece about artist’s statements). So you are left to make up your own mind on what the artist is showing, what each piece represents. And at the end of the day, even if you can’t figure it out, who cares? Just enjoy the work for what it is.

The exhibition runs till 29th April. Find out more www.cfcca.org.uk/now/

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