The politics of trans/nationalism and global expositions

Staging art and Chineseness is about the politics of borders ascribed to Chinese contemporary art and the identification of artists by locations and exhibitions. The paradoxical subject of Chineseness is central to this inquiry, which begins with the question, what does the term Chinese Art mean in the aftermath of the globalized shift in art? Through an exploration of embodied and performative representations (including eco-feminist performances) by artists from China and diasporic locations, the case studies in this book put to the test the very premise of the genealogical inscription for cultural objects attributed to the residency, homeland, or citizenship of the Chinese artist. Acknowledging the orientalist assumptions and appropriations that Chineseness also signifies, this study connects the artistic performance to the greater historical scope of ‘geographical consciousness’ envisioned by past and present global expositions. The emergence of China’s shiyan meishu experimental art movement in the 1980s–1990s has largely been the defining focus for ‘global art’ during the period when artfairs, biennials, and triennials also came into prominence as the new globalized art institution (exemplified by China’s first biennial in Guangzhou). The political aim is to recognize the multiple contradictions and repetitions of history engendered by art, nationalism, and capital in the legacy of Althusserian/Maoist interpellations – the reifications of global capitalist illusions in the twenty-first century are conveyed in this book by performative artistic expressions and the temporal space of the exposition.

Jane Chin Davidson

Chapter 2 investigates the specific medium of performance video by looking closely at three projects by the artist Patty Chang – Die Ware Liebe (2012), Minor (2010), and Shangri La (2006). Through reflecting or engaging in the subject of 1930s film, Chang reconceptualizes a unique interplay of movie-video subjects, which is useful for examining the interplay of Chinese identities. She evokes three different types of cinematic subjects, consisting of: Die Ware Liebe’s miscegenation subject, which was often portrayed by the famous Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong in 1920s and 1930s film; Shangri La’s focus on Frank Capra’s 1937 movie Lost Horizon, based on James Hilton’s 1933 novel about a plane crash in the Himalayas and the discovery of the ethno-fantastic place of immortality; and Minor, which invokes the visual anthropology of Swedish explorer Sven Hedin whose trek to Lop Nor in the present-day region of Xinjiang was captured in the 1928 documentary film With Sven Hedin Across the Deserts of Asia. While exploring film interpellation, all three video expressions are also performance documents as Chang captures her travels to different regions of China. She contributes to the peripatetic tradition of artists who conceptualize and perform across national borders.

in Staging art and Chineseness
The global exposition and the museum
Jane Chin Davidson

One of the reasons why global expositions, biennials, and artfairs appear as ‘new’ global institutions is due in part to the museumifying permanence of objects reflecting the manufacture of the art / science divide. Throughout the twentieth century, it was the museum, not the biennial artfair, that inscribed the artwork and the artefact according to the categories of the modern and the primitive, the west and the non-west. The historical objects collected by museums in Europe and the United States have come to represent the colonialist past, and its archival methodology is defined by the temporary collections of some of the same cultures represented in global artfairs worldwide. Ultimately, this chapter’s contextualization of the discursive domain of museums, global expositions, and their representation of Chinese states is conceived as a study of the ‘performative archive.’ In the analysis of the first artists representing China, Taiwan and Hong Kong in official pavilions at the Venice Biennale between 1993 and 2005, the individual case studies offer an understanding of how cultural and national identities are performed and produced in the expositions’ metaphorical spaces.

in Staging art and Chineseness
Jane Chin Davidson

Chapter 4 pivots to the subject of global expositions. Located across the globe in places such as Guangzhou, Taipei, Fukuoka, Gwangju, and Busan in the regions of Asia, the biennials/triennials serve as the very example of a de-centered and decentralized institution for art as they are held in diverse places when once they were reserved solely for Euro-American nations. But contrary to this notion of exhibitionary innovation, the biennial’s organizing principle was first conceived in the nineteenth century – the longest-running artfair, the Venice Biennale, began in 1895. For this reason, the inclusion of China’s artists in the 1993 Venice Biennale was an important ‘first’ in the exhibition of China’s xiandai yishu contemporary art. Significantly, the 1992 Guangzhou Biennale the year before was the first-ever biennial-type art exposition held in China. The Biennale’s archetypal institution provides a useful genealogy for investigating the structural tendencies that were closely related to the representation of nations in the nineteenth-century world’s fairs. In contrast, the political way in which curator/director Okwui Enwezor has contributed to the Documenta quinquennial in Kassel, Germany (inaugurated in 1955) reveals the twenty-first-century potential of the art exposition for showcasing trans/national issues and advocacies.

in Staging art and Chineseness
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Staging art and Chineseness
Jane Chin Davidson

Providing a contextualization for the staging of art and Chineseness, the introduction establishes the different lines of inquiry in the book and the defining connections among its different historical, social, and political subjects. The explanation of the case studies articulates the politics of Chineseness in the era of global capitalism while introducing the artists Patty Chang, Zhang Huan Cao Fei, Yuk King Tan, Wu Mali, Wong Hoy Cheong, Lee Ming-sheng, Lin Shumin, Ho Siu Kee, Stanley Wong, and Cai Guo-Qiang. Their use of performative, embodied, and video expressions provides a way to engage in the subject of the artist’s ‘self’ as an open and apparent representation of nation, immigration, citizenship, and transnationalism. The staging of the trans/nationalist Chinese identity was foregrounded by the first biennial-type art exposition held in Guangzhou in 1992 at a time when the emergence of contemporary art expositions around the world – biennials, triennials and artfairs – had come to be viewed as the new institution for global art. By situating Chineseness in the political study of art and expositions, the introduction recognizes the multiple contradictions, the paradoxes, and repetitions of history engendered by art, nationalism, capital, and status in the new global transition.

in Staging art and Chineseness
Jane Chin Davidson

Chapter 1 introduces the theoretical, historical, and political dimensions of the term Chineseness as it relates to Chinese artists and global exhibitions. The question of artistic authenticity and what constitutes ‘Chinese contemporary art’ compels new approaches to addressing the identification of artists from China and diasporic elsewheres. The chapter tracks the development of the discourse of Chineseness, articulated by Rey Chow in 1998 as a theoretical problem derived from Orientalism’s systematic exclusivism separating the West from the non-West throughout the twentieth century. Contributions to the discursive shift in the twenty-first century were led by film theorists, including Chow, Sheldon Hsiao-peng Lu, and Shu-mei Shih, who used the term Chineseness to theorize the diasporic differences among sinophonic film scripts in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Chinese-America. In contrast, the bodily-oriented video works explored in this book update Chineseness as a performative identity. The subjects of film are connected to performance video through the concept of interpellation, traced to the influence of Mao on Althusser’s On Contradiction and the ‘imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.’ Chineseness ultimately represents the fluid, unstable, unfixable meaning of ‘Chinese’ within historical and contemporary discourses for the staging of art and culture.

in Staging art and Chineseness
(eco)feminist interpellations of Chineseness in the work of Yuk King Tan, Cao Fei, and Wu Mali
Jane Chin Davidson

By focusing on the work of three women artists, Yuk King Tan, Cao Fei, and Wu Mali, Chapter 3 explores the use of performance video in raising important labor and environmental issues as interrelated problems. Situated in the circuit of multi-national industry, moving rapidly since the 1990s, Tan, Cao, and Wu’s subjects expose the ways in which environmental concerns are explicitly connected to the unabated growth of market economies in Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan. Tan’s video performance Scavenger (2008) reveals how labor in global capitalism has affected a gendered class of Hong Kong society. Cao’s Haze and Fog (2013) depicts the airpocalypse of the zombie futures of Beijing, while Wu’s Stories of Women from Hsin-Chuang (1997) memorializes the rural women who worked in Taiwanese factory towns like Hsin-Chuang. The cycle of economic boom characterized by the ‘made in China’ trope in the twenty-first century, emerging successively after ‘made in Taiwan and Hong Kong’ in the twentieth century, has accelerated the conditions of environmental crisis. The performative expressions explored in this chapter acknowledge the repeat performances of precarious labor as well as the redoubled impacts of unabated industrial growth. Artists like Wu are actively performing environmental restorations in the aftermath.

in Staging art and Chineseness
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Jane Chin Davidson
in Staging art and Chineseness