Tang Contemporary (Beijing), Aug 5–Sep 16, 2017
Much has happened in Beijing a few months back, but looking over shows large and small there hasn’t been much to show for, other than “social shows” that you can’t really make head or tail out of, shows that lack daring. Ran Dian invited Bian Ka to talk about his ideas in his own show, “A Chemical Love Story”; the following text was the result. The exhibition ended before the October holidays at Tang Contemporary, Beijing. Since Bian Ka was changing jobs, the show was not signed under his name as curator.
Having been through a fair bit, I can say this: There are a lot of artists, young in age but old in spirit, who not only pursue that ordinary, mainstream yardstick in calculating and planning out their art and life plans, much like in politics or business, and actively seek out good relations with curators, but all the while they evade basic questions in reflecting why they do art. Instead they simplemindedly, passively await “to be curated”. Philosophical frameworks are important, cognitive frames are important, images are certainly important—but in contrast to social ideals, they can all be left to the side. It has been a while since an unevasive artist/curator like Bian Ka has been around, with social ideals—whether earlier on in art school in Nanjing, at Jin Ying Art Center or at First Floor (Art Space), both also in Nanjing, or else at UCCA and Tang and elsewhere later on.
Musquiqui Chiying only got to the exhibition “A Chemical Love Story” from Berlin when the exhibition was about to close. The first question he asked me was whether he was the oldest artist in the show. Born in 1985 and in his young thirties, his unsettled anxiety was a bit odd but it does align with the state of today’s art world. The art world feels like a once-fashionable youth stepping into a midlife crisis, still persisting in covering up certain anxieties with a youthful way of life. “Young” and “global” have become efficacious tags for galleries and curators to conceal a few lacks—the multiple lacks within and without the art business in midlife crisis.
A while back there was this piece of news: a Mainland Chinese student at HKU “crushed” a local independentist student, gaining an advantage with an internationalized “veneer” (that is, speaking English better) in a geo-political dispute—at least many netizens thought so in China. “International” at this point miraculously merges with nationalistic sentiments; through a chemical reaction it becomes a drug to increase one’s confidence. This most superficial of the international, for China’s reality today and for an art world in “midlife crisis” could however be said to be an effective relaxant and stimulant.
The title “A Chemical Love Story” originated in a work about psychoactive hallucinogens. Here, “hallucinogens” have a symbolic significance, displaying a position of globalized cultural optimism, which enables us to bypass a cruel reality by means of young and pretty things. An overabundance of information and self-inflation fabricated from the terminals of virtual platforms and mobile social media. Hallucinogens skirt bodily senses, reaching the cerebral cortex through the bloodstream and the nervous system, directly producing pleasure. Today our globalized imaginary also skirts the liminal zones outside Beijing’s Fifth Ring Road, dusty and dilapidated, or else the Shanghai lanes admixed with tinges of detergent or soot, realizing a “globally unified” self-satisfaction. The institutions and artists of today require a new driving force, and a globalized hallucination happens to fill the inner, immanent exhaustion.
If as an exhibition “A Chemical Love Story” can still be said to have its effectiveness, I’m afraid it’s the hallucinatory state, like a labyrinth of sundry screens, produced by itself, turning the exhibition into the subject’s antithesis. We can without hesitation enjoy the sensorial release and the illusions of bodily perception, and certainly can discriminate all sorts of overlapping contradictions and disputes contained within. Yorkson refused to use her original Chinese name in any texts connected to the exhibition; this female artist from Guangdong, studying in the UK, seems to know the “relational aesthetics” of identity all too well. At the end of the narrow, pressing corridor that holds her work, the shifu who installed the exhibition put in two little doors in order to check on the facilities. On these, Yorkson wrote “the door to hell” and “the door to heaven”. It was done impromptu, carried out according to the conditions, but the ambivalence of the two, close at hand, still served as a metaphor for the oppositional identities manifested by the exhibition. Chiying equally played a few tricks with his name, with his English name signed Musquiqui, a name almost impossible to read out in Chinese, interested as he is in the pronunciation of his name in different languages. And then he purposely does away with his Chinese surname in order to prevent people from looking up some “really embarrassing” photos from his past. Young artists isolate their selves, identities, and art for discussion, with the real self and the artistic self situated on two different latitudes, without dreading false impressions and instead taking pleasure therein. So at the same time as some are resisting the hallucination of a globalized identity, others delight in it. Just like “hallucinogens”: though ethical qualms there may be, they do take care of momentary sorrows.