A transformation of mirror images and Chinese identities

Cui Jie, Shanghai Broadcasting Building, 2018. Acrylic and oil on canvas. Collection of Farhad Karim and Sanda Lwin. Image courtesy of the artist; Pilar Corrias, London; and antenna space, Shanghai

“We don’t belong to ourselves any more than what we have belongs to us. We did not make ourselves, we cannot be supreme over ourselves. We are not our own masters. ~Aldous Huxley, A better new world

The notion of Chineseness has always been something curious; Chinatown in the International District, since the area began to experience gentrification in the early 2000s due to the overall demand for real estate development in the city, grapples with this concern today, as the community s attack on maintaining its historical essence and reality. When mainland China emerged as a global power, with its new development and economic growth, the same question still resonated: what does it take to be truly Chinese in an ever-changing world – and how much can one stay? Currently on display at the Asia Society Museum in New York is a fascinating exhibit titled Mirror Image: A Transformation of Chinese Identityhighlighting this and other issues in a different light: a group of seven distinct artists, all born after 1976 and creatively conducting their art “through the Internet, pirated DVDs, international brands and the history of world art”.

A classic arcade cabinet sits at the foot of the exhibition, Game UterusMan, 2014, by Shanghai-born artist Lu Yang. Created and programmed to be used, the work explores gender, biology, neuroscience, religion and pop culture where, all the while, the player is “transported” into the joystick gaming experience of the 1980s with contemporary Manga images. As soon as you enter the main gallery, an installation entitled, How to be ‘Good Life’ 2019, by Mongolian artist Nabuqi, reads like a Richard Hamilton collage – very spatial and visually appealing in its approach. The scope of the work finds its way through the influence of Heidegger’s writings, philosophy, Pop Art, global mass marketing and the interaction between public and private environments.

Nabuchi. How to be “Good Life”, 2019 Mixed media. Courtesy of the artist and Kiang Malingue, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Image courtesy of the artist and Kiang Malingue, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

The next work, Experimental relations, 2013/2021, by Shanghai-born artist Pixy Liao, focuses on the recent reversal of China’s “one-child” policy, placing women in a position to marry and reproduce at a young stage in their lives. A photograph, I push you, 2021shows the artist posing with her husband in a swing position, detailing the specifics of how power between the sexes can be assumed and shared without lowering the standard of their own gender and individuality.

Going through each work in the exhibition, I was amazed at the initiative that each artist took to disassociate themselves from the traditional labeling of “Chinese artist”, they considered themselves “global artists”, removing everything which was nationalistic with the modern here and now, where the utilitarian has been overtaken by the importance of global presence.

Pixy Liao, I Push You, 2021. Digital chromogenic print. Courtesy of the artist and Chambers Fine Art

Realizing that the traditional can meet the modern and the futuristic head-on, I became obsessed with a set of paintings titled Shanghai Broadcasting Building, 2018and West City Gate, Belgrade, 2020both directed by Shanghai-born Cui Jie, who reveres a kind of billboard advertising mist, strong colors, architectural details and austere graphic design – all presented in a way that captivates and visually amazes all the world.

Visual artists sometimes draw inspiration from non-standard experiences, whether organic, communal or spiritual. What came to mind was the video by Beijing artist Tianzshuo Chen, Trance, 2019. A panorama of dystopian proportions, this work, based on a 12-hour performance, is a study in the idea of ​​endurance and meditation – reminiscent of Tibetan Buddhist ceremonies, with modern indicators of group activity (such as the club, electronics and hip). jump). Most interesting is its immediacy: the most thrilling, grotesque, visually disruptive and frenetic.

Another eye candy was the photo essay Similar Disguise Skills, 2021, by Chongqing-born artist Tao Hui. In the stylized form of re-enactments of Chinese television dramas, this work details studies of gender exploration, human relationships, and the nuclear family, all presented in calm, atmospheric, and meditative settings. Although the photographs may seem commercial to some, the detail is quite extraordinary and otherworldly.

Tianzhuo Chen, Trance, 2019. Two single-channel videos with sound (continuous loop). Duration: 5 minutes, 1 second; 2 minutes, 51 seconds. Courtesy of the artist and BANK/MABSOCIETY. Image courtesy of the artist, BANK/MABSOCIETY and Asia Society Museum, New York

As everyone knows, importance always comes first with anything social media and the internet. A work by Liu Shiyuan, born in Beijing, For Jord (No. 1), 2020, presents the random activity of the Internet by placing photographic images next to each other, with no relation or narrative to each other, creating a sense of collusion within distinct cultures, aesthetics and political beliefs.

Finally, I came to see the work of Miao Ying, originally from Shanghai. Excess information, 2021-22, like a project that was everywhere – the austere visuals depicting the beauty of the absurd; dystopian scenarios, confusing landscapes and artificial intelligence in its most mundane form, giving the viewer a way to identify Chinese political propaganda as a subtle form of mass media manipulation.

In the end, as I sat and gazed at all the works seen in this exhibition, I was delighted to have found such a grand and unique display of unforbidden mystery, expansive interpretation, and exalted freedom of artistic expression.

This exhibition, as well as Visionary Legacy: A Tribute to Harold J. Newman, will be visible until August 14e at the Asian Society Museum in New York. https://asiasociety.org/new-york/events/artist-talk-mirror-image-transformation-chinese-identity

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