Voice of the Unseen. Chinese art post-1979 to the present. Venice Biennale 2013.

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“Voice of the Unseen. Chinese Independent Art Post-1979 Today” (未曾呈现的声音) is a collateral event of the 55th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, which reviews Chinese contemporary art from the post-1979 period until today. The exhibition is organised by the Guangdong Museum of Art with the support of Sichuan Tomorrow Culture Arts Management Co. Ltd, and curated by Wang Lin 王林 (Professor at the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts, China), in collaboration with Luo Yiping 罗一平 (Director of the Guangdong Museum of Art, China) and Gloria Vallese (Professor of History of Contemporary Art, Accademia delle Belle Arti di Venezia, Italy).

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The show features the contribution of twelve well-known academics, critics and art experts and displays the works of 157 Chinese artists, of which about fifty percent are unknown to the West. Artworks include painting, sculpture, video, installation, performance and a collection of documentary materials in the form of the largest mobile library on Chinese contemporary art ever shown at an international exhibition.

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An immensely ambitious show at the 5000-square-metre space at the Arsenale Nord, it is the largest exhibition to date of Chinese contemporary art spanning the last three decades, both in the number of participating artists and in its time scope coverage. After the end of the Biennale, the show will travel back to China and will be on display at the Guangdong Museum of Art.

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Head curator Wang Lin says that Chinese contemporary art’s appearance on the international stage has gone through three channels: the first, the attention received from Western curators, not without its simplifications; the second, the choices made by Chinese and foreign collectors alike, with the obvious implications of its capitalisation; finally, the third, national “export exhibitions” to foreign institutions such as the Venice Biennale and other museums, thus constrained by official, institutional views and interpretations.

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The result from all these has been that Chinese contemporary art’s international image has been 100 percent dictated by the views from the West, beginning from the 1990s initial artworks commenting on Maoist collectivism, resulting in an incomplete, incorrect understanding of what Chinese contemporary art is about, seen through the lens of Western human rights views. Ever since the beginning of China’s new art movement, from its appearance more than 30 years ago on the Beijing Xidan Wall (also known as Democracy Wall), there have been artists of various ages on the scene at the same time.

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It is therefore a very important step and a must, says the curator, to have organised an exhibition that spans the entire period of time and showcases a large diverse group of artists, representing Chinese contemporary art from a historical point of view, as well as with a collective and individual look at artists and their work in the context of this time period in China. This can allow western scholarship and the public to appreciate and understand the experience and the state of Chinese contemporary art, by sharing the experiences of China’s socio-cultural environment and its contemporary issues, as well as the individual’s artists impressions about Chinese creativity, ideas and values.

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China’s “new art”, as the curator calls it, is the result of the mutual exchanges and collisions between the West and China during a period of modern cultural progress, and it is thanks to these exchanges that the long history of China has been able to come up with new modes of representation and creation. In our contemporary globalised world, there needs to be people from different places, different cultures, nations and histories to portray the diversity of our times. The communication, exchange and complementarity between China and the West is paramount for a rich and diverse future. The quote by Curator Wang Lin at the entrance of the exhibition makes a poignant statement of his views on China’s relationship with the world: ” Art shows the world that China is not a global threat. Please come and listen to the true voice here in Chinese artists’ hearts.”

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The exhibition is divided into nine different and yet complementary themes: Family, Village, Ruins, Poverty, Body, Landscape, Memory, History and Magic.

Family 家庭: Family in China is the pillar of society, it is the first and major reflection of social change. 国家, meaning nation/country, includes the word “family/home” and “country”. This can give you an idea of how important family is.

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Family, work by Wang Jiawei

Artists in this section include: Dai Guangyu 戴光郁 (b. 1955, Chengdu), Zheng Li 郑力 (b. 1976, Chongqing), Song Yongping (b. 1961, Shanxi), Shi Jindian 师进滇 (b. 1953, Sichuan), Hu Shunxiang 胡顺香 (b. 1988, Linyi, Shangdong), Deng Jianjin 邓箭今 (b. 1961, Foshan, Guangdong), Chen Yujun (b. 1976, Putian, Fujian), Chen Qiji (b. 1946, Shiqian, Guizhou), Wang Jiawei (b. 1973, Chongqing), Mao Xuhui 毛旭辉 (b.1956, Chongqing), Luo Fahui 罗发辉 (b. 1961, Chongqing), Zeng Xiaofeng 曾晓峰 (b. 1952, Kunming, Yunnan).

Village 村落: in today’s contemporary culture, traditional (village) culture is on the verge of collapse, while it represents in fact Chinese cultural history’s “code”.

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Village, work by Zhu Cheng

Artists in this section include: Lei Ziren 雷子人 (b. 1967, JIangxi), Zhu Cheng 朱成 (b. 1946, Chengdu, Sichuan), Yang Chen 杨晨 (b. 1979, Xi’an), Wang Yanlin 王炎林 (1940-2010, Zhengzhou, Henan), Li Jie 李杰 (b. 1956, Changshou, Chongqing), He Chongyue 何崇岳 (b. 1960, Beijing), Cao Yuanming 曹原铭 (b. 1974, Anhui), Zhang Xiangxi 张湘溪 (b. 1980, Liuyang, Hunan), LIang Shaoji 梁绍基 (b. 1945, Shanghai), Chen Weimin 陈卫闽 (b. 1959, Fujian), Chang Xugong 常徐功 (b. 1957).

Ruins 废墟: China has become the world’s largest demolition, relocation and construction site, both rebuilding over ruins or creating ruins.

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Poverty 底层: today China is one of the countries with the biggest gap between rich and poor, the process of urbanisation giving form to the largest quantity of population living in poverty.

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Body 身体: subjects can become a mob with fanaticism, but they can also turn into citizens thanks to education, the connection between body and mind/consciousness is a very close one.

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Landscape 风景: the traditional Chinese environment, during this period of economic development, is facing the biggest challenges with regard to the destruction of nature.

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Landscape, work by Yang Qian

Memory 记忆: the memories of the various aspects of Socialist life is the nightmare from which the majority of mainland China’s artists cannot break free.

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Memory, work by Yu Guangfu

History 历史: China has a cultural history of 5000 years, the use and reinvention of such historical and cultural resources forms the distinctive flavour of China’s creative artistic production.

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History, work by Jin Feng

Magic 巫咒: China’s artists coming from different places and lifestyles compose the contemporary art scene, and their perception and sensibility, imagination and sorcery all entering the arts, have intervened in changing the excessive westernisation of culture.

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Magic, work by 01 Collective

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Ruins, work by Tang Yong


A full list of artists, their artworks and the 9 different sections of the exhibition can be viewed on the website of Voice of the Unseen.

(The official website has been down for days now, at least from Vietnam and Italy. I suppose it will be back online soon, hopefully! Sorry for the inconvenience. I will endeavour to complete the post with the missing information, artists lists and relevant links once the website works again).

Apologies to non-Chinese readers as the official websites only have Chinese information about the exhibition. The links to each section of the exhibition provided in this article will lead you to the exact correspondent on the website, where you will be able to view images of each artist’s work. For English, you can view articles online such as on ArtDaily or Beijing Today, which provide the basics about the exhibition. (The latter has some interesting information from the curator).

All Photographs: “Voice of the Unseen. Chinese Independent Art 1979-Today”, collateral event of the 55th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia. Location: Tesa alle Nappe and Tese di San Cristoforo, Arsenale Nord. Photos: Prof Danilo Ardia.

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